Yemen

Something About Alfalfa

This is something that has been bugging me, and the question doesn’t seem to want to calm down.

To the one, the infamous Yemen raid is all the more notorious for being the first military action of President Donald Trump’s new administration. To the other, Rachel Maddow spoke with a Colin Kahl, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden:

MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don’t know very much about it. We are told in terms of the timeline that his National Security Advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day. The next day, at dinner with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son in law Jared Kushner, and with Secretary of Defense and some other principal-level personnel, he made the decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. That seems like a remarkably informal, small, quick process. Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you’ve seen around potentially deadly raids like this, in the past?

KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in a context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen. So it’s not just the raid itself, it’s that there’s a broader set of authorities that are behind that, that deserve deliberation, and what I mean by that is you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table. You also need your intelligence professionals, so that they can vet the intelligence to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table, so that they can go through the political implications; what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or diplomatic relations? You need the communicators in the room so that you know that you’re on message and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need the legislative team in the room so that you can notify Congress. This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment, and the problem is even if you’ve got a bunch of smart capable people around the table at dinner―like Secretary Mattis, who I think the world of, and Joe Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s an amazing man―you need a fuller picture than those two general can provide so the president to make a decision of this gravity.

Quite the question; quite the answer. Nor should we look past the rest of it but for the moment, well, the words “significant escalation” stand out. And it’s just one more reason.

(more…)

President Trump at War (Dead SEAL Club Mix)

A woman in Sana, Yemen, on Sunday walking past a graffiti protesting United States military operations in the war-torn country. (Detail of undated photo by Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency)

There are a couple of ways of looking at President Donald Trump’s first military action: It’s a disaster, or, It’s not quite a disaster. Mohammed Ghobari and Phil Stewart explain, for Reuters:

A U.S. commando died and three others were wounded carrying out a deadly dawn raid on the al Qaeda militant group in southern Yemen on Sunday, in the first military operation authorized by President Donald Trump.

The U.S. military said it killed 14 militants in a raid on a powerful al Qaeda branch that has been a frequent target of U.S. drone strikes. Medics at the scene, however, said around 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

Two more U.S. servicemen were injured when an American military aircraft was sent to evacuate the wounded commandos but came under fire and had to be “intentionally destroyed in place,” the Pentagon said.

The new U.S. president called the operation a success and said intelligence gathered during the operation would help the United States fight terrorism.

(more…)

Your Congress at War … With Itself … Again

Detail: Morning rises over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 11 March 2014.  Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The setup: Remember how Republicans used to denounce President Obama as a “king” and lamented his unprecedented executive power?

Can we try laying on thick? Remember how Republicans and Democrats alike handed President Bush what essentially amounted to perpetual war powers?

Now, remember: President Obama is currently operating in the Iraqi-Syrian theatre, against Daa’ish, under authority granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force granted President Bush in 2001 to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, apparently, everyone else in Iraq.

We might also remember some back and forth in there about the fact that it is Congress who grants war powers to the president, yet it was also Congress who wanted President Obama to march down to Capitol Hill with a plan that satisfies their desire to send our troops to war.

So President Obama did just that. Well, at least, the marching down with a plan part.

And of course, Republicans are upset that he did so.

Steve Benen tries to explain an emerging, familiar theme―

In terms of the politics of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), the president’s language was not well received on Capitol Hill – many Democrats said the resolution, as written, is too broad and includes too few restrictions, while most Republicans said it’s too narrow and includes too many restrictions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), demonstrating his trademark wit, called the proposed language “utterly stupid.”

The dynamic has annoying familiarity to it:

1. Congress demanded to President Obama, “Send us a resolution!”

2. President Obama responded, “Fine, here’s proposed language.”

3. Congress then declared, “We don’t like this resolution!”

Perhaps now would be a good time to remind lawmakers that they could have – at some point over the last six months – worked on writing their own language to consider. Perhaps “legislators writing legislative language” would have been too obvious.

―except this time there is a twist:

… pay particular attention to the detail about Obama putting an expiration date on the resolution – something that didn’t happen in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

As near as anyone can tell, Republicans appear to be upset that the war powers request is mission-specific and has an expiration date requiring renewal after three years. Benen points to his msnbc colleague David Taintor:

Former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who is eyeing a White House bid in 2016, criticized Obama’s resolution as too limited.

“All options need to be on the table in combating this Radical Islamic threat,” Santorum said in a statement distributed by his Patriot Voices PAC. “We need to take the fight to our enemy without the constraints this Administration is proactively placing upon itself and this President’s successor. The next President needs to be able to have all the tools at their disposal to not just conduct military operations, but win this war.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also considering a White House bid, said Obama’s war proposal need only be one sentence. “I would say there is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence. And that is: ‘We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.’ And that’s, I think, what we need to do,” Rubio said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Those who preach that there is no difference between the parties should take a moment to explain this one: Democrats are concerned that the AUMF request is too vague and will license widespread warfare. Republicans are upset that the AUMF fails to demand either widespread or perpetual warfare.

No difference at all, there, eh?

Here we go. Iiiiiiiiiiit’s wartiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!

(Those who might remind as we did above that our troops are already engaged in this war might also wish to take a note; previously, the U.S. was merely fighting this war, and now we are preparing to officially commit to it. And given that our response to 9/11 and its connections to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen was to invade Iraq, one wonders if maybe Republicans might actually be hoping for another petition to perpetual warfare. After all, in matters of war and peace, or life and death, it’s important to keep the really important things in mind, like posturing for the 2016 election. No, seriously, just think about what’s happening; a president with a Nobel Peace Prize is asking to go to war and Republicans are pitching a fit because it’s not a big enough war.)

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Benen, Steve. “Congress balks at war resolution it didn’t want to write”. msnbc. 12 February 2015.

Taintor, David. “Obama asks for new war powers: ISIS is ‘going to lose'”. msnbc. 11 February 2015.