The Trump Doctrine: “Bomb The Sh*t Out Of ‘Em!”

In Iraq and Syria, the Trump administration shows no regard for human life
President Donald Trump addresses U.S. military troops and their families at the Sigonella Naval Air Station, in Sigonella, Italy — May 27, 2017 (AP/Luca Bruno)

President Donald Trump addresses U.S. military troops and their families at the Sigonella Naval Air Station, in Sigonella, Italy — May 27, 2017 (AP/Luca Bruno)

With a president who has placed himself in a perpetual state of controversy and a news cycle that moves at light-speed, some important stories slip through the cracks. President Trump’s indiscriminate slaughtering of innocents in Iraq and Syria is one of those unfortunate stories.


Donald Trump’s word is about as reliable as [insert funny analogy here because I seriously cannot think of anything less reliable than Donald Trump’s word] but we should’ve taken it seriously on that November 12th day in Iowa back in 2015.

He clearly wasn’t just talking about ISIS…

According to the UK civilian casualty monitoring group Airwars, as of July 13, 2017 more than 2,200 have been killed by US-led coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria since Donald Trump’s inauguration. To put that in perspective, Airwars estimates 2,300 civilians were killed in Iraq and Syria by the coalition during Obama’s entire last two years in office.

This stark rise in civilian deaths is a result of an absentee Commander-in-Chief, a crippled State Department, and a Defense Department prioritizing annihilating ISIS over minimizing civilian casualties.

An Absentee Commander-In-Chief

President Donald Trump walks away from the podium after speaking on the Syria strike — Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Thursday, April 6, 2017. (AP)

The President is supposed to be the steady hand that guides our global military strategy. Weighing the diplomatic counsel of the Department of State and the military counsel of the Department of Defense, the President and his aides are supposed to provide a holistic perspective finding the proper balance between restraint and force. But with an understaffed State Department and a president who doesn’t concern himself with the details of strategy, we’re left with yet another vacancy in the Trump administration: The role of Commander-in-Chief.

200 civilians killed in an air strike in Mosul, Iraq. The largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat dropped in Afghanistan. Under normal circumstances, these moves would’ve been authorized by the Commander-in-Chief…But we are far past normal, aren’t we…

President Trump has essentially abdicated this role, delegating virtually all of his duties as Commander-in-Chief to the Department of Defense and lower level commanders. This has resulted in sky-rocketing civilian deaths.

In June, the Pentagon made an announcement that President Trump is granting Secretary of Defense James Mattis full authority over troop levels in Afghanistan (now reportedly deploying 4,000 additional troops). In April, Mattis was also given this same authority in Syria and Iraq. This is a stark reversal from the Obama and Bush administrations, who wanted full control over the Force Management Level System. The White House had full control over the troop levels in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Some would argue that control over troop deployment would be better in the hands of Mattis than Trump, but given the fact that the Pentagon is understaffed, this raises concerns. As of June, only 5 of the 53 top jobs at the Pentagon had been filled and with a State Department that is in no better shape, one would hope the civilian oversight of the White House would provide the policy context from which to make these military decisions. President Trump has proven that he does not want to concern himself with such matters.

Mattis himself is a man of great competence, but without top jobs filled, decisions have been made at the lower levels of command. And this is where we begin to see some problems.

In April, the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on Afghanistan. The strike took out at least 94 ISIS fighters and was a show of force to North Korea, who at the time was prepping for another nuclear test. Whether you approve of the strike or not, there is an important component that needs to be addressed. President Trump didn’t order the strike. In fact, he wasn’t even aware of it until after the deed was done.

President Trump would not specify if he ordered it directly but he stressed the flexibility he’s given the U.S. military. He told reporters:

“What I do is I authorize my military. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”

Total authorization. This statement was corroborated by a Fox News report that revealed the decision to use this unprecedented weapon was made unilaterally by Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander on the ground. The largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat was ordered without the approval of the Commander-in-Chief. The White House has been taking a “hands off” approach to strategy, allowing the military to handle the details. This is in stark contrast to the way the Obama administration handled military matters. Buzzfeed News reports:

The manner in which the deployments — the first known of conventional forces to Syria — was undertaken marked a stark contrast to the Obama administration. Then, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the war against ISIS, had to get sign-off from the White House about the precise number of troops and weapons he wanted to use. With the current deployment, the Trump administration has just left it to him to determine what he needs in Syria. That is, it appears the administration signed off on the ground combat missions but so far has left the details of how to carry out that mission — including those details the Obama White House demanded — to the commander.

Now, decisions that were previously made higher up in the chain of command are beginning to be made at the lower ranks, leading to more mistakes. This overall shift in strategy is one we should not ignore, as it’s led to the enormous surge in civilian deaths.


A Focus On “Annihilation” And A Disregard For Human Rights

Residents in western Mosul carrying the bodies of people killed in fighting between Iraqi security forces and ISIS. (Felipe Dana/AP)

“Remarkably, when I interview families at camps who have just fled the fighting, the first thing they complain about is not the three horrific years they spent under ISIS or the last months of no food or clean water, but the American airstrikes. Many told me that they survived such hardship, and almost made it out with the families, only to lose all their loved ones in a strike before they had time to flee.” — Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Beast

President Trump boasted about a Washington Post article that reported on the fact that gains against ISIS have accelerated in the last several months.

Brett McGurk, the State Department’s senior envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, said that steps President Trump has taken, including delegating decision-making authority down from the White House to commanders in the field, have “dramatically accelerated” gains against the militants.

The gains look good on paper, but they are largely built on the back of the work the Obama administration did in Iraq and Syria. But more importantly, what the article fails to note is at what cost these gains are being made.

As I mentioned earlier, between January 20, 2017, and July 13, 2017, over 2,200 civilians were reportedly killed in Iraq and Syria.

The Daily Beast/Airwars

So, what’s the reason for this huge surge in civilian casualties? Why the March bump?

Here’s what happened. Upon taking on the mantle of President of the United States, Trump requested a new plan to take on ISIS and a review of the rules of engagement (a directive issued by a military authority specifying the circumstances and limitations under which forces will engage in combat with the enemy). In February, Mattis delivered his plan to Trump. In May, Mattis made the following remarks about the new U.S. approach in the battle against ISIS:

Two significant changes resulted from President Trump’s review of our findings.

First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.

Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.

Although Mattis said, “I want to emphasize here there has been no change to our rules of engagement,” what we’ve seen since their new plan was enacted in March suggests otherwise.

According to Airwars, there has been a significant increase in reports of civilian fatalities at the hands of US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since Trump has taken office. In March alone, the U.S. allegedly killed almost 1,000 civilians, surpassing Russia’s civilian death toll for the first time. This was three times the amount the Obama administration killed in his final month in office.

“Currently, for March, we’re tracking more than 100 alleged [civilian casualty] events for the Coalition so far, and around 50 alleged incidents from Russia this month. That’s been the consistent pattern since January. By all accounts, Coalition strikes have been killing more civilians than Russian strikes. That trend is continuing” — Airwars

On Mar 17th, up to 200 civilians were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Mosul, Iraq that was targeting just 2 ISIS snipers. The U.S. detailed that they launched a 500-pound bomb containing 192 pounds of explosive material aimed at the roof where the ISIS snipers were located. It collapsed the structure, resulting in those civilian fatalities.

This trend continued over the following months as the assaults on Mosul and Raqqa intensified. The Trump administration points to more densely populated battlefields in the cities of Mosul and Raqqa as the cause for the increase in casualties but that is no excuse for this massive rise. Along with airstrikes, the U.S.-led coalition has dropped white phosphorous on Mosul and Raqqa, which can burn people to the bone on contact. Using that substance in crowded cities is risky.

Human Rights Watch, an American-founded international human rights advocacy group, has advised caution in the use of white phosphorous and urged for more precautions to be made in general to avoid civilian deaths.

It’s important to note that these are all “reported” fatalities. The U.S. has claimed that the coalition is only responsible for 624 civilian deaths since Operation Inherent Resolve began on June 15, 2014 (the operation to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria). To counter that, Airwars on other hand cites a minimum estimate of 4,887 civilian fatalities…

Since the July 13th report that found 2,200 civilians had been killed in Iraq and Syria since Trump has taken office, there have been numerous reports of civilian deaths. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in the 21 children were among at least 59 civilians killed in U.S.-led coalition air strikes since this past Monday. And last Tuesday, August 8, they reported at least 29 civilians including 14 children were killed…

That was just a few of the most recent reports, but as you can see, it appears that President Trump may have already exceeded the number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria than the Obama administration killed in his last two years in office, in just 7 months…

The preservation of civilian life should be a top priority for this administration. Not just for humanitarian reason, but for strategic purposes as well. If the U.S. military continues this indiscriminate brutality in the Middle East, we will continue down an endless cycle of entanglements in the region.

These massive civilian deaths will only further perpetuate extremism. When you bomb a region so ferociously that the civilians grow to fear your wrath over that of the terrorist extremists, you must recalibrate your strategy. President Trump’s strategy of annihilation may look great for the administration in the short-term, but when you launch strikes that are murdering innocent families without discretion, the next Osama bin Laden may be crawling out of that rubble looking for revenge.

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