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The Department of Defense may be one of the only parts of the Trump administration that openly admits that climate change is a threat. On Monday, President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $717 billion in spending and advises the military to prep for climate-related flooding and sea-level rise. The nearly trillion-dollar package will be spent on “the finest planes, and ships, and tanks, and missiles anywhere on Earth,” Trump said from Fort Drum in upstate New York.
Problem is: This same federal agency, which is actively planning for global warming, is getting new toys that are capable of emitting tons of carbon.
CNBC outlined some of the big-ticket items in the DoD’s goodie bag. They include: $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, $85 million for 72 Black Hawk utility helicopters, and $1.56 billion for three coastal combat ships (the Navy had only requested one).
A single F-35 fighter has an internal fuel capacity of nearly 18,498 pounds. If each of the 77 fighter jets uses up just one tank, that would amount to more than 1.4 million pounds of fuel. A Black Hawk helicopter has a 360-gallon fuel tank, and the combat ships each can lug nearly 150,000 gallons.
Although it’s been difficult to get hard numbers on the DoD’s total carbon footprint, it’s largely accepted that the U.S. military is likely the single biggest energy consumer in the world. The department said that it sent out more than 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014 — roughly the amount of C02 the entire country of Romania produced that year — but that number excludes hundreds of overseas bases, vehicles, and anything classified as a national security interest.
Basav Sen, climate justice project director at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, pointed to another climate threat: The White House, even before President Trump, has made securing access to oil and gas a national security imperative. And indeed, the U.S.’s latest security strategy outlines “energy dominance” as a key priority — which includes protecting global energy infrastructure from “cyber and physical threats.” He points to the Iraq War as a recent example of the U.S. intervening in an oil-producing region with the intent of securing the crude supply.
“When you’re pumping money into the military, you’re not just pumping money into an institution that burns a lot of fossil fuels and emits a lot of greenhouse gases,” Sen says, adding that funds also go to providing armed protection to the fossil fuel industry under the guise of national security. “That is really, really disturbing.”
Rex Tillerson, ex-Secretary of State, has some words for the Trump administration about capital-T Truth.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” he told the crowd at Virginia Military Institute’s commencement on Wednesday.
Well said — but it’s hard to think of a more ironic messenger. As the CEO of the oil company ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2017, Tillerson was involved in some pretty shady truth-concealing around the science of climate change.
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Between 2008 and 2015, Exxon handed $6.5 million to climate-denying groups and $2.3 million to climate-denying politicians. That all happened under Tillerson’s watch — and after the company had pledged to stop funding climate denial in 2007.
Exxon led a decades-long misinformation campaign to gaslight the public over climate change, now referred to as #ExxonKnew. Scientists warned the company’s leadership what fossil fuel emissions meant for the planet in the 1970s. Instead of sharing that knowledge with the public, Exxon funneled resources into climate denial and lobbied to block climate action.
The company changed up its public approach to climate change under Tillerson’s leadership, supporting the Paris Agreement and even a carbon tax. But Exxon never really owned up to how it had contributed (and continued to contribute) to climate denial’s hold in the U.S.
At the speech on Wednesday, Tillerson said, “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America.”
That’s funny coming from someone who went wobbly on the truth on a rather important matter. Maybe his conscience is finally getting to him?
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“My guilt will never go away,” former Marine Matthew Hoh explained to me. “There is a significant portion of me that doesn’t believe it should be allowed to go away, that this pain is fair.”
If America accepts the idea of fighting endless wars, it will have to accept something else as well: that the costs of war are similarly endless. I’m thinking about the trillions of dollars, the million or more “enemy” dead (a striking percentage of them civilians), the tens of thousands of American combat casualties, those 20 veteran suicides each day, and the diminished lives of those who survive all of that. There’s that pain, carried by an unknown number of women and men, that won’t disappear, ever, and that goes by the label “moral injury.”
When I started Hooper’s War, a novel about the end of World War II in the Pacific, I had in mind just that pain. I was thinking—couldn’t stop thinking, in fact—about what really happens to people in war, combatants and civilians alike. The need to tell that story grew in large part out of my own experiences in Iraq, where I spent a year embedded with a combat unit as a US State Department employee, and where I witnessed, among so many other horrors, two soldier suicides.
The new book began one day when Facebook retrieved photos of Iraqi children I had posted years ago, with a cheery “See Your Memories” caption on them. Oh yes, I remembered. Then, on the news, I began seeing places in Iraq familiar to me, but this time being overrun by Islamic State militants or later being re-retaken with the help of another generation of young Americans. And I kept running into people who’d been involved in my war and were all too ready to share too many drinks and tell me too much about what I was already up all too many nights thinking about.
As these experiences morphed first into nightmares and then into the basis for research, I found myself speaking with more veterans of more wars who continued to suffer in ways they had a hard time describing, but which they wrestled with everyday. I realized that I understood them, even as they seemed to be trying to put their feelings into words for the first time. Many of them described how they had entered the battle zones convinced that “we’re the good guys,” and then had to live with the depth of guilt and shame that followed when that sense didn’t survive the test of events.
Sometimes they were remarkably articulate, sometimes anything but. It seemed not to matter which war we were talking about—or whether I was reading a handwritten diary from the Korean War, an oral history of the Pacific War, or an old bestseller about a conflict ironically labeled “the Good War.” The story always seemed to be the same: decisions made in seconds that lasted lifetimes, including the uncomfortable balancing of morality and expediency in situations in which a soldier might believe horrific acts like torture could save lives or had to accept civilian casualties in pursuit of military objectives. In war, you were always living in a world in which no action seemed ideal and yet avoiding acting was often inconceivable.
Matthew Hoh, that former Marine, now a veterans advocate, introduced me to the phrase “moral injury,” though the term is usually attributed to clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. He coined it in 1991 while working for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
We are, of course, beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, which can be messed with in disastrous ways. There are boundaries inside us that can’t be crossed without a great price being paid. Though the term moral injury is fairly new, especially outside military circles, the idea is as old as war. When people sent into conflict find their sense of right and wrong tested, when they violate deeply held convictions by doing something (such as killing a civilian in error) or failing to do something (such as not reporting a war crime), they suffer an injury to their core being.
Examples of this phenomenon are relatively commonplace in popular culture. Think of scenes from Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried, William Manchester’s World War II odyssey, Goodbye Darkness, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, or films like William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone’s Platoon.
You can find similar examples as far back as the Iliad and as recently as late last night. Lisa Ling, for instance, was a former Air Force technical sergeant who worked in America’s armed drone program before turning whistleblower. She was perhaps typical when she told the makers of the documentary film National Bird that, in helping carry out drone strikes which killed people across the globe by remote control, “I lost part of my humanity.”
Once upon a time, society expressed skepticism or worse toward such formulations, calling those who emerged visibly suffering from the acts of war “cowards” or dismissing them as fakes and frauds. Yet today post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a widely acknowledged condition that can be identified by MRI tests.
PTSD and moral injury often occur together. “I think having both PTSD and moral injury are the normal things for us,” Ling says of those in the drone program. Moral injury, however, takes place at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so is, in a sense, all in someone’s head. When experiencing moral injury, a person wields guilt and/or shame as a self-inflicted penalty for a choice made. PTSD is more physical, more fear-based, and often a more direct response to an event or events witnessed in war.
Think of it this way: PTSD is more likely to result from seeing something terrible, moral injury from doing something terrible.
Moral injury doesn’t just affect soldiers, but civilians, too. Noncombatants are not just victims or targets, but often complex participants in war. This reality led me, as my book developed, to interview now-elderly Japanese who had experienced World War II as children. They described the horrific choices they faced, even at a young age. In a wartime landscape of hunger, survival often depended on small, grim acts that would never be forgotten.
Sometimes, I sensed in talking to them, as in interviewing former soldiers, that the psychic injuries of wartime don’t end until the sufferers do. Moral injury turns out to be a debt that often can never be repaid.
Those survivors of the end of the war in Japan who got the food necessary to live had to pay a price for knowing what happened to those who didn’t. In a landscape ravaged by war, just because something wasn’t your fault doesn’t mean it won’t be your responsibility. An act as simple as which of her children a mother offered a disappearing supply of water to first could mean the difference between life and death. And though, in truth, it might have been impossible in such circumstances and at such an age to know that you were responsible for the death of your sister or brother, 70 years later you might still be thinking about it with an almost unbearable sense of guilt.
And here’s a small footnote: Did you know that it’s possible to sit quietly on a Tokyo park bench in 2017, perfectly aware of whose distant relatives and countrymen dropped the bombs that took away the water that forced that mother to make that decision, and still shamefully continue taking notes, saying nothing as you witness someone else’s breakdown?
What help can there be for something so human?
There are, of course, the bad answers, all too often including opioids and alcohol. But sufferers soon learn that such substances just send the pain off to ambush you at another moment, and yet, as many told me, you may still look forward to the morning’s first throat-burning shot of something strong. Drinking and drugs have a way, however temporarily, of wiping out hours of pain that may stretch all the way back to the 1940s. You drink in the dark places, even after you understand that in the darkness you can see too much.
Tragically, suicide is never far from moral injury. The soul isn’t that big a place.
One former soldier told me he’s never forgiven his neighbor for talking him out of going into the garage with his rifle. Another said the question wasn’t why he might commit suicide, but why he hadn’t. Someone I met knows vets who have a “designated driver,” a keeper not of the car keys but of their guns during emotional rough patches.
The Department of Veterans Affairs counts a stunning average of 20 veteran suicides a day in America. About 65% of those are individuals 50 years old or older with little or no exposure to the country’s twenty-first-century conflicts. No one tracks the suicide rate for civilians who survive war, but it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t high as well. The cause of all those self-inflicted deaths can’t, of course, be traced to any one thing, but the pain that grows out of moral injury is patient.
For such sufferers, however, progress is being made, even if the trip back is as complex as the individual. The Department of Veterans Affairs now acknowledges moral injury and its effects, and in 2014 Syracuse University created the Moral Injury Project to bring together vets, doctors, and chaplains to work on how to deal with it. In the meantime, psychologists are developing diagnostic assessment tools for what some call “soul repair.”
One effective path back seems to be through helping patients sort out just what happened to them and, when it comes to remembered transgressions, what part of those may be their own responsibility (though not necessarily their own fault). What doesn’t work, according to Matthew Hoh, is trying to convince veterans who view themselves as damaged that, in the present American manner, they are really heroes.
Others suffering moral injury may try to deal with it by seeking forgiveness.
Lisa Ling, for example, traveled to Afghanistan, with a desire to truly grasp her role in a drone program that regularly killed its victims from thousands of miles away. To her surprise, during an encounter with the relatives of some civilian victims of such drone strikes, they forgave her. “I didn’t ask for forgiveness,” Ling told me, referring to what she had done in the drone program, “because what I did was unforgivable.”
Killing by remote control requires many hands. Ling worked on databases and IT networking. Analysts studied the information in those databases to recommend humans to target. Sensor operators manipulated lasers to pinpoint where a drone pilot would eventually slam his missile home for the kill.
“Like all of us,” she added, “I spent time on the mission floor, or at briefings where I saw and heard devastating things, or blatant lies, but to actually connect my individual work to single events wasn’t possible due to the diffusion of responsibility. For sensor operators, it is more like stepping on ants. For analysts, they get to know people over time. As watchers and listeners they describe an intimacy that comes with predictably knowing their family patterns. Kissing the kids, taking children to school, and then seeing these same people die.”
Another way back is for the sufferer to try to rebalance the internal scales a little by making amends of some sort. In the case of moral injury, this can often mean drawing a line between who one was then and who one might be now. Think of it as an attempt to re-inscribe those internal borders that were transgressed so long ago.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, the connections between moral injury and whistleblowing, like those between moral injury and suicide, appear to run deep.
For example, Iraq War whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s decision to leak video of civilian deaths caused by members of the US military may have been her version of amends, driven by guilt over silently witnessing war crimes. Among the acts she saw, for instance, was a raid on a printing facility that had been billed as an al-Qaeda location but wasn’t. The US military had, in fact, been tricked into shutting down the work of political opponents of Iraq’s then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Until Manning finally tells her story, this remains speculative, but I was at the same forward operating base in Iraq as she was and know what happened and how it affected me, as well as the others around us.
Whistleblowers (and I was one of them) talk of conscience, of a realization that we were part of something that was wrong. Jonathan Shay suggests that the failure of moral agency does not have to rest with the individual alone. It can involve witnessing a betrayal of “what’s right” by a person in legitimate authority.
That part of moral injury could help explain one of the most significant whistleblowers of our time. In talking about his reasons for blowing the whistle, Edward Snowden invoked questions of right and wrong when it came to the actions of senior American government officials. It would be a worthy question to put to Snowden: How much guilt and shame—the hallmarks of moral injury—do you retain from having been part of the surveillance state, and how much was your whistleblowing driven by trying to rid yourself of it?
I know, because for me, this is so much more than fiction.
“You mean that Vietnam helicopter thing?” A well-meaning family doctor asked me this when I got back from Iraq in 2010, referring to the way some vets react to the sound of a helicopter, sending them “back to the jungle.” No, no, far more than that, I responded, and told him a little about my sorry role in administering reconstruction projects in Iraq and how it left me more interested in vodka than my family. That was my own personal taste of moral injury, of a deeply felt failure to accomplish any of the good I’d hoped to do, let down by senior leaders I once believed in. It’s why I tell the story in Hooper’s War in reverse order, opening with a broken Nate Hooper in his late eighties finally finding a form of redemption for the events of a few weeks at war when he was 18. By moving toward an innocent boy as far away in rural Ohio as one can be from war, I felt I was working through my own experience of the damage war causes deep inside the self.
In tallying the costs of war, what’s the price of a quick death versus a slow one? A soldier who leaves his brains on the wall in the den two decades after his war ended or one whose body remains untouched but who left his mind 10,000 miles away?
The price of endless war is beyond calculation. As our wars continue to morph and roll on, the costs—financial, emotional, and in blood—only pile up as the men and women who have been welcomed home as if it were all over continue to be torn apart. The nasty conclusion on the scales of moral injury: that our endless conflicts may indeed have left our society, one that just can’t stop itself from making war, as one of the casualties.
Peter Van Buren, a former State Department official, blew the whistle on waste and mismanagement during the Iraq “reconstruction” in his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book, Hooper’s War, is a novel set in World War II Japan.
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Alex Sutton sorts through all of his prescribed medications. His regimen at the time included anxiety medication and pills that helped him deal with depression, nightmares, and low energy issues.
Alex Sutton is a decorated US Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq. Raised by his grandparents in Iowa, he joined the Army at 17, and served 13 years in the military. He has been wounded in combat and received the Purple Heart for his injuries. In 2011, he was honorably discharged and medically retired, and took up residence on an isolated farm in rural North Carolina with his fiancée Jessica. They raise heritage breed chickens, along with some pigs and sheep.
Beyond his physical wounds, Alex carries the weight of serious, and chronic, post-traumatic stress. The couple is dead set on healing his mental wounds through rigorous farm work and the space of time; however, healing from PTSD is a nonlinear process. In Alex’s case, it encompassed periods, even weeks, of progress punctuated with deep periods of depression and the constant fear of flashbacks and nightmares.
It’s a story playing out in similar ways in thousands of homes around the country. More than 393,000 US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans Health Administration. Meanwhile, a majority of US farms are in their last generation with no family members to carry on the tradition—40 percent of farmers are over the age of 65. Groups like SAVE Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition are pushing to reintegrate vets into civilian life and the workforce through farming.
The new film Farmer/Veteran follows Alex and Jessica’s story as they attempt to soothe some of the mental wounds of war through agricultural therapy. Farmer/Veteran premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 29th.
Alex decided to sell some of his tactical weapons as a result of discussions with his psychologist. He has a kid on the way, and he says he is trying to leave the soldier part of his life behind. He will keep a few handguns and hunting rifles, but feels that selling his military style weaponry will help in his recovery.
Alex holds one of the many birds on his farm. Alex and his fiancée Jessica initially raised hundreds of heritage breed birds before the workload became too difficult to manage.
Jessica sits on her four-wheeler as Alex fishes. When he has bad days, he goes down to the pond on the farm to settle his mind and try and calm down.
On the way to a fishing trip on Badin Lake, Alex stops for bait fish.
Alex baits a hook while fishing on Badin Lake. Fishing is one of the few things that can calm his nerves.
A shot pheasant waits to be cleaned at a Patriot Hunts event for veterans from the Airborne and Special Forces communities. Alex served with the 82nd Airborne and has attended a few of these events that bring together vets from the region.
Jessica stands at the bed of the Sutton’s truck after a Patriot Hunts event.
A rifle cartridge sits on a table at the Sutton residence next to a mailer about veteran medical benefits.
Cattle push and bellow in a pen at a livestock auction in rural North Carolina. The Suttons came to try and a buy a cow or two and ended up with two alpacas, which Alex bought on a whim.
Alex and Jessica wait for the birth of their first child. After losing custody of his first daughter (from a previous marriage) after returning from his third tour in Iraq, Alex has always wanted, but feared, the arrival of his first child in his new relationship.
Alex shows his new haircut.
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A couple of days ago The Intercept released a leaked transcript of President Trump’s recent phone call with President Duterte of the Philippines. Here’s a piece of it:
BuzzFeed’s Nancy Youssef got some feedback about this from folks in the Pentagon:
Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. “We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movement stealth is key to their mission.
….By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.
Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.
Needless to say, Trump wasn’t expecting that his conversation would be leaked. But these things happen—along with other ways that private conversations can end up in the wrong hands—which is why presidents don’t just casually drop military secrets into meetings with foreigners for no better reason than to make themselves look tough. This is now (at least) the second time Trump has done this, and there’s a price to pay:
1/2 Why Trump’s “we’ve sent the subs!” gaffe can be so damaging:
Now that CN/RUS *know* US subs were there, can go back & calibrate sensors. pic.twitter.com/iSRk3pD8RK
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows)
2/2 “This is how it looked when subs were there; we’ll look for that pattern again.”
N Yousef story https://t.co/er0BsiFtAS
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows)
We’re quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don’t trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know.
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As Donald Trump heads to Riyadh today on his first international trip as president, he brings with him a gift: a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion for Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, the deal is specifically being developed to coincide with the visit, where he will meet with Saudi leaders and discuss the war in Yemen. And its success seems to be crucial to the president, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally intervened in the deal’s development. According to the New York Times, earlier this month, in the middle of a meeting with high-level Saudi delegates, Kushner greased the gears by calling Lockheed Martin chief Marilyn A. Hewson and asking her to cut the price on a sophisticated missile defense system. Other details of the package, though, have been somewhat shrouded in mystery—Congress, which will have to approve any new arms deal, has to yet to be notified of specific offerings—but it is said to include planes, armored vehicles, warships, and, perhaps most notably, precision-guided bombs.
It’s that last detail in particular that is making many in Washington sweat. The Obama administration inked arms deals with the kingdom worth more than $100 billion over two terms, but it changed course in its last months. As Mother Jones has regularly reported, the Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen has been fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence, and aerial refueling, and it has repeatedly hit civilian targets, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals, and places of worship. Civilian deaths are estimated to have reached 10,000, with 40,000 injured. In response, the Obama White House suspended a sale of precision-guided bombs to the country in December.
But now, despite the kingdom’s track record, President Trump is aiming to revive the deal. “Lifting the suspension on precision-guided munitions is a big deal,” says William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “It’s a huge impact if it reinforces the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and also the signal that it’s okay with us. It’s saying, ‘Have at it. Do what you want.'”
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the DC-based Arms Control Association adds, “Obama’s record on arms sales wasn’t stellar in any way, but in this instance on precision-guided munitions he finally got a bit of spine and said we need to put a pause on this, because the United States is functionally contributing to this humanitarian disaster. Trump is ready to jettison any human rights concerns,” he says, noting that the administration has all but explicitly stated as much. Of course the White House has already excised “human rights” from the top of its agenda; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced plans to cut 2,300 diplomatic and civil service jobs and, in a speech to State Department employees outlining the administration’s “America First” strategy, Tillerson argued that pushing US values on other countries, such as protecting human rights, “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”
Following that logic, this arms package might just exemplify the elusive “America First” doctrine. “It’s good for the American economy,” a White House official told Reuters of the deal, suggesting that it would result in jobs in the defense sector. According to analysis by Abramson, Trump’s first 100 days in office resulted in $6 billion worth of notified arms sales—eight times that of Obama’s, whose first 100 days totaled $713 million.
But Trump may come against more opposition to the deal than he anticipates. Last year, expressing outrage over Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the support of 27 legislators to vote against a billion-dollar deal to supply Saudi Arabia with Abrams tanks. The deal still went through, but their opposition marked a shift in how lawmakers viewed arms deals to the kingdom and was the first time that Congress publicly debated the wisdom of the United States’ role in the war in Yemen. At the time Murphy said, “There is a US imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen, which is radicalizing the people of Yemen against the United States.” The two senators also drafted legislation that would suspend certain types of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until the country could demonstrate that it would protect civilians. This April, they reintroduced a similar bill, this one aimed specifically at air-to-ground munitions. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), a co-sponsor, said the bill “would help protect innocent civilians and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions… We need to stand up for our values and ensure that the U.S. no longer turns a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen.” Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have continued to highlight the need to address the Yemen war through humanitarian means, as well as limiting US support.
Even if Congress doesn’t put up a fight, which seems unlikely, Trump’s new deal may fall prey to other obstacles. Earlier this week, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights released their expert opinion on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and concluded that future sales may not pass legal muster. “In the face of persistent reports of wrongdoing, Saudi Arabia has failed to rebut allegations or provide detailed evidence of compliance with binding obligations arising from international humanitarian law,” the report states. “Under these circumstances, further sales under both the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act are prohibited until the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes effective measures to ensure compliance with international law and the president submits relevant certifications to the Congress.”
Furthermore, Hartung isn’t convinced a deal of such tremendous proportions can realistically come to fruition unless it incorporates deals previously made under the Obama administration—especially considering that it won’t include big ticket items like the F-35 fighter jet, an offer that would make Israel deeply uncomfortable. “Where are they gonna get $100 billion worth of stuff to sell?” Hartung asks. “I don’t see where it is going to come from—are we going to ship our whole Navy over there? Under Obama, under Foreign Military Sales, they offered $115 billion in weapons over his two terms. This would be a one-shot deal that would be almost equal to that, and the Obama numbers were a record,” he says. “It seems like part of this is: Trump just likes big numbers. It’s like when he claims credit for jobs he didn’t really help create.”
If it’s for optics, there’s one clear benefit. “Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s got the short-term benefit of Trump showing that he cares about the Saudis,” says Hartung, suggesting that it possibly could be political theater as the two countries mend ties and as the US tries to project hard power in the region.
Of course, what Trump often fails to realize is that optics go both ways. In addition to what human rights groups have called indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, on multiple occasions, the Saudi coalition has blocked humanitarian aid from entering Yemen, contributing to the growing catastrophe that’s left millions on the brink of starvation and millions more who have been forced to flee their homes. “It appears that war crimes are being committed in Yemen, and if the United States is supporting that war, in a way it is also culpable for those war crimes,” says Abramson. “Most Americans don’t want their country to be engaged in war crimes. That’s another reason why we really need to pay attention to this.”
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What’s on our president’s mind on this lovely Easter morning? Let’s check in:
Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
This came after a series of tweets griping about folks who still want to see his tax returns; the paid agitators behind yesterday’s rallies; and China not being a currency manipulator as long as they play ball on North Korea. You can almost feel the morning star of our Savior’s resurrection infusing Trump’s heart with warmth and gladness, can’t you?
Speaking of which, I gather that there was no sunrise service on Trump’s schedule today. That’s OK with me—I slept in too—but it’s kind of funny, especially since Politico informs us that Trump is becoming more Godly now that he’s in the Oval Office:
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court Justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.
He’s also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don’t appear to come naturally to him.
Apparently Trump isn’t even a Christmas-and-Easter Christian, but he’s still “cultivating” the Christian right. He may be an atheist in practice—none of us actually believe his recent nonsense about praying more often, do we?—but that won’t stop the Christian right from embracing Trump as long as he’s against abortion and Democrats and says the word “God” once in a while. With practice, maybe he’ll even be able to toss out the occasional Biblical allusion.
It probably sounds like there’s not much warmth in my heart either this morning, and obviously I need to work on that when it comes to Trump. After all, even here in the land of palm trees, light arises in the darkness for us upright folks.
On Thursday, US forces dropped the largest conventional bomb in its arsenal on an ISIS tunnel complex in Nangahar province, eastern Afghanistan. The GBU-43 Massive Ordinance Air Blast, aka the “Mother of All Bombs,” or “MOAB,” is a 21,600-pound bomb developed in 2003 during the first Iraq War. Its explosion is reportedly equivalent to 11 tons of TNT and creates a one-mile blast radius in every direction. As one of its creators stated at the time of its testing, “It is the largest guided bomb in the history of the world with a tremendous impact and detonation.” This marks its first use in combat, and serves as a reminder that the longest war in US history rages on over 15 years after the US first invaded Afghanistan.
United States Forces-Afghanistan issued a statement Thursday morning confirming the strike, stating that it was “designed to minimize the risk of Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities.” General John W. Nicholson, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, said, “As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense. This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our defensive against ISIS-K.”
In Thursday morning’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “The GBU 43 is a large, powerful & accurately delivered weapon. The US took all precautions against civilian casualties.” When reporters asked for details, Spicer declined to comment further.
“The hard truth is…when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over 90 percent of those killed or injured will be civilians,” Iain Overton, the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said in an e-mail. “And when explosive violence is used in lesser populated areas, at last 25 percent of those killed or injured will be civilians. In short, the bigger the blast you create, the more civilians will be killed.”
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Military Times, “What the MOAB does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire. It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”
Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University, is worried that the military’s decision could encourage other countries to develop or deploy similar weapons. Bolton also says it is unlikely that this sort of weapon could spare civilians. “It is difficult to imagine how it might be used in the kind of wars the US now fights—often in urban areas—without posing serious dangers to civilians,” he says, “both as a result of its immediate wide area effect and the impact on vital infrastructure like electricity, water, sewers, schools, and health services.”
While the number of civilian casualties and destruction to civilian property remains unknown, the strike comes amidst concerns that the Trump administration has loosened the rules of engagement that had sought to minimize civilian casualties for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. During the campaign, Trump promised that in the fight against ISIS he would “bomb the shit out of ’em” and pledged to “take out their families.”
Last month, Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, acknowledged that the coalition “probably had a role” in an airstrike in al-Jadida, Iraq, that killed as many as 240 Iraqi civilians. According to Airwars, an international airstrikes monitoring organization, March marked the third month in a row in which alleged US-led coalition civilian casualty events outnumbered those of Russia, and the number of US munitions dropped in the first three months of 2017 is up 59-percent over last year.
Of the MOAB, Overton adds, “That bomb cannot be targeted, it cannot be proportional and it cannot but kill civilians.”
This story has been updated.
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