By Bruce Riedel
James Carter is remembered as the president who faced the fall of the shah and the hostage crisis in Iran, very difficult challenges that many Americans felt he failed to handle effectively. This view ignores his many successes in foreign policy, including a much-forgotten crisis in Yemen where he defeated a Soviet-backed communist attempt to overthrow the pro-Western regime in the Arabian Peninsula.
In the 1970s, Yemen was divided between the north, where Ali Abdullah Saleh was the military dictator, and the south, where the communist party was in charge of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). The communists were riven by infighting with extreme hardliners in charge.
On February 24, 1979, in response to a minor raid from the north probably not authorized by Saleh, the PDRY mounted a full-scale invasion across the border.
South Yemen had air superiority thanks to significant assistance from Russia and East Germany. Eight hundred Cuban troops assisted the south. The Soviets had 1,000 advisers and experts in the south. Southern tanks were on the verge of seizing Taiz, the former capital of the north, which would have been a staggering blow to Saleh. On March 8, the southern air force…