Over the past two weeks, the U.S.-led coalition has perpetrated three massacres across Syria and Iraq.
In al-Jina in northern Syria, a U.S. drone strike killed more than forty-two people praying in a mosque. Days later, strikes in west Mosul, Iraq killed more than 200 people. That was followed by the bombing of a school in Raqqa, Syria that killed more than 30 people. All told, the number of alleged civilian fatalities from coalition strikes has reached 1,000 in the month of March alone. Indeed, since January, the number of casualties caused by coalition strikes “have been outpacing those of Russia,” according to the monitoring group Airwars.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to increase the brutality of the U.S. battle against ISIS, accusing then-President Barack Obama of weakness. In the third month of his presidency, Trump, it seems, has kept his word. Indeed, the three massacres came after reports Trump and his administration were “exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions” according to The New York Times.
Recent evidence indicates the administration has succeeded in loosening these restrictions, with deadly consequences. Data collected by Airwars shows that the number of coalition airstrikes has decreased in March, but the number of alleged casualties has skyrocketed. As an Iraqi special forces officer described to The New York Times, there has been a “noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since Donald Trump took office.” U.S. Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, head of the coalition against ISIS, also acknowledged that the rules of engagement have undergone changes.
Amnesty International on Tuesday accused the coalition of failing to take adequate precaution to protect human life, noting that the victims of the airstrikes were told to remain in their homes by Iraqi forces.
The increasing brutality of Trump’s War on Terror reflects his larger foreign policy ideology. Grounded in so-called hard-power tactics, this ideology centers on using military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy interests. The administration’s self-described hard-power budget proposal includes a $54 billion increase in military spending. It also proposes a 31% cut to the budget of the State Department, which is primarily responsible for international diplomacy and so-called soft power initiatives, like education exchanges, aid, and cultural programs.
Given this overarching philosophy, it comes as no surprise that the recent atrocities in Syria and Iraq have failed to give the Trump administration pause. While the Pentagon has stated its intention to investigate the massacre in Mosul, Trump and his administration are ratcheting up troop numbers in Syria and Iraq to around 10,000 military personnel.
Similarly worrying are recent reports that the administration is considering expanding U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, without Congressional consultation or coordination with NATO allies. According to these reports, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already requested the lifting of restrictions on military support for Gulf states participating in the coalition. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa this week to protest the Saudi-led coalition’s war, which enters its third year, that has killed more than 10,000 people and brought millions to the brink of famine.
The U.S. role in this conflict is a largely-ignored black mark on Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy. Since its launch, the war has had extensive military support from and the tacit backing of the United States, despite the coalition’s horrific massacres and use of cluster munitions. The war also seems to have no discernible objective, other than inflicting mass devastation on Yemen.
As Trump’s wanton use of military force continues to escalate, the human cost in places like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen will only increase. At the same time, reliance on military force, while slashing funding for diplomacy and aid initiatives, will only further alienate those populations the United States is supposedly liberating.