The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Four months ago, Obama called Yemen’s war on terror a success. Now the Yemeni government may fall.

On Tuesday, Shiite insurgents overran Yemen’s presidential palace, posing a coup-style threat to current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Should Hadi be pushed out, it'll likely have broad consequences: Hadi had proven himself a loyal ally in the fight against al-Qaeda’s much-feared branch in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Not that long ago, Yemen was being painted in a different light. Flash back to the heady days of September 2014 (four months ago), and the war on terror in Yemen was being touted as a "success" in speeches by President Obama. Talking about the threat posed by the Islamic State, Obama pointed toward Yemen and Somalia as possible examples:

This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out [the Islamic State] wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

Even back then, many who knew the situation in Yemen questioned that logic. My colleague Ishaan Tharoor argued that Yemen was an example of "U.S. mission creep, not success," and that the threat posed by AQAP was still very real (after AQAP claimed to be behind the high-profile attacks in Paris this month, that point grew stronger). "Very few people who are not part of the administration consider either of those cases a success," the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman wrote.

It's important to note that it's not the Sunni extremist AQAP that is posing the threat to Hadi right now. Instead, it's members of the Houthi rebel faction, who are believed to be backed by Shiite regional power Iran and who argue that they are oppressed by Yemen's Sunni majority. It's also unclear whether the Houthis want to actually force Hadi out, or just use their military success to pressure the government.

The fight against AQAP seems likely to take a hit, however: While the Houthis have battled against al-Qaeda forces before, wider chaos in the country could well help AQAP. The Houthis are also unlikely to be a willing partner for the United States, which they have accused of meddling in Yemen's affairs in the past.

As such, America's "successful" war on terror in Yemen, long deeply unpopular within the country, may have to be reassessed. And if the broader U.S. policy goal in Yemen is stability, it doesn't look like a success at all right now.

See also: What's happening in Yemen's potential coup