War Against Civilians:  The US in Libya and Yemen

 Buthaina in Yemen hospital

During the Vietnam War, American historian Howard Zin wrote: all wars are wars against civilians, and are therefore inherently immoral” and “political leaders all over the world should not be trusted when they urge their people to war claiming superior knowledge and expertise.” This holds true just as true today as in the Vietnam War era. While the Western media remains focused on the cult of personality even whether it covers domestic or foreign policy issues and always with all the pre-conceived notions of American Exceptionalism, the US under President Donald Trump has continued the Obama administration’s war in Yemen where 10,000 people have been killed in the last four years and 80% of the population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Regardless of repeated warnings by international organizations and the United Nations about these humanitarian crises, nether the Europeans, nor the US have changed their militarist policies that exacerbate the crises. As far as the US and Europeans are concerned, Yemen is a war where crimes against humanity have  been defaulted to the parties directly involved, pro-Iranian Houthis and pro-Saudi Yememis. However, the weapons and resources used come largely from the UK and US whose foreign policy is inexorably linked to the Saudi Arabia and Israel. Since 2011 the US has carried out 550 drone strikes in Libya, far more than in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan where it is also active.

More than 10,000 people have died in the war in Yemen, which has entered its fourth year, and about 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid, which Saudi Araba and the US insist on using as a political weapon in the civil war. The UAE-Saudi-led coalition strikes carried out in post city of Hudaida in June 2018 are the latest assaults on civilians, forcing not just the estimated 30,000 residents to find a safe place to hide, but placing in jeopardy the entire country that depends on the entry port for its imports, according to the United Nations. Without the multi-billion dollar weapons sales by both the US and the UK, insisting on the pretext that Iran is the aggressor trying to secure a balance of power advantage in Yemen and the Middle East, the humanitarian catastrophe would not have occurred, and if so, not nearly at a such high cost to civilian lives.

In both cases, the interests of the US as well as the UK rest primarily in maintaining the political-military advantage in the Middle East, while their defense manufacturing companies amass huge profits in weapons sales. Although in May 2017, the Trump administration signed a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis, a deal that has policy strings attached, the US war on civilians in both Yemen and Libya transcends US political party line. Its origins rest with the Democrat President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The long-standing bipartisan nature of US foreign policy may have been distracted by the theatrics of a ‘do-no-harm while preserving the status quo’ US-North Korea summit, but both political parties remain steadfastly committed to military solutions, even if they disagree on the degree and burden-sharing costs of multilateralism.

Narrowly focused on Trump personally, rather than the dynamics of public policy, and mostly preoccupied with the politics of the Russia interference Mueller investigation, rather than on the fact that it exposes the decadence of capitalist corruption intertwined with political corruption, the US media rarely covers the US military involvement in Yemen; even less in Libya. With the exception of local Arabic news outlets, especially Al-Jazeera, Yemen and Libya are countries immersed in civil wars as part of tribal and terrorist power struggles with regional players involvement. In  recent article entitled “The Escalating War No One is Watching”, David Axe of the Daily Beast, writes the following:

“The strikes killed as many as 387 bystanders and wounded up to 524, according to the report. That amounts to one civilian death every 5.5 air raids, on average, and as the report points out,  “No nation or local group has stated responsibility for any of these civilian deaths.” Compared to, say, Yemen, the rate of civilian casualties might seem low. In Yemen, the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism counted 217 air strikes since the Saudi-led intervention in that country beginning in early 2015, resulting in as many as 52 civilian deaths. That’s an average of one death every 4.2 strikes. The seemingly lighter bloodshed in Libya raised researchers’ suspicions. “Reported civilian harm from air strikes in Libya is relatively low when compared to higher-intensity conflicts in, for example, Iraq, Syria or Yemen,” the Airwars.org and New America Foundation report notes.” https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-escalating-air-war-no-one-is-watching

It is ironic that Trump administration officials and the president readily acknowledge that the US and its NATO partners destroyed Libya and left it to rot under Obama, a model some line National Security Advisor John Bolton actually considered for North Korea amid talks about US demands for denuclearization of North Korea. Putting delusional US assumptions about the extent of its ability to have its way in North Korea where China remains the largest player, the issue here is the complete absence of candor that the US remains an active player in continuing to destroy Libya, just as it candidly admits that this is no way to treat a sovereign nation. The destruction, of course, comes at the expense of civilians, thereby raising the ugly reality of complicity in war crimes as much in Libya as in Yemen. While the UN Human Rights Council had no choice but to strongly condemn the US for violating the human rights of migrant children separated from their parents and placed in makeshift prisons, there has been no similar condemnation, despite countless reports about the humanitarian catastrophe in both Yemen and Libya. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/evidence-points-to-war-crimes-by-libyan-national-army-forces/; http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/the-u-s-is-still-enabling-saudi-war-crimes-in-yemen/; https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/04/the-united-states-is-guilty-of-dozens-of-war-crime.html

This is not to say that Western European governments are less guilty in these wars against civilians, or in the consequences of the wars that result in mass migration. Perpetual US-NATO warfare and no prospect of peace in Libya forces some civilians to find safety across the Mediterranean where a hostile Europe has taken measures to prevent refugee influx. According to Amnesty International: “By actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they [European governments] are complicit in these abuses. Since late 2016, EU Member States – particularly Italy – have implemented a series of measures aimed at closing off the migratory route through Libya and across the central Mediterranean, with little care for the consequences for those trapped within Libya’s lawless borders. Their cooperation with Libyan actors has taken a three-pronged approach. Firstly, they have committed to providing technical support and assistance to the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), which runs the detention centres where refugees and migrants are arbitrarily and indefinitely held and routinely exposed to serious human rights violations including torture. Secondly, they have enabled the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea, by providing them with training, equipment, including boats, and technical and other assistance.” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/12/libya-european-governments-complicit-in-horrific-abuse-of-refugees-and-migrants/

Because of the rising tide of rightwing populism in Europe, the concern is not with the humanitarian dimension of a Western-created crisis, but containing the refugee problem so that the mythological Judeo-Christian Caucasian purity remains as free of dark-skinned Muslim contamination as possible. Rightwing populist thinking is hardly different in the US where the US Supreme Court agreed with Trump’s “Muslim Ban” policy on 26 June 2018. Focused on the largely symbolic June 2018 Trump-Kim summit that will not alter the balance of power in Asia where China, not the US, holds all the cards, the US media preoccupation is on trade and its impact on corporate profits.

Civilian deaths and millions displaced, is hardly a concern of the US corporate-owned media, whether it supports the authoritarian populist neoliberal Trump-led Republican Party or the pluralist-diversity neoliberal Democrat Party whose main focus is to win back power. The remarkable continuity in militarist policies from Obama to Trump is buried under cult-of-personality politics. Meanwhile, public policy impacting the lives of the vast majority is obfuscated as is foreign policy where the only thing that matters is Russia remains America’s eternal enemy, while militarism creating exacerbating humanitarian crises in Muslim countries goes unnoticed. Although the US will have a turnover in Congress in the elections of 2018, the wars against Muslim civilians in their own countries will continue. Even if the Democrats are lucky enough to unseat the neoliberal authoritarian populist Trump in 2020, the idea that the US will abandon military solutions to political problems abroad is as likely as income redistribution from the top down rather than from the bottom up.

Jon V. Kofas, Ph.D. – Retired university professor of history – author of ten academic books and two dozens scholarly articles. Specializing in International Political economy, Kofas has taught courses and written on US diplomatic history, and the roles of the World Bank and IMF in the world.



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