Uncertainty in Trump’s counterterrorism policy
On Jan. 29, nine days after his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump’s administration embarked on its first special operations mission. This mission, a descendant in the long lineage of the post-World War II policies of United States military interventionism, is now a topic of much debate. The operation, intended to kill Al-Qaeda militants, occurred in the town of Yakla in Bayda Province, Yemen. Thirty-six year old Navy Seal William Owens was killed and several other Seals were wounded during the operation. According to Al-Jazeera’s interviews of Yakla locals, at least 16 civilians were also killed in the skirmish. The Trump administration’s press secretary Sean Spicer called the raid “absolutely a success” in his Feb. 8 press conference and later in the same conference suggested to state otherwise is a “disservice” to the operative’s memory. Arizona Senator John McCain called the mission a “failure” only to retract his statement after criticism.
After more than a year of vitriolic rhetoric and political pandering, the world was stunned by the election of Trump — a former real estate broker and reality television host. Trump ran on a variety of policy promises, but one of his most obvious and influential was his promise to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism” and specifically ISIL, or the Islamic State. Since Trump’s inauguration, many have remained watchful of his foreign policy, and curious to the extent he will advance the hawkish militarism he embraced in his campaign. The raid in Yemen seems to be an extension of this militaristic rhetoric and policy.
Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, attempted to label the Yemen operation as Obama administration leftover, one that was organized and discussed by the administration before its exit on Jan. 20. However, this was debated in a series of tweets by former officials Colin Kahl and Ned Price — who verified that Yemen was a theatre in the Obama administration’s war on terror — but disputed the notion that this the mission was ordered before Trump’s ascension. Kahl, former national security advisor to Joe Biden, tweeted, “In a nutshell, Trump and his team owns the process and the ultimate decision and the consequences.”
The raid in Yemen is one of many points of uncertainty in the unraveling of Trump’s counterterrorism policy. The Yemen raid, although labeled a success by the White House, was rebuked by the recognized Yemeni government; according to Reuters, when President Mansour Hadi met with the U.S ambassador to Yemen, he “made clear his reservations about the problems with the last operation.” In other areas of the region are prominent questions surrounding other American geopolitical hotspots; Israel, Iran and Syria played heavily into Trumps policy goals and rhetoric. Trump has continually denounced the groundbreaking accord signed to limit Iran’s ability for nuclear proliferation, calling it “a really bad deal.” This comes at a time when many nuclear scientists have signed a letter in protest of his dismantlement of the accord.
Christopher Hardaway, a former Foreign Service officer who served in Afghanistan, described these ground operations as inept in countering terrorism. “It is difficult to determine how President Trump will utilize military forces,” he said. “He may have to double its size to achieve, rather poorly, the same footprint we have now through international engagement… It is yet to be seen if President Trump will recognize that terrorism is a complex problem to be addressed with multi-faceted solutions, rather than a nail to be hammered by the military.”
In the Levant, Trump has appointed David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, the Ambassador to Israel — possibly the most important ambassadorship in American hegemony. Israel has received $38 billion in a military aid package over the past 10 years, representing U.S. interests in the region. Friedman has little political experience and has already challenged the future of a two-state solution, immediately questioning the dominant narrative guiding the Palestinian and Israeli peace process. The New York Times quoted Friedman as saying, “There has never been a two-state solution — only a ‘two state narrative.’”
Matthew Evangelista, a professor of comparative politics at Cornell University, described the move as misguided. “It could, however, have implications for the behavior of many states in the region and beyond, because the US rhetorical support for a two-state solution was a fig leaf behind which their governments could hide, especially if their citizens demanded more support for Palestinian rights. Now governments such as Saudi Arabia’s might have to find new justifications for going along with United States policy. The outcome would not obviously be good for Israel either, even if its current government seems to think so.”
Trump issued an executive order calling for a federal immigration order to temporarily halt all people from seven Muslim-majority states from entering the United States. This executive order affects states, that per the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh have accounted for zero terrorism related deaths between 1975 and 2015.
Chris is a second-year politics major with complete competence with consonance. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org