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These Obama administration quotes about Yemen are almost too cringe-worthy to read

That bad, huh.
That bad, huh.
(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Yemen is descending into chaos — and the Obama administration's response, at least in its public statements about the crisis, has been a total mess.

The central Yemeni government, which the US had relied on to fight the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen's south, has been deposed by Shia rebels. On March 25, a Saudi-led coalition began bombing those rebels, called the Houthis, in order to stop their advance. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are warning they may invade, and Yemen's president has fled the country.

If this sounds like a disaster, that's because it is. The Obama administration, which just earlier this week was touting its "Yemen model" as a success in counterterrorism strategy, has not been eager to own up to the country's disintegration. And that has come out in a series of muddled, highly cringe-worthy statements given to the press to explain how the US is handling the crisis. It will not leave you feeling confident in the administration's grasp of what to do about Yemen's chaos.

1. "We're trying to beat [ISIS] — and there are complications. ... We have a partner who is collapsing in Yemen and we're trying to support that. And we're trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran. Is this all part of some grand strategy? Unfortunately, the world gets a vote."

— A senior Obama administration official to The New York Times's Mark Mazzetti and David Kirkpatrick, March 27.

2. "The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we're one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what every one agrees is the biggest threat to the region."

— A senior State Department official to Politico's Michael Crowley, March 26.

3. "We have not seen that kind of progress in terms of strengthening the central government, I think you could make a pretty strong case that we've seen the opposite of that, but we do continue to enjoy the benefits of a sustained counterterrorism security relationship with the security infrastructure that remains."

— White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, as quoted by ABC's Mary Bruce and Jonathan Karl, March 25.

4. "The White House does continue to believe that a successful counter-terrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country. ... That is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen."

— White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, as quoted by ABC's Mary Bruce and Jonathan Karl, March 25, the day Yemen's president went missing. He later turned up in Saudi Arabia.

5. "There's a sense that the only view worth having on the Middle East is the long view."

— A senior State Department official to Politico's Michael Crowley, March 26.

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