I’m sure this will end well

Remember when people were saying that Trump might be less of a warmonger than Hillary Clinton? It seems they were wrong:

The Trump administration is exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.

Already, President Trump has granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three provinces of Yemen to be an “area of active hostilities” where looser battlefield rules apply. That opened the door to a Special Operations raid in late January in which several civilians were killed, as well as to the largest-ever series of American airstrikes targeting Yemen-based Qaeda militants, starting nearly two weeks ago, the officials said.

Mr. Trump is also expected to sign off soon on a similar Pentagon proposal to designate parts of Somalia to be another such battlefield-style zone for 180 days, removing constraints on airstrikes and raids targeting people suspected of being militants with the Qaeda-linked group the Shabab, they said.

So more attacks with more civilian deaths, that should make the US popular. And we want to arm everybody:

The Trump administration has told Congress it plans to approve a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed by the State Department under President Barack Obama.

Among the steps the Obama administration had sought from Bahrain was the release of Nabeel Rajab, a famed human rights activist who helped lead the 2011 protests. Rajab, whose trial has been repeatedly delayed, awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading ‘‘false news’’ via Twitter over his posts about the ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen, as well as allegations of torture by authorities at a local prison.

So sell arms to countries even if they’re dictators who imprison their citizens on trumped up charges. Yup, that will make the US popular.

And despite the increase in attacks, there are no real plans for what happens after (shades of the Bush administration):

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, US troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Robert Malley, a former senior official in the Obama administration and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group, said the uptick in military involvement since Trump took office did not appear to have been accompanied by increased planning for the day after potential military victories.

“The military will be the first to tell you that a military operation is only as good as the diplomatic and political plan that comes with it,” Malley said.

The lack of diplomacy and planning for the future in such places as Yemen and Syria could render victories there by the United States and its allies unsustainable.

Plans have been announced to send 300 US Marines to Helmand province, their first deployment there since 2014. And the US commander, General John W. Nicholson Jr., told Congress in February he would like another “few thousand” American and coalition troops.

So we’re going to be sending more troops to: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and I’m sure many other countries. I was worried about this under Obama but at least Obama was cautious and was pulling back troops. Trump seems eager to start wars everywhere and at the same time seems determined to piss off all our allies (Australia, Germany, the UK, …). It’s not going to be pretty.

John Kerry is on the wrong side

Let’s look at how things are going in Yemen and Bahrain:

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of gulf countries conducting airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose country chairs the GCC, said relations with Iran will be chilly until the country ends its interventionist policies.

“We stressed that if Iran wants to have normal relations with the GCC states, it has to change its policies and abide by the good-neighborhood principle,” he said.

Wait, Saudi Arabia is directly involved in Yemen but it’s Iran who needs to end its interventionist policies?  Has Iran done this?

A Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen used U.S.-supplied bombs in an airstrike last month on a market that killed at least 119 people, a human rights group said Thursday, further highlighting American involvement in the conflict.

The March 15 bombing targeting the northwestern town of Mastaba marked the second-deadliest airstrike of the year-long Saudi-helmed campaign — and the results were horrific. Survivors said the outdoor market, next to a shantytown inhabited largely by people who fled there from other battle zones, was obliterated by double strikes that came about 10 minutes apart, with mangled bodies thrown hundreds of yards away.

And has Iran allowed this?

Al-Qaeda has made major financial gains as a result of the war in Yemen, running its own mini-state and pocketing $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s largest port, a Reuters investigation has revealed.

The group’s deep pockets and increased power are down to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has reportedly helped it become stronger than at any time since its emergence almost 20 years ago.

Iran has been sending weapons to Yemen, but given the above this statement by John Kerry sounds more than a little hypocritical:

“If Iran is going to give meaning to the words in the last few days about wanting to work with people, it is by getting engaged in making peace in Yemen, not adding more weapons and fueling the conflict,” Kerry said.

And he’s worse when talking about Bahrain:

Referring to Bahrain earlier in the day, Kerry criticized the Bahraini opposition, saying its boycott of a 2014 election had a “polarizing” effect.

Kerry, appearing with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, praised reforms Bahrain has made to open its political system but said more steps were needed to counter violent extremism. He suggested that the opposition had played a role in preventing more reforms.

“Regrettably, I think a great mistake was made when the opposition chose to boycott an election,” said Kerry, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Bahrain since a government crackdown that followed protests in 2011 by Bahrain’s majority Shiite Muslims. “I think that polarizes things rather than helps them.”

Standing beside the foreign minister, Kerry hailed Bahrain as a “critical security partner” of the United States and said security was the foundation of the relationship between the countries.

“At the end, our relation with Bahrain is built on common interests that we share, and one of those interests is joint efforts to combat violent extremism,” Kerry said. “We believe that broadening rights and opportunities, bringing people together in the political process, is one of the ways to counter it.”

Let’s look at the Freedom House’s ratings for Bahrain:

Bahrain’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections and the government’s unwillingness to address long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite community about the drawing of electoral districts and the possibility of fair representation.

Their conclusion: Not Free.

But Freedom House breaks things down further (the scores are out of 100 where 0 is the best, 100 the worst):

If you look at the aggregate score of Bahrain, you find they have a score of 14 (in this case, higher is better)–only 16 regions have worse scores (out of 211 entries; they are 12th worst when you only count countries–the rankings include places like Tibet and Crimea which are disputed regions in a country).

So, Bahrain is a pretty bad country that John Kerry should not be praising. Oh, and Saudi Arabia is even worse (the 10th worst country; Iran is slightly better at 20th worst).

Our Ally

What’s going on in Yemen?

The United States on Tuesday sponsored a United Nations Security Council session intended to draw attention to the dire consequences of the war in Yemen, but the meeting also raised questions about potential crimes committed by a Saudi-led military offensive that the Pentagon actively supports.
The United States refuels military jets and provides intelligence support to the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is trying to defeat Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Since those airstrikes began in March, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed, dozens of schools and hospitals have been attacked and the United Nations has warned of breaches of international law.
But during the session on Tuesday, the United Nations’ top human rights official said that the Saudi-led coalition bore the greatest responsibility for the civilian carnage. The official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said that while both sides in the conflict had engaged in attacks on civilians, “a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces.”
Wow, so Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with weapons and intelligence supplied by the US. I assume now that it’s clear, the US will change its support:
Despite those conversations, the Obama administration has not blocked a $129 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. It has also not suggested that it would withdraw its support for the Saudi-led operations, nor said that it would conduct its own investigations into military airstrikes that might amount to serious crimes.
Oh well, never mind. At least Saudi Arabia is helping control the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda:
Nine months of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and a Yemeni rebel group have left thousands of civilians dead, a nation gravely polarized and the land strewn with debris, mines and unexploded bombs.
The conflict has produced another bitter legacy: a new branch of the Islamic State that has quietly grown in strength and appears determined to distinguish itself as Yemen’s most disruptive and brutal force, carrying out attacks considered too extreme even by the country’s branch of Al Qaeda.
Both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have profited from a security vacuum while trying to rally Yemen’s Sunnis against the Shiite-led rebels, known as the Houthis, who are from the north, analysts say. Crucially, the groups have both faced little or no resistance from the Saudi-led coalition and its allies, which are focused on defeating the Houthis.
Well fuck, it seems the US is on the same side as al-Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen. Great work that.

Stay there

Ben Carson went to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan:

After meeting with refugees at a camp in Jordan, Carson, 64, told CNN that “their true desire is to be resettled in Syria.”

“But they are satisfied to be in the refugee camps if the refugee camps are adequately funded. Recognize that in these camps they have schools, they have recreational facilities that are really quite nice. And there (are) all kind of things that make life more tolerable,” he added.

Speaking from Jordan, told ABC’s “This Week” program: “We’re hearing that they all want to come here to the United States, and that’s not what they want. They want to go back home.”

In the ABC interview, Carson called for increased U.S. aid for regional refugee efforts such as those in Jordan.

“I believe that the right policy is to support the refugee program that is in place, that works extremely well but does not have adequate funding,” Carson said. “If you do that, you solve that problem without exposing the American people to a population that could be infiltrated with terrorists who want to destroy us.”

Of course they want to go home, but there’s a bit of a problem–Syria’s in the midst of a civil war involving at least three sides. What about that?

Carson said that Islamic State should be defeated quickly and criticized the current U.S. strategy as “piecemeal.”

“I think we need to work in close conjunction with our Department of Defense, with our Pentagon, with our experts. Ask them what do you need in order to accomplish this? And then, let’s make a decision,” he told NBC.

Carson went over to Jordan because he is perceived, rightly, as being very weak on foreign policy. Somehow I don’t think announcements like this will help. He has no idea of what defeating ISIS involves and he seems to have no idea that the refugees might want to go home but know they can’t right now. They also might be satisfied with being in a refugee camp, but they don’t want to live there long term–Carson might have noticed that more than a million have tried to make their way into Europe. Or maybe he hasn’t noticed.

Whose side are we on?

Yemen is a mess:

Saudi-led air strikes on a missile depot in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Monday sparked explosions that left at least 18 people dead and 300 wounded, flattening houses and shaking faraway neighbourhoods.

The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

The United Nations says the fighting and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, and there has been increasing concern of a huge humanitarian crisis.

Also:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was long forced into the shadows by U.S. drone strikes and commando raids, has taken advantage of the growing chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war to carve out a potential haven that counter-terrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks.

After seizing a regional airport and a coastal oil terminal this week, Al Qaeda militants consolidated their gains Friday in Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port. Fighters stormed a weapons depot and seized armored vehicles and rockets after apparently forging a truce with local tribes and forcing government troops to flee.

Since Al Qaeda is a bigger threat, than the Houthis, in the Middle East as a whole, Saudi Arabia must be bombing them more also. Umm no:

The Houthis have fought with AQAP, Sunni Muslims whom they consider enemies. But the Saudi airstrikes have only targeted the Houthis — giving Al Qaeda a relatively free hand.

So the US is helping the Saudis who are fighting the Houthis who are fighting al Qaeda who the US is also fighting. Lovely.

Republicans try sedition

First House Speaker invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress, which might be unconstitutional (what do these people Washington and Jefferson know about the Constitution anyway):

As described in The Executive Power over Foreign Affairs, George Washington as President asserted his role as the “sole channel of official intercourse” with foreign nations.  (Letter from Washington to the Emperor of Morocco, Dec. 1, 1789, cited at 111 Yale L.J., p. 317; further discussion of the point at pp. 318-322).  Notably, Washington quarreled with French ambassador Edmond Genet in 1793, who sought to enlist U.S. support for France in its conflict with Britain.  When Washington insisted on neutrality, Genet attempted to communicate directly with Congress, which he suspected was more sympathetic to France than the President.  Washington, through Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, responded sharply:

Jefferson upbraided Genet for attempting to contact Congress at all, declaring that all of Genet’s transactions must occur with the Executive of the United States.  Any communications between the President and Congress were none of his business, and he could not interfere.  The “President must be left to judge for himself what matters his duty or the public good may require him to propose to the deliberations of Congress.”

and now they double down with a  letter to Iran:

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

Basically Cotton and the others who signed the letter are telling other countries not to trust the US. Also, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shows in a response to the letter that he is much more intelligent than Cotton:

Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Irans peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.”

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Ah well, this is just your modern Republican Party at work.

Another war

So, we have now attacked ISIS in Syria, as well as another group, and we also want to get rid of President Assad. Even better, this is an open-ended operation:

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the objectives set for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and now Syria could take years to complete. The attacks in Syria marked the start of a new phase, coming six weeks after the U.S. military began a similar campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Iraq.

But this time it will work–I expect that in 6 months we will have turned the corner.

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