In another stunning reversal of policy, the U.S. now seeks the removal of Yemen’s besieged president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a long supported and key ally of Washington in the fight against al-Qaeda in the strategic Arabian Peninsula.

One of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous groups is based in Southern Yemen. Through the support of President Saleh, Yemen has been one of the most important U.S. allies in the war on terror – most often in the face of widespread local suspicion and in some areas open opposition. Surveillance and lethal air strikes by U.S. unmanned drones have exasperated the challenges of the unpopular, and three decade long, government of President Saleh. The suppression of local dissent has been largely ignored by the U.S., even as reports surfaced of widespread civilian casualties at the hands of government forces. These reports have progressively worsened as reports recently surfaced that government snipers have been placed on the roof-tops of government buildings with orders to shoot down at the unarmed protesters.

Complicating the matter, the secessionist movement in Southern Yemen has gained support. Yemen territories were unified under the current political regime in the early 1990s. The end result here may be not one, but two, unfriendly Yemens for Washington to deal with.

This latest reversal of American position places its policy in line with the position of its EU partners who had already concluded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh was unlikely to bring about any meaningful reforms and that his hold on office was unsustainable.

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and now Yemen – has the U.S. relinquished its leadership role in the free world to France and its EU partners? Has the Bush Administration’s unilateral foreign policy posture, seeded from the events of 9/11, been turned fully on its head by Obama’s “Baited Breath” doctrine?

It is said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. These days I find myself often thinking about then Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton’s Campaign Ad – 3 AM White House Ringing Phone.

The strategic importance of Yemen cannot be overstated. The loss of support of American policies by an accommodating government in Yemen, particularly in regards to the war on terror, provides the battered and weakened al-Qaeda a safe haven in the Arabian Peninsula. For al-Qaeda, they couldn’t have asked for a better place to rearm, recoup and grow than an impoverished and abandoned Yemen. To its north, lies Saudi Arabia, home to most of the world’s oil as well as the wealth of al-Qaeda’s ideological and financial supporters and birth place of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. From its south, east and west, a massive and largely ungoverned land base from which a refortified al-Qaeda could dominate the most important oil shipping route in the world.

This will not end well for Washington.

Mr. President … Rome is burning, answer that ringing phone!