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.

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.

The US and torture

The Guardian has a story on torture in Iraq (with a follow-up here and look here for the BBC report when the logs first came out):

The allegations, made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.

The Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation was sparked by the release of classified US military logs on WikiLeaks that detailed hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centres run by the police commandos across Iraq. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years after he pleaded guilty to leaking the documents.

Samari claimed that torture was routine in the SPC-controlled detention centres. “I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library’s columns. And he was tied up, with his legs above his head. Tied up. His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten.”

The pattern in Iraq provides an eerie parallel to the well-documented human rights abuses committed by US-advised and funded paramilitary squads in Central America in the 1980s. Steele was head of a US team of special military advisers that trained units of El Salvador‘s security forces in counterinsurgency. Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 while Steele was there and became a major advocate of counterinsurgency methods.

Anybody who doubts the story first needs to say how Steele came to be in charge despite:

Along with a dozen commandos, there were several American advisers in the room, including James Steele, one of the United States military’s top experts on counterinsurgency. Steele honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country’s brutal civil war in the 1980’s. Steele’s presence was a sign not only of the commandos’ crucial role in the American counterinsurgency strategy but also of his close relationship with Adnan. Steele admired the general. ”He’s obviously a natural type of commander,” Steele told me. ”He commands respect.”

The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, to which it has often been compared, but El Salvador, where a right-wing government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency in a 12-year war beginning in 1980. The cost was high — more than 70,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, in a country with a population of just six million. Most of the killing and torturing was done by the army and the right-wing death squads affiliated with it. According to an Amnesty International report in 2001, violations committed by the army and its associated paramilitaries included ”extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings, ‘disappearances’ and torture. . . . Whole villages were targeted by the armed forces and their inhabitants massacred.” As part of President Reagan’s policy of supporting anti-Communist forces, hundreds of millions of dollars in United States aid was funneled to the Salvadoran Army, and a team of 55 Special Forces advisers, led for several years by Jim Steele, trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses.

and:

But while Petraeus headed for the top, Steele’s career hit an unexpected buffer when he was embroiled in the Iran-Contra affair. A helicopter pilot, who also had a licence to fly jets, he ran the airport from where the American advisers illegally ran guns to right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. While the congressional inquiry that followed put an end to Steele’s military ambitions, it won him the admiration of then congressman Dick Cheney who sat on the committee and admired Steele’s efforts fighting leftists in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In late 1989 Cheney was in charge of the US invasion of Panama to overthrow their once favoured son, General Manuel Noriega. Cheney picked Steele to take charge of organising a new police force in Panama and be the chief liaison between the new government and the US military.

If the US didn’t condone torture, then why was Steele in Iraq and not in jail? Also, they need to answer why none of the leaders are in jail but the one person most responsible for getting this information out (Bradley Manning) is.

No preconditions except ours

Palestine is now  a nonmember observer state in the UN. The US and Israel both worked against this and explained why:

Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was dismissive of the entire exercise. ‘‘Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,’’ she said. ‘‘And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.’’

There has been absolutely no progress in the past few years despite what Abbas has done so I’m not sure what prospects she’s talking about. And it’s all the Palestinians fault anyway:

‘‘Three months ago, Israel’s prime minister stood in this very hall and extended his hand in peace to President Abbas,’’ Prosor said. ‘‘He reiterated that his goal was to create a solution of two states for two peoples, where a demilitarized Palestinian state will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.’’

Now today:

Israel approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a government official said Friday, in what appeared to be a defiant response to the Palestinians’ successful United Nations recognition bid.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israeli while settlement construction continues in occupied territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said negotiations must begin without preconditions.

There are two things to think about here: first, this is not an aberration–Israel has continued to build settlements despite protests by Abbas and the UN; second, notice the contradiction that is always present when Israel talks about preconditions: they say “a demilitarized Palestinian state will recognize Israel as a Jewish state” in other words Israel has preconditions but Palestinians are not allowed to have preconditions for the talks. I wonder why Abbas has a problem with that?

Israel and the Palestinians

Farah Stockman has an interesting point:

Hamas’s rockets resulted in a ceasefire that eased the Israeli blockade on Gaza, giving Hamas a victory to claim. The crisis also produced a flurry of attention and high-level visitors to Gaza from the Muslim world. Fatah basically got ignored.

Meanwhile, Abbas has precious few victories to tout after years of stalemated peace talks. And his statehood bid already seems headed for disaster. Members of Congress have threatened to cut US aid if Abbas goes ahead. Voices in Israel are calling for punishment, including starving Abbas’s government of import duties, annexing parts of the West Bank, or even finding a way to kick Abbas out of power. Israel’s right-wing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has called Abbas’s strategy at the UN “diplomatic terrorism.”

Is it any wonder that Hamas is getting more popular? If Abbas is a “diplomatic terrorist,” why not just vote for the real thing?

Fatah has basically stopped violence directed at Israel from the West Bank and have gotten nothing for it. Fatah’s one main prerequisite for resuming negotiations is that Israel stop building in the West Bank and they can’t even get that. Abbas is now trying to get Palestinians status upgraded at the UN which Israel is very much against:

“The United Nations General Assembly will pass a one-sided anti-Israel resolution that should come as a surprise to nobody, and certainly not to anyone in Israel,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government. “We always said that the reality was that the Palestinians have an automatic majority in the General Assembly.”

Israel has argued that the Palestinian move is a unilateral action that violates peace accords, and that a vote for the resolution — which, according to the draft, “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” — will make it harder to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since there has been no progress in negotiations for at least a few years and since they’re not negotiating now, does it really mean anything that Israel says this will make negotiations harder?

Let them eat cake

Not a whole lot of empathy here (italics added):

The protesters, frustrated about a sharp increase in fuel and gas prices, were led by a hodgepodge of activists that included the largely secular Hirak youth movement, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and various nationalist and left-wing groups. Jordan is plagued by poverty, unemployment, and high inflation.

‘‘I already can barely feed my 4 children with my monthly wage of $500, how can I afford this price increase?’’ asked Thaer Mashaqbeh, 47, a civil servant protesting in central Amman, as the crowd chanted: ‘‘The people want to topple the regime,’’ and ‘‘Abdullah, you either reform or you go.’’

The government has defended the price increases, saying they were necessary to reduce a massive budget deficit and foreign debt — part of Jordan’s efforts to secure a badly needed $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to shore up the kingdom’s shaky finances.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the fuel price hikes are needed to address Jordan’s fiscal woes and the terms of its IMF accord. ‘‘There is always some pain that comes with these things,’’ she told reporters. ‘‘But it’s a necessary pain in this case.’’

It’s also not especially smart. Austerity has been tried in Europe and it doesn’t work because it depresses the economy. Of course the IMF is not known for helping people.

Turkey and Syria

This is very troublesome:

Turkey’s Parliament authorized military operations against Syria on Thursday and its military fired on targets there for a second day after deadly shelling from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

For its part, Syria admitted it was responsible for the shelling that killed five people in Turkey and formally apologized for the deaths, a top Turkish official said.

This is not a declaration of war, but it does make it more likely. A war between countries in the Middle East would not be a fun time.

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