Amid the confusion and frenzy of President Trump’s recent executive order, which barred U.S. entrance to scores of immigrants and refugees alike, one recent event in American politics that failed to attract any sustained attention was the American raid in Yemen.
While U.S. forces conducted the raid itself on Jan. 29, detailed reports of the outcome of the mission were only revealed last week.
These reports affirmed that as a result of the raid, 23 civilians and one elite Navy SEAL were killed and a $90 million aircraft was destroyed after a crash landing.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer characterized the raid as “a successful operation by all standards” and also noted that it was “very, very well thought out and executed.”
Almost no one outside of the Trump Administration agrees with Spicer’s assessment, however.
Sen. John McCain called the raid a “failure,” local residents described the incident as “chaotic” and the raid is now under U.S. military investigation after some reports suggested that Trump gave the go-ahead for the mission as he was eating dinner.
Many have been quick to criticize the Trump Administration after the details of the mission came to light, and they are right to do so.
It is inexcusable and indeed irresponsible to claim that a mission like this one is successful, given that it in fact failed by all objective measures.
Yet while the White House’s reaction to the raid certainly raises serious questions about the Administration’s commitment to telling the truth to the American people, another troubling thought is why U.S. forces are even in Yemen at all.
Purportedly, American forces are currently in Yemen to locate and neutralize top commanders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP.
That might very well be true. But as Ali Khedery — who holds the title of the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq — reminds us, American Middle East policy has made a habit of “substituting unpleasant realities with rosy assessments based on questionable assumptions.”
The January raid, then, can be understood as a small part of a much larger and disturbing narrative of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, where bombings, drone strikes, and at times indiscriminate killings are starting to look like norms rather than exceptions.
Before the Navy SEAL was killed, practically nobody even cared that American forces were dropping bombs in Yemen.
After all, as the historian Andrew Bacevich reasoned, “whoever was killed and maimed by U.S. ordnance falling from the skies, it wasn’t our guys.”
But now the thinking is supposedly different.
Now that a Navy SEAL has died, and now that a $90 million aircraft has been destroyed, some have suggested that Trump’s reckless decision to greenlight the raid represents a shocking degree of indifference towards innocent loss of life.
Yet that indifference is hardly emblematic of just the Trump Administration.
Ever since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, the U.S. has entangled itself in conflicts that it has virtually no hope of getting out of and has frequently bombed countries without much care for who is ultimately killed — all in the name of the “War on Terror.”
To be sure, groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State do pose very real threats to U.S. interests, but those threats do not give the U.S. free license to do essentially whatever it sees fit in a region that is already deeply divided and fragile.
So while the raid in Yemen as an isolated incident is undoubtedly problematic in and of itself, Americans would also do well to consider why it is that U.S. forces are in Yemen to begin with, and what that means for the future of U.S. foreign policy under a President who is highly unlikely to make things much better in the region.