In the days leading up to the 2016 election, I became aware of a chilling rationale that powered support for Donald Trump among active military members that went way beyond the old chestnut that Republicans quickly lose their religion on deficits when it comes to defense spending. And Donald Trump has already demonstrated that he’ll yank meals away from senior citizens if it’ll buy a few more bullets. “Sorry, Grandpa, we’ve got brown people to kill. Have you tried eating a shoe?”
And while I absolutely understand the instinct to protect one’s job and put food on the table, which voting Republican is almost guaranteed to do if you’re in the military, where I start to become concerned is when I hear things like, “Donald Trump is finally going to let us kick some ass.” Which is also the same mentality that earned Trump an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police. Essentially, anything goes. It’s an idea that stretches back to the aftermath of the Vietnam War when a myth was deliberately injected into our national lexicon that America lost that endeavor because we had “one hand tied behind our back.” Except anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Vietnam knows that orders to commit horrifying and unconscionable acts were carried out pretty easily.
But before I paint with too broad of a brush, the military and police are obviously not a giant monolith where everyone votes and thinks in lockstep. I know there are men and women in uniform who fully appreciate the violence that’s about to be unleashed under the questionable leadership of a narcissistic manic who openly advocated committing war crimes and faced zero repercussions for it. And in the coming days, I have no doubts that those men and women will be the heroes who come forward to tell us how that violence happened and why it shouldn’t be ignored.
Which brings us to Trump’s current meddling in the Middle East that’s being overshadowed by whatever the hell Devin Nunes is trying to pull and the spectacular failure of the American Health Care Act. It turns out Trump’s first disastrous raid in Yemen — an exercise in boosting his strongman image by greenlighting a raid that Obama wasn’t “kickass” enough to authorize for reasons that are now deadly apparent — was only the start of a bloody campaign that looks a hell of a like the start of war with Iran.
Even more alarming, reports from the ground in Yemen, Mosul, and Syria all share a consistent theme that should give anyone with an understanding of how the military operates significant pause: The rules of engagement are being relaxed. From The New York Times (emphasis mine):
The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.
If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.
Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.
Naturally, the Pentagon denies that the rules of engagement have been changed. However, in the same breath it also says that “minor adjustments” have been made to “speed up the process of providing air power” i.e. drone strike the shit out of anything and everything without getting too bogged down in details like maybe not killing a bunch of civilians in record numbers. Also, according to The Daily Beast, in a report about another strike in Syria last week that possibly killed as many as 50 civilians and would’ve left 200 dead had a religious lesson not gone past schedule, “since December the authority to approve airstrikes has been relegated to the lowest appropriate level.” The reaction you’re looking for is Jesus Christ.
Of course, this raises questions about Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has the distinct honor of being one of the few cabinet appointees not tainted by Russia, which is how low the bar is right now. While the conventional wisdom at the time of his appointment was that Mattis is a well-read, data driven officer who would keep Trump in line, specifically in regards to NATO, there were far too few concerns about his actual views on civilian casualties. In light of recent events, it’s probably safe to say those views hover somewhere between, “What are ya gonna do?” and “Eh, fuck ‘em.” Which is exactly how we ended up with ISIS and are rocketing towards making that mistake all over again because apparently the Muslim ban wasn’t a big enough recruitment tool.
As we speak, American troops are slowly being dragged into a ground war in Syria — and if you’ve been paying attention, that’s on top of the other ground war slowly being rolled out in Yemen — and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) warns that all of the pieces are in place to repeat Iraq all over again. Or more specifically not in place because our president isn’t big on planning.
This past Thursday, I joined other members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee for lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I was glad that Tillerson was willing to open the doors of the State Department to a bipartisan group of senators, and our discussion was honest and frank. In the meeting, Tillerson showed admirable candor in admitting that the military strategy was far ahead of the diplomatic strategy in Syria.
But this was actually a dramatic understatement. Unless a secret plan exists that Trump is keeping from U.S. senators and his own Secretary of State, there is absolutely no plan for who controls post-ISIS Raqqa, or post-Assad Syria.
Without a political plan for the future of Raqqa, a military plan is practically useless. Yes, getting ISIS out of Raqqa is a victory in and of itself, but if we set into motion a series of events that simply prolongs the broader conflict, ISIS will easily pick up the pieces and use the ongoing turmoil to regroup and reemerge. We should have learned in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya that a military victory without a plan for what comes next is really not a victory at all. But unbelievably, we seem on the verge of making this mistake again, because of (understandable) enthusiasm for taking the fight to a vicious enemy.
To anyone concerned about human life, from the soldiers who are about to fed into another meat grinder, to innocent civilians who are becoming more and more of an afterthought, to the deadly consequences of ISIS growing in numbers, this is goddamn alarming information. Unfortunately, for Trump voters, this is him actually delivering on a campaign promise by not being some “egghead pussy” who worries about the ramifications of ruthlessly bombing the hell out of innocent people who practice a religion that barely registers as a threat to American lives. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than die in a terrorist attack, but that doesn’t come with an air of religious superiority and good old fashioned white supremacy, so I’m an idiot for even trying. Keep kicking ass, everybody.