Vol. XLI No. 21 May 21, 2017

The Madness of Trump: World on a Precipice

Yohannan Chemarapally

FOUR months after Donald Trump took over the presidency, America finds itself more deeply enmeshed in the conflicts that his predecessors in office had left unresolved. Trump on the campaign trail had railed against America's foreign military involvements and military alliances like NATO. He had promised that if elected, he would ensure that America will no longer play the role of a self appointed “global cop”. In his short inaugural speech, his main emphasis was putting “America first” and improving the nation's economy and crumbling infrastructure. His senior administration officials were telling the media that they were reconciled to Syria's President Bashar Assad staying in power.

However, nobody mistook Trump for a peacenik. While campaigning, Trump had repeatedly stated that he would bomb the daylights out of the Islamist groupings like al Qaeda and the Islamic State and reintroduce the practice of “torture” on political detainees. Trump started fulfilling many of his hawkish pledges immediately after taking office. The American military was given a carte blanche to use maximum force against suspected terrorist targets. The Trump administration is dominated by former military men. In the last week of January, Trump had given the green signal for the dispatch of elite US navy seals to Yemen to kill or capture a high ranking leader of the al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The military mission resulted in the deaths of more than 30 civilians, among them an eight year old girl.  The al Qaeda militant the Americans were looking for was nowhere to be found. It was later established that he had in fact defected to the Saudi led coalition that has invaded the country. The Trump administration is backing the Saudi invasion to the hilt by providing military intelligence and sophisticated arms. The al Qaeda and Daesh (Islamic State) presence has dramatically increased as a consequence of the anarchy that the country has been plunged into following the Saudi instigated civil war.

As a result of the US supported war in Yemen, the country is on the verge of an all out famine. According to the UN, nine million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation. 3.3 million Yemenis have been classified as acutely malnourished. The majority of them are children. The weapons supplied by America and its allies have been used by the Saudi led military to devastate the country's infrastructure. The port of Howeida, through which Yemen imports most of its food, has been specifically targeted. 90 per cent of Yemen's food is imported. As Saudi instigated war crimes, including the targeting of hospitals, schools and wedding parties, became hard to ignore, the Obama administration had started mildly rebuking the Saudi monarchy. The first thing Trump did on assuming office was to send a clear signal to the Saudi led alliance that they can continue bombing Yemen, which anyway was the most impoverished country in the region, to the stone age.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of US central command, has said Washington has “vital interests” in Yemen. The US has huge military bases in Qatar and Bahrain along with smaller ones in countries like Jordan and Kuwait.  A Saudi victory in Yemen would give Washington control over the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straits. But a victory is nowhere in sight. The Houthi led alliance of Yemeni forces have fought the powerful Saudi led alliance to a stalemate. The US defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia in the third week of April, strongly signaled that the Americans may intervene more directly in the war in Yemen on behalf of its Gulf allies. “It has gone on for a long time, we see Iranian supplied missiles being fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia and this is something, with the number of innocent people dying in Yemen, it has simply to be brought to an end”, Mattis said in Riyadh. 

Yemen is blockaded by the navies of the US and its gulf allies. Even planes chartered by the UN are not being permitted to land in Yemen. Iran has not been allowed to even bring ships loaded with food and essential supplies to Yemen. The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, recently stated that Iran's “provocative actions threaten the United States, the region and the world”. The statement came just after the Trump administration had reluctantly acknowledged that Iran had fully complied with the terms of the nuclear agreement it had signed with the US and P5+1.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is said to be even worse than that prevailing in Syria. More than 10,000 civilians have already been killed and more than three million displaced in the war. The American military industrial complex will of course be able to make more profits, selling lethal weapons like “daisy cutter” and “cluster” bombs to the rich Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia. The US sold weapons worth more than $130 billion during the eight years President Obama was in office. The Trump administration has decided to sell precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration's “shock and awe” military campaign in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia has already resulted in hundreds of more civilian casualties. The restrictions imposed on the American military by the previous administration were lifted by the Trump administration. In one single incident, an American aircraft targeted a residential building killing more than 200 non-combatants, many of them children and women.

Trump took a U-turn on his position on Syria in early April after the “chemical weapons” incident. Assad was now no longer a potential ally in the fight against extremism but was instead put back officially on the regime change list. President Trump has also radically reversed his position on NATO too. His latest position is that NATO was not only relevant but was a critical component of the western military alliance. His main motivation for reversing positions that he had long held was to show to his critics and the American people that he was in no way indebted to the Kremlin. The mainstream media had been running stories for the last three months that Trump was a puppet of Russia. Those attacks have now stopped and the media and influential think tanks are now hailing Trump as a decisive leader of the “free world”.

Trump has ordered an increase in the number of American special forces operating in north-eastern Syria. Washington has been backing the Syrian Kurds in their efforts to carve out an independent enclave within Syria. Unlike the Russian forces, the American troops in Syria are in the country without the permission of the Syrian government. The Trump administration also wants to ensure that the Syrian Kurds are in the vanguard of the forces that would take control of Raqqa, the capital of the so-called Islamic State.

Within days after ordering the cruise missile attack on Syria, Trump gave the go ahead to use America's “mother of all bombs”, weighing 10,000 kilograms over a remote part of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan.  The bomb, officially called the Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAS) is the biggest and most powerful weapon that America had dropped since 1945, the year in which America dropped two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb, according to the Pentagon, can obliterate anything within a 1000 yard radius as it contains an explosive compound that is much stronger than TNT. Many civilians would have most likely perished despite Washington's claims that only militants were killed. Washington has justified the use of this weapon of mass destruction. The Pentagon spokesman said that it was done at the request of the Afghan government, whose forces were engaged in a battle with the Daesh in the region.

The US Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson said that the decision to use the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the American military's arsenal was his call but he had informed the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about the decision. The bomb was used against a motley group of Daesh fighters, numbering around 200 which had successfully withstood attacks from a combined force of the Afghan army and American special forces. A US special forces officer was killed in Nangahar a week before the mother of all bombs was dropped. The US military has claimed that more than 90 militants were killed in the attack. The price tag of a single MOAB is $20 million. The use of the “MOAB” in Afghanistan and the simultaneous launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles against Syria was apparently a signal to the enemies of America like North Korea, Iran and others that the Trump administration would not think twice before resorting to extreme measures, including even resorting to the nuclear option.

In East Asia, the Trump administration has unnecessarily ratcheted up tensions to a very dangerous level by issuing bellicose threats against North Korea. Initially, while in campaign mode, Trump had talked about “doing a deal” with North Korea. Instead after taking over, Trump ordered the installation of the THAAD anti missile batteries in South Korea, despite public opinion in the country along with the major opposition parties voicing their objections. China too had strongly protested against the deployment of the sophisticated missiles systems, viewing it as a threat to their own national security.

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, has warned that “storm clouds are gathering” in the region as the Americans, South Koreans and North Koreans “are engaging in tit for tat, with their swords drawn and bows bent”. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov too has expressed his concerns about the alarming turn in East Asia. China and Russia have both said that they will try to restart talks with North Korea, Washington has been refusing to engage in meaningful dialogue with Pyongyang. The Trump administration has reiterated the previous administration's position that talks are only possible if the North gives up its nuclear and missile capabilities. Pyongyang has said that given the prevailing circumstances and stories about America considering a preemptive strike, it will be foolish to give up its nuclear deterrent against Washington.