Tags: Middle East | doug lamborn | protect | middle east | allies | yemen

GOP Rep. Lamborn: 'We Must Protect Our Middle Eastern Allies'

GOP Rep. Lamborn: 'We Must Protect Our Middle Eastern Allies'

By    |   Thursday, 10 March 2016 09:31 PM

The United States must re-engage in Yemen to establish stability in the Middle East. The balance of power has shifted too far toward Iran. The Obama administration is not just missing an opportunity to shore up friends and allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, but by its continued neglect is contributing to dangerous instability in a volatile part of the world.

It is in the United States' national security interest to ensure the security of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, as well as key members of the GCC. Israel and the Sunni states have always provided a critical and necessary counterweight to Iran. This is even more critical as Iran constantly reaches for more power.

Iran's support for the Houthis is extremely troubling. This is the rebel group that forced the Yemeni President to flee from his post early last year and required the withdrawal of all U.S. personnel from the U.S. Embassy. While the strain of Shiite Islam that the Houthis represent is not the same as the Iranian hardliners, the Houthis are close enough to be allies of and swayed by the revolutionary regime. For example, the Houthis look to Hassan Nasrallah, the radical leader of Hezbollah, as a key political and influential figure. Nasrallah recently sent a letter to deposed Yemeni President Hadi explaining Hezbollah's role in the fighting in Yemen, stating "Our fighters arrived in Yemen to teach the Yemeni people the essence of governing."

Although Iran has denied it is arming and financing the Houthis, last month Saudi Arabia stopped a ship from Iran carrying communications equipment that was understood to be on its way to the Houthis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have deployed their U.S.-made Patriot missile batteries to their borders with Yemen to stop incoming missiles.

Stability on both sides of the Arabian Peninsula is key for the security of the Suez Canal, for United States' and other countries' naval vessels, for the economic stability of Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the flow of oil to the industrialized West.

The Bab el Mandab Strait connecting to the Suez Canal is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, constituting a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The narrow Strait of Hormuz between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran is, if anything, even more of a chokepoint affecting Western economies.

Yemen is fertile ground for radicalization. The population is young, with 41% of the population 14 years of age and under, and 62% under 24 years of age. As of 2015, the CIA estimated Yemeni per capita GDP at $2,800, with 54% of the population below the poverty line. The Yemeni government has been highly dependent on declining oil resources for revenue. According to CIA estimates, oil and gas revenues accounted for roughly 25% of GDP and 65% of government revenue. Since the conflict, those revenues have only decreased.

Yemen also faces a potential humanitarian crisis. It has been estimated that more than half of Yemen's 25 million people depend on food assistance for survival. The United Nations has warned that unless food assistance reaches Yemen in large quantities, Yemen may be on the brink of famine. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that in 2016, approximately 82% of the population will require humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs.

It is no surprise that in addition to Iran's meddling, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS see Yemen as fertile grounds for recruitment. AQAP has never wavered in its desire to carry out attacks on the U.S. homeland, and its capacity to do so is growing. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified that AQAP currently remains the group with the most potential to carry out an attack on our homeland.

In a recent Congressional delegation I led to the Middle East, we met with leaders of four of the GCC states. The message they gave us was startling and unexpected. Each of them told us that they didn't understand why the U.S. was not helping them more to fight Iran in its proxy war against them in Yemen. They view Iran's fight as an existential threat against them, far eclipsing the ISIS threat to the north. They seek U.S. leadership and support.

The U.S. must step up its activity to support our GCC friends and allies in Yemen. This should include three elements: 1) facilitating peace talks, 2) intelligence cooperation and targeting, and 3) carrying out strikes. In addition, greater authorities must be explicitly delegated by the White House and Secretary of Defense to U.S. naval and other forces in the region, including the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, special forces, and the intelligence agencies.

Support for our traditional alliances in the Middle East should be open and robust. We must be seen as taking an interest and providing key logistical and military aid. The United States must not sit around and wait for Iran to stop exporting revolution. Iran must be actively opposed, including in Yemen. The Obama administration gains nothing by forsaking our historical partners in the region.

The existential threat to the Sunni GCC states by Iran is real. It is time for the U.S. to stand up for friends and oppose enemies, not the other way around.

It is in the best interests of the United States' national security to stabilize this truly fragile, increasingly uncertain geographic region, which is becoming more threatening by the day. The Middle East, and the Arabian Peninsula in particular, will not get better through neglect. It is time for the United States of America to start acting like the United States of America, and stop sitting on the sidelines that the Obama Administration has relegated it to. 

Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, serves as Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces for the House Armed Services Committee.

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The United States must re-engage in Yemen to establish stability in the Middle East. The balance of power has shifted too far toward Iran. The Obama administration is not just missing an opportunity to shore up friends and allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, but by...
doug lamborn, protect, middle east, allies, yemen
Thursday, 10 March 2016 09:31 PM
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