REPORT: Trump Is Recklessly Escalating Every Simmering Conflict Across the Middle East

REPORT: Trump Is Recklessly Escalating Every Simmering Conflict Across the Middle East

Trump Is Wading into Quagmires Across the Middle East

Beneath the surface of the healthcare debate raging in Washington D.C., a far too quiet foreign policy discussion is slowly building around the question: What the hell is Donald Trump doing in the Middle East?

Since taking office in January, Trump has escalated America’s role in virtually every conflict across the Middle East, without much public debate. Writing in the Washington Post, The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel observed,

“The deepening military involvement has accelerated in recent weeks. The administration will dispatch 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, plus 400 to Syria. The president fired 23 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons against civilians. In recent weeks, U.S. forces have bombed Iranian-supported militia forces moving forward in southern Syria and shot down a Syrian jet flying over Syrian airspace. Russia has cut off coordination designed to avoid air collisions and announced that U.S. planes flying west of the Euphrates would be targeted. As the battle against the Islamic State reaches its final stage, the Pentagon seems intent on sustaining a presence in Syria, aimed at preventing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from regaining control of the country.

In Yemen, the United States is escalating its direct and indirect support for the Saudi air assault that is leveling that impoverished country. As fighting intensifies, civilian casualties and refugees are rising, more and more are driven from their homes, and hunger and deadly diseases such as cholera are spreading as health systems break under the strain. Seventeen million Yemenis suffer from lack of food, while a cholera epidemic infects another child every 35 seconds.”

This doesn’t even include Trump’s bizarre green light to the dictator of Egypt and the king of Saudi Arabia to crack down on civil society groups and ratchet up their confrontation with Iran and embargo Qatar.

Related: Bombing All the Way to the Bank: Syria Strike Makes Trump a War Profiteer

Anywhere that the US could plausibly raise tensions to a boiling point, Trump is trying to do so.

There is no legal basis or even political consensus for him to do this. The Joint Resolution that Congress passed on September 18th, 2001, gave President George W. Bush authority to hunt down and destroy the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Virtually all of those people have now been dead or languishing in a cell for years.

The document that allowed what became the Global War on Terror has been abused since before the ink was dry. But Trump’s new adventurism, especially his ground forces forays into Syria and Yemen, is the biggest abuse of that authorization since Bush invaded Iraq. The Syrian government has not given the US a green light to enter the country. And the government of Yemen rescinded its permission for the US to send ground forces into Yemen after a botched special forces raid that Trump signed off on slaughtered 30 civilians. These incursions are illegal in international law without a UN resolution, and as an act of war against a sovereign state, they require distinct authorization by Congress and some measure of public debate. None of that is happening.

Vanden Heuvel warns that it’s not clear that there’s “any discernible strategy.” The context of what Trump has inherited in the Middle East from his two predecessors is potentially very dangerous, and there’s no evidence that anyone in the White House appreciates the enormity of it.

Related: These Pictures of Syrian Airstrip After Trump Attack will Piss You the F**k Off

In his second term, the Bush administration was chastened by the hard lessons of Iraq, and sought to avoid direct confrontation with Iran. This culminated in the Pentagon telling Israel to chill out after Tel Aviv hatched a plan to bomb Tehran’s nuclear sites and sought Washington’s blessing.

President Barack Obama sought to withdraw from Iraq, fulfilling a campaign pledge, but took the Pentagon’s advice, and did not withdraw as rapidly from Afghanistan as he wanted. Obama also dealt with the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Despite a brief foray into Libya that produced mixed results, Obama mostly sought to extricate the US from the Middle East as much as possible and avoid any new ground wars. A major objective was to fix America’s diplomatic relations with various countries, especially Iran, to the point that the region could reach a balance of power that could eventually engender stability. The Obama administration prided itself on being hard to please civilian management for the Pentagon.

Two problems about the Middle East should be front and center in the Oval Office. Number one: Toppling Saddam Hussein broke the strategic parity in the Middle East. That led to the escalating confrontation between the Saudi-led Sunni bloc and the Iranian-led Shia bloc. This, in turn, resulted in the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars, arguably the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Number two: No one knows how to leave Afghanistan. Obama wanted out, but the Pentagon convinced him of the wisdom of staying. This quagmire is the same trap countless empires have fallen into. Both problems should lead to the same conclusion: Tread very carefully in the Middle East, consult with allies, don’t get too involved or pull out too fast, and don’t make any sudden moves. Trump is doing the opposite.

There are several plausible reasons for this. The Trump administration may simply be asleep at the wheel or pursuing its petty theme of mindlessly undoing what Obama did. No one in the Oval Office has any serious foreign policy credentials. The administration may be so in bed with the weapons contractors who haunt the Pentagon that they’re not even considering strategic interests. There may be powerful people in the administration who are ideologically anti-Iran and pursuing that agenda. Several foreign countries are known to have a lot of influence with Trump. Russia is number one, of course, but former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was secretly on Turkey’s payroll as a lobbyist. Trump has shown aggressive favoritism toward Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, as well. Any or all of them could be lobbying the White House to fight for their interests, or to get too deep into a conflict to weaken the United States. Finally, the administration may want to get sucked into a huge conflict in the Middle East as an excuse to crack down on dissent and ram through an unpopular agenda at home.

Related: This Is The Biggest Threat From A Trump Presidency, And We Need To Start Preparing For It

Whatever the reason, the nascent Trump administration has not been seriously tested yet. But it is casually cruising toward a major confrontation somewhere in the Middle East. The longer this goes unchallenged by Congress, the more likely it is that the American people will wake up to find that Americans are dying in a conflict they were only vaguely aware of.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App