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Mon Oct 26, 2020, 04:33 PM


Trump's Body Count: Failed Brutal Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen

Last edited Tue Oct 27, 2020, 05:00 PM - Edit history (1)

Trump’s Body Count:
Failed Brutal Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen
By Al Carroll

This is not about battle deaths in wartime or a president going to war, but atrocities committed against civilians and the roles any president, not just Trump, played in those war crimes. Just committing America or any other nation to a war is not always enough to get make one a war criminal. Reasonable persons can disagree about whether it was right to begin or join a particular war. But only the most vicious, immoral, or amoral would agree to mass murdering civilians, torture, carpet bombing cities, deliberate starvation, spreading disease as a war tactic, assassinations, or the pardon of those who commit such crimes.

And yet many Americans are reluctant to admit our presidents, generals, and soldiers, sailors, and airmen can commit precisely such crimes. People on both the political left and right often do so. A leftist might argue that the true guilt only falls on political leaders, or that soldiers have been so dehumanized they cannot be blamed. A conservative or others might have such a romanticized view of soldiers and veterans that they cannot believe any of them could do such atrocities. Or they may justify it by saying a soldier “had to” in order to survive. This is the deepest insult to the great majority of veterans, including combat veterans, who never have and never would commit war crimes.

The Nuremberg Trials established the precedent that just following orders is not a defense. The Uniform Code of Military Justice recognizes this precedent and incorporates it into military law in the concept of command responsibility. Not only is it illegal to commit war crimes, an officer or sergeant who fails to stop human rights violations can and should be prosecuted for failing to stop such crimes. A soldier who is ordered to commit human rights violations is bound by military law to disobey such illegal orders.

Presidents, unfortunately, are given sovereign immunity. By international law, no head of state can be prosecuted for war crimes while they are still in office. Even prosecuting them after they leave office proves difficult. Thankfully, it is getting easier. Leading war criminals from Argentina, Chad, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Iraq, Liberia, Peru, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Uganda have all been prosecuted. Almost all were imprisoned, though a few were pardoned.

Similar efforts are deservedly aimed at American war criminals. Henry Kissinger, GW Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, and George Tenet all faced prosecution efforts in parts of the world for their war crimes. Some jurists in South Africa even called for Obama and Biden to be arrested for drone assassinations. After Trump leaves office, likely much of the world will wish to prosecute him and others in the Trump administration for the atrocities they have done.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria War Crimes

When Trump was elected, some of the more naive on the anti imperialist left and the libertarian anti intervention right very bizarrely welcomed him. That he posed as antiwar during the election campaign of 2016, that he slammed the Iraq War, and even lied repeatedly about opposing it, thrilled them. When Trump attacked the NATO nations along ridiculous nationalist lines, “They are ripping us off…not paying their share, etc.” many self described anti imperialists cheered him. Though he was and is an ignorant bigot and a bluster filled provocateur of the worst kinds of hatreds, “At least he was not a warmonger,” the thinking went.

Only the most foolish, blind, or ignorant could continue to believe this. Within a few months, Trump bombed Iraq on a scale not seen since the worst days of the war under GW Bush. Where Obama had drawn down both the Iraq and (after a time) Afghanistan Wars, Trump was always eager to raise the body count. After all, this was the same man who repeatedly ranted in his rallies his actual vow to “Bomb the shit out of them!” and got his audiences to roar with laughter at the prospect of torturing even the families of suspected enemies.

Sure enough, right after his election Trump immediately ordered a far higher number of bombings than Obama. In 2019, the number of US bombings in Afghanistan was at a ten year high, over 7,000. The civilian death toll was higher too, over 700 known dead. And that was itself a jump in the known civilian death toll in Afghanistan from the previous year, by almost a third.

Trump in fact has dropped more bombs at a yearly rate than not just Obama, but even more than GW Bush did. Since Bush ordered bombings prior to US troops invading, this is an astonishing rate of carnage. And since Bush’s bombings primarily targeted large rebel military outposts initially, and Trump’s bombings are targeting increasingly smaller and better hidden rebels, this is also an astonishing record of failure.

It is on top of that a record of carelessness, causing mass civilian casualties. In Iraq, the worst of this was the carpet bombing he ordered in his efforts to defeat ISIS. Upon taking office in January 2017, Trump’s massive bombing killed over 40,000 civilians in Mosul alone. The slaughter continued after, with US allies, both Iraqi and Syrian, killing still more civilians, even children, on the pretext they were ISIS.

Part of how Trump gets away with this, at least until he leaves office, is by secrecy. How many US troops are deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria, has not been publicly published for three years. American antiwar protests were largely driven by fear or anger over American troop losses, not Middle Eastern civilian deaths.

American protesters are also understandably exhausted, occupied beyond his war crimes with the many very public wrongs done by Trump against other Americans. Trump has been sabotaging Obamacare since he got into office, and trying but failing to shut it down completely, which would kill tens of thousands per year. He stood by and let over 3,000 Puerto Ricans die, and did little but sneer and blame the victims. He has appointed hundreds of judges based almost entirely on assuring they would outlaw abortion, which would bring a return to the days of women’s deaths by coat hangers or other grim ways. And there are the dozens of white supremacist terrorist attacks in the US, all cheered by Trump and carried out by those believing they are directed by him. Meanwhile, actual civil rights demonstrations organized by online leaderless hashtags made up of mostly minority students are attacked by Trump as, bizarrely, “terrorist organizations” that he keeps threatening to outlaw.

There is still more harm that Trump has done to the region. Trump’s betrayal of the US’s Kurdish allies angered both American nationalists and the human rights community. It is guaranteed to lead to both mass deaths and long term hostility to America and Americans in the region.

The US record on the Kurds is a long one of ugly betrayal going all the way back to Nixon and Kissinger. After years of Kurdish resistance, backed by US weapons, funds, and air strikes, doing the majority of fighting against ISIS, Trump betrayed them by his sudden announcement they would be on their own. Kurdish anarchist and Marxist militias, many of them women, are the main reason ISIS went from a feared menace to losing 90% of its territory in a short time.

Trump’s arbitrary decision was his alone, derided by his own party, Congress, conservative Christians, American nationalists, and many American military officers. His proclaimed reasons were ignorant nonsense. “I don’t like the Kurds. They ran.” “They didn’t help us in the Second World War.”

His likely real reasons are the subject of much speculation. But it seems obvious. Trump abandoned them because Russian President Putin wanted him to leave. This much we do know. By abandoning the Kurds so quickly and unexpectedly, Russia received much US intelligence that was left behind. Russia also became the newly dominant power in Syria and large parts of Iraq.

Trump’s running from Syria also benefitted Turkey’s President Erdogan, a fellow rabid bigot and nationalist seeking a Greater Turkey. Erdogan has spoken for years of wanting a Turks only Turkey. The biggest obstacle to that is Turkey’s largest minority, the Kurds. The Kurds face massive persecution going back to at least the early twentieth century, and a long standing campaign against Kurdish rebels.

Turkey’s campaign extends into the Rojava, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the de facto Kurdistan anarchist state. Turkey’s campaign in Syria has killed thousands of Kurds and replaced at least 180,000 Kurds with Arabs. Even the street names were changed, from Kurdish to Turkish or Arabic.

The more cynical wonder if Trump did Putin’s bidding because he owes Russian banks, or was being blackmailed with sensational claims of compromising recordings of him watching prostitutes urinate. But it’s just as likely Trump gave in to both Putin and Erdogan because he admires them as dictators and fellow bigots.

Yemen’s Civil War and Deliberate Mass Starvation

Yemen is a country so little known to most Americans, old television programs like Friends mocked it as the most remote place one could go to. The nation has been in a civil war since 2015. On one side is the national government, corrupt and brutal. On the other are Houthi rebels, their name coming from their tribal group. The Houthi are advocates for Muslim law replacing secular. But while some try to portray the Houthi as vicious fundamentalists, there actually are a very small number of Yemeni Jews among their fighters.

The Houthi argue Yemen’s government does not represent them and that it is a puppet of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have kept up a series of brutal bombings to cripple the Houthi. The death toll in the civil war is over 100,000, at least 12,000 of them civilians. Not just the Saudis but also Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain have either bombed with planes, sent troops, or both.

What the last four nations plus the Saudis share is being oil wealthy repressive Sunni governments against the Shia populist Houthi movement. The Saudis argue the Houthi are proxy fighters for Iran’s Shia government. But there is no evidence of Iran giving any weapons to the Houthi, only “spiritual” support from one ayatollah.

The US under Obama did order drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen, who controlled a small bit of territory. It was only Trump that ordered massive support for the Saudi war on the Houthi. Academi mercenaries also sided with the Saudis. Academi was formerly far more notorious when they were called Blackwater.

Perhaps the worst part of the civil war is the ugly famine that has killed almost as many as direct warfare. At least 80,000 Yemenis are dead from starvation. Some call it a “humanitarian disaster,” others a “catastrophe,” and some scholars like Jeff Bachmann and Harold Tavis describe it as outright genocide.

The United Nations issued a warning that 13 million were at risk from dying by starvation in the worst famine in decades. These mass deaths by famine are entirely manmade. Deliberate starvation as a war tactic fits the legal definition of genocide under United Nations and international law.

Over a million Yemenis fled their nation to neighboring countries. Several hundred thousand more Yemenis have been infected by cholera caused by the famine and spread by displacement.

Trump did not directly order the famine. But he did supply the weapons to Saudi Arabia, knowing full well they would bomb Yemen, that the Saudis were targeting civilians, and that famine was the direct result. By any reasonable standard, Trump is complicit in Saudi war crimes against Yemen civilians.

The US Navy provides logistical support for the Saudi blockade of Yemen. US planes help Saudi bombers refuel. All the nations bombing Yemen are using US warplanes such as F-18 Hornets, US attack helicopters such as the Apache, and US bombs resupplied by US companies. US complicity is direct. US Special Forces help locate Houthi targets. The Green Berets also train Saudi forces in the war on Yemen. The US intelligence community also shares its knowledge on the Houthi with the Saudis.

These atrocities, and US involvement with them, became grave and troubling enough that the US Congress voted in April 2019 to end any US military support for the Saudis in the Yemen Civil War. The vote was 247-175 in favor in the House. In the Senate, the vote was 54-46, with seven Republicans voting against Trump.

It was the first time in history the War Powers Act, passed after Vietnam, was invoked to stop war. Trump, of course, vetoed it. There were not enough Republicans voting against these atrocities to overturn his veto. Trump’s excuses for vetoing were outright lies, claiming the US was not involved in the war and that Iran was behind the Houthis.

Those praising Trump for his supposed anti intervention stance look more foolish than ever.

Al Carroll is Associate Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College, a former Senior Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia, and author or editor of six history books and numerous articles for Beacon, Bristle, Counterpunch, History News Network, Indian Country Today, LA Progressive, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Truth Out, Wall Street Examiner, and elsewhere. His next book is Trump’s Body Count: The Horrific Human Rights Record of America’s Third Worst President at Amazon .

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