You know, if I hadn’t been convinced by very smart people that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the warmonger in last year’s presidential campaign, and by other very smart people that Donald Trump was a non-interventionist America-First-Morris-Hillquit-For-The-New-Millennium kind of guy, I’d swear this administration is following a policy in the Middle East that would get Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon establishment all hot and bothered.
The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17. Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.
Two, three, many Vietnams!
This would be alarming even if I believed that the guy in the White House knew the difference between Mosul and Miami Beach, which I do not believe he does. Part and parcel of electing somebody who doesn’t know dick about anything, and thinks he knows everything about everything, is that you wind up with a president who, through sheer ignorance and/or embarrassment, lets everybody below him do anything they want. So far, that’s led to catastrophic consequences for the people in whose countries we are presently making war.
This is complicated even further by the fact that Rex Tillerson, the Phantom of Foggy Bottom, seems perfectly content to let his boss defund most of the State Department while privatizing the rest of it. From the NYRB:
The most startling example may be occurring in Yemen, where the US is intervening with almost no public discussion, debate in Congress, or even—as Western diplomats told me—coordination with NATO allies. The violent civil war in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels who are Shia Muslims is now a regional conflict involving Iran on the side of the Houthis and the Arab Gulf states backing the government. Yemen is facing the “largest humanitarian crisis” in the world, with two thirds of its eighteen million people in need of aid, according to Stephen O’Brien, a senior UN official. But the new US military deployments are taking place without any sign of US diplomatic initiatives or discussion of the future of peace talks in conflict zones, or a more rounded strategy and narrative to woo Muslims hearts and minds in order to defeat the Islamic State. The only discussion appears to revolve around how to escalate military action—something that is deeply disheartening to allies around the world.
Luckily, El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago has left the solutions up to his generals.
The most disturbing discussion to date revolves around the US military being allowed to create free-fire zones in which US forces could target and bomb potential enemies without regard to civilian casualties or damage to economic infrastructure—a stark repudiation of counter-terrorism rules set down by the Obama and Bush administrations. The New York Times has reported that three provinces in Yemen have been declared “an area of active hostilities”—in other words a free-fire zone—and that parts of Somalia will soon be added the list. Western diplomats in Brussels say areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest may also be added. Such a policy, encouraging indiscriminate strikes, will undoubtedly produce thousands more Muslim radicals, undermine humanitarian relief and destroy hopes of economic reconstruction.
This is immoral. This is inhumane. Moreover, it is deeply, profoundly, almost unthinkably stupid.
Opening free-fire zones in an area of the world in which we already have built up substantial reservoirs of hate and distrust isn’t like throwing gasoline on a fire. It’s like throwing the fire into a powder magazine. If there is a policy here beyond Blowing Shit Up and Killing Those People and America, Fck Yeah!, I’m unable to see it. We are creating refugees, and terrorists, and corpses by the carload, for no more reason than we can. Of all the things to which we have had to grow accustomed since last November, this is clearly the most insane.