U.S. Marines are, for the first time, deploying to Syria (with more to come). There’s talk of an “enduring” U.S. military presence in Iraq, while additional U.S. troops are being dispatched to neighboring Kuwait with an eye to the wars in both Iraq and Syria. Yemen has been battered by a veritable blitz of drone strikes and other air attacks. Afghanistan seems to be in line for an increase in American forces. The new president has just restored to the CIA the power to use drones to strike more or less anywhere on the “world battlefield,” recently a Pentagon prerogative, and is evidently easing restrictions on the Pentagon’s use of drones as well. U.S. military commanders are slated to get more leeway to make decisions locally and the very definition of what qualifies as a “battlefield” looks like it’s about to change (which will mean even less attention to “collateral damage” or civilian casualties).
President Trump may soon designate various areas outside more or less official American war zones ― since the U.S. Congress no longer declares war, they can’t truly be official ― as “temporary areas of active hostility.” That will grant U.S. commanders greater leeway in launching attacks on terror groups in places like Somalia. In fact, this already seems to have happened in Yemen, according to the New York Times, opening the way for a disastrous Special Operations Forces raid there that caused the death of a Navy SEAL and possibly nine Yemeni children (the youngest three months old), while evidently accomplishing next to nothing.
In other words, in the early months of the Trump era, U.S. wars and conflicts across the Greater Middle East are being expanded and escalated. This isn’t exactly a new process, and isn’t yet at the level of either the failed Iraqi Surge of 2007 or the failed Afghan one of 2010. Still, you might think that the almost instant failure of that Yemen raid would have rung a few familiar warning bells in Washington when it comes to escalating America’s wars in the region. If so, you would evidently be oh-so-wrong. The history of the last 15 years tells us that in Washington such setbacks couldn’t matter less. At the moment, the generals who have headed down these very paths before are evidently recommending to an eager new president that it’s the height of wisdom to head down them again.
As Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, points out today in “Prepare, Pursue, Prevail!” this is now business as usual in militarized Washington in the twenty-first century. It’s so much the law of the land that the Pentagon has developed the perfect language for masking, perhaps to itself as much as others, just how dismally familiar this process actually is.