While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.
The U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani has not yet plunged us into a full-scale war with Iran thanks to the Iranian government’s measured response, which demonstrated its capabilities without actually harming U.S. troops or escalating the conflict. But the danger of a full-blown war still exists, and Donald Trump’s actions are already wreaking havoc.
As Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, Iraqis were mourning 40 protesters killed by police and soldiers that day in Baghdad, Najaf and Nasiriyah. Nearly 400 protesters have been killed since hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets at the beginning of October. Human rights groups have described the crisis in Iraq as a “bloodbath,” Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi has announced he will resign, and Sweden has opened an investigation against Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari, who is a Swedish citizen, for crimes against humanity.
The waves of protests breaking out in country after country around the world beg the question: Why aren’t Americans rising up in peaceful protest like our neighbors? We live at the very heart of this neoliberal system that is force-feeding the systemic injustice and inequality of 19th-century laissez-faire capitalism to the people of the 21st century. So we are subject to many of the same abuses that have fueled mass protest movements in other countries, including high rents, stagnant wages, cradle-to-grave debt, ever-rising economic inequality, privatized health care, a shredded social safety net, abysmal public transportation, systemic political corruption and endless war.
On Monday, October 7, the U.S. withdrew 50 to 100 troops from positions near Syria’s border with Turkey, and two days later Turkey invaded Rojava, the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of northeast Syria. Trump is now taking credit for a temporary, tenuous ceasefire. In a blizzard of tweets and statements, Donald Trump has portrayed his chaotic tactical relocation of U.S. troops in Syria as a down payment on his endless promises to withdraw U.S. forces from endless wars in the greater Middle East.
This season could be called the Autumn of Discontent, as people from the Middle East to Latin America and the Caribbean have been rising up against corrupt neoliberal governments. Two of the countries in crisis, Haiti and Iraq, are on opposite ends of the earth but have something important in common. Not only are they reeling from protests against government corruption and austerity programs, like Ecuador and Algeria, but in both Haiti and Iraq, their corrupt neoliberal governments were imposed on them by the use of U.S. military force.
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On Saturday, September 14, two oil refineries and other oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia were hit and set ablaze by 18 drones and 7 cruise missiles, dramatically slashing Saudi Arabia’s oil production by half, from about 10 million to 5 million barrels per day. On September 18, the Trump administration, blaming Iran, announced it was imposing more sanctions on Iran, and voices close to Donald Trump are calling for military action. But this attack should lead to just the opposite response: urgent calls for an immediate end to the war in Yemen and an end to U.S. economic warfare against Iran.
While the mystery of who is responsible for sabotaging the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman remains unsolved, it is clear that the Trump administration has been sabotaging Iranian oil shipments since May 2, when it announced its intention to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” The move was aimed at China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, all nations that purchase Iranian oil and now face U.S. threats if they continue to do so. The U.S. military might not have physically blown up tankers carrying Iranian crude, but its actions have the same effect and should be considered acts of economic terrorism.
Forty-five years after Congress passed the War Powers Act in the wake of the Vietnam War, it has finally used it for the first time, to try to end the U.S.-Saudi war on the people of Yemen and to recover its constitutional authority over questions of war and peace. This hasn’t stopped the war yet, and President Trump has threatened to veto the bill. But its passage in Congress, and the debate it has spawned, could be an important first step on a tortuous path to a less militarized U.S. foreign policy in Yemen and beyond.
As our nation debates the merits of President Trump’s call for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, absent from the debate is the more pernicious aspect of U.S. military involvement overseas: its air wars. Trump’s announcement and General Mattis’ resignation should unleash a national discussion about U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts, but no evaluation can be meaningful without a clear understanding of the violence that U.S. air wars have unleashed on the rest of the world for the past 17 years.