This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 28, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Yemen sinks deeper into chaos as Saudi Arabia launches strikes against Iran-backed rebels. Is America's Middle East retreat contributing to a full-blown Sunni/Shiite war?
Plus, the White House continues its post-election assault on Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu but could it push Jewish voters in the U.S. towards the Republican Party?
And he's first out of the gate in the race for the White House. So can Texas Senator Ted Cruz deliver on his promise to reassemble the Reagan coalition in 2016?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Once touted by the Obama administration as a foreign policy success, Yemen continued its descent into chaos this week with Saudi Arabia leading a 10-nation Sunni coalition in a bombing of Iran-backed Shiite rebels there. The offensive comes after Yemen's U.S.-supported president fled the country Wednesday as Houthi fighters closed in on the southern port city of Aiden and just days after the rebels seized an air base used by American forces in the fight against al Qaeda.
Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and, columnist and editorial board member, Bill McGurn, join with me on this unfolding story.
So, Dan, this is really not just a Saudi invasion. It's really a Sunni coalition invasion. All the Sunni countries in the region uniting to fight Iranian proxies. Are we looking at essentially a region-wide Sunni/Shiite war?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: It looks to be building in that direction, Paul, for sure. I mean, the key player -- there are so many elements to what's been going on over here, it is hard to keep track of it. The key player is Iran. Iran is a Shiite country, a big Shiite country down in the south. Most of the countries up in the north, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, are Sunni.
GIGOT: Gulf State Emirates, Pakistan.
HENNINGER: Now, they have always sort of lived in uneasiness with one another. You now have a situation where the Iraqis have gone into the -- the Iranians have gone into Iraq to fight against Islamic State with the Iraqis. The Iranis are aligned with Bashar Assad in Syria, who is fighting some of the same sorts of forces. But rather than -- we've known about that for a while. They have also financed the Houthies in Yemen who succeeded in overthrowing the Sunni government there. This puts it in an entirely new plane. The Saudis have decided this constitutes a clear-and- present danger because Yemen is on their border.
GIGOT: Right. And they don't want to be surrounded by Iran and a proxy for them in the south. But even if the Houthies don't take over, then you have al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has used that as a base from which to stage operations not only in Saudi Arabia but even in the U.S.
And that's where the U.S. interests come in, Bill. We had been allied with that former government that's been ousted in fighting al Qaeda there.
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST & EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Right.
GIGOT: So now we don't have eyes and ears on the ground as much as we did. And so what are the larger American interests there?
MCGURN: Well, I think President Obama has even said before that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the group most likely to attack us.
GIGOT: I think most people --
GIGOT: -- intelligence services believe that.
MCGURN: And he said that. And he's done what he usually does. We have had a lot of behind-the-scenes kind of things, the CIA drone operations.
MCGURN: People think that the president's policy there is incoherent.
I don't think it is. I think it's wrong, but it's very coherent.
GIGOT: How so? What do you think?
MCGURN: What I mean is that he's always said his policies about bringing people back, no U.S. combat troops. Every speech he gives on every action that he's doing is about no combat troops. So this is what he does. He does little behind-the-scene things but his primary thing is no combat troops and getting the guys out of Gitmo.
GIGOT: The light footprint.
MCGURN: Light footprint.
MCGURN: He'll do small things and behind the scenes but that's his tactical sort of priority.
GIGOT: But the main goal, President Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East, I think, he's been overt about it, is to withdraw from the region, not entirely but, you know, we don't want a major role. We'll let them sort it out I think.
HENNINGER: With one exception.
GIGOT: Which is?
HENNINGER: The Iran nuclear deal.
GIGOT: Oh, the Iran nuclear deal. But even that's ceding eventually to Iran a certain amount of nuclear programs.
GIGOT: And saying, look, we can handle it with an arms control agreement so we don't have to do anything more active about it.
HENNINGER: I think Bill is exactly right about the president's intentions. The problem is this is the Middle East and, by with essentially withdrawing, he has created a vacuum that has allowed these -- as President al Sisi, of Egypt, said recently, if you create a vacuum in the Middle East, players will fill it. And that's what's happening right now.