As President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election In a season of bad ideas, one stands out MORE was busy heaping vengeance on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attacking the administration’s Iranian nuclear deal, Iran was expanding its power in the Middle East. An Iranian ship was unloading 185 tons of weapons for the Shi’ite Houthi militias that have overthrown the government of Yemen. Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, is now on the verge of collapse as the Houthis consolidate their victories.

As Yemen descends into violence, the last U.S. troops are being evacuated. The Houthis have indicated they have no desire to talk to the United States or negotiate their principles.


Against this backdrop, you would think that Obama had far more to worry about than the Israeli prime minister’s latest campaign rhetoric.

To believe that the conflict between Obama and Netanyahu is merely personal is to believe that Obama has all the emotional sophistication of a pre-schooler.

I prefer a different interpretation. The conflict is a fig leaf for a seismic change in Middle East policy that has been ongoing. Obama is extricating America from the Middle East.

This is why the Peshmerga Kurdish militia that Obama supports with rhetoric is continually running out of ammunition. This is why many observers claim the aerial attacks on ISIS are far too few.

America’s departure is going to leave a political vacuum. Iran is largely going to fill that vacuum. Iran’s maneuverings in Yemen are an obvious part of Iran’s projection of power.

Yemen’s geographic location places it within reach of a strategic choke point for ships going into the Red Sea to some of the Middle East’s and Africa’s most important ports. On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran is positioned to choke off the narrow Straits of Hormuz, the conduit for Iraqi and Saudi oil to the rest of the world.

The Sunni Gulf States are in a justifiable panic. The Obama administration’s potential nuclear deal with Iran is a betrayal of America’s allies. Sunnis of the region only have to look to Yemen to understand their own vulnerabilities.

As the Obama administration removes sanctions and Iran grows stronger, these vulnerabilities will grow. An expansionist Iran with a nuclear umbrella is the strongest threat to the region, but from the administration’s perspective Iran fills the power vacuum and provides stability.

If that means jettisoning the Sunni Gulf States and condemning Israel to a suicide pact with the Arabs, so be it. As America becomes increasingly independent of imported oil, America only needs stability for the flow of oil out of the Gulf to the West. In the world of commerce, buyers need sellers as much as sellers need buyers. Even now, as Iran and the Islamic State battle each other in Iraq and Yemen, Iran buys oil from the Islamic State.

Obama believes he can do business with the ayatollahs the same way Nixon did business with China. From this perspective, the administration believes it is better to have a deal with Iran than not.

The French are objecting. France has military bases, including air bases, in the region. France exports more arms to the Sunni Gulf States than to any other region of the world. France gets both natural gas and oil from the region. The Gulf States have appealed to France as their protector. 

In response, France has voiced objections about both the 6000 plus centrifuges and the amount of enriched uranium the Iranians have stockpiled. But even more critical is France’s demand that the Iranian’s respond to evidence that they were building a nuclear warhead, which for the Iranians is a deal breaker.

The rift between Obama and Netanyahu is a diversion. Obama needs his fig leaf. Obama knows what it is like to be a candidate and to speak in a candidate’s circumlocution.

Here is candidate Obama speaking, in 2008, to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”

Obama is dumping Israel because there is a new American paradigm in the Middle East. The rift reminds us of British spymaster John Masterman’s quip about the British-created deception of the allied invasion of Europe, “The greater the truth, in short, the bigger the lie.”

Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center.