Americans from both sides of the mainstream political aisle, united in their common reverence for the military during wartime—which is almost all of the time—called out in a chorus of condemnation Monday after President Donald Trump accused his own military leaders of being warmongers.
Trump, speaking at the White House, insisted that rank-and-file U.S. troops are “in love” with him, but that top Pentagon brass “probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Some observers were quick to note that the president’s attack on top military officials seemed like an attempt to deflect attention from the blistering criticism generated by an article published last week in The Atlantic claiming that Trump called U.S. troops killed and wounded in the nation’s many wars “losers” and “suckers.”
Others accused Trump of hypocrisy—it was the president, after all, who selected Mark Esper, a former chief lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the world’s largest weapons companies, as his defense secretary.
Many others pointed out how Trump has boosted military spending to levels unseen since the days of George W. Bush, when the U.S. was conducting massive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq while simultaneously attacking numerous other nations during the early years of the so-called “global War on Terror.” Last December, Trump signed a colossal $738 billion military spending bill that included funding for the creation of Space Force, the first new military branch in over 70 years.
Trump’s tenure has been something of a study in contradictions when it comes to matters of war and peace. While Trump is the first president since Jimmy Carter to not start a new war, during his presidency the U.S. has bombed at least seven countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. That’s the same number of nations bombed during the Obama administration, and one fewer than under George W. Bush.
As a candidate and as president, Trump has also repeatedly promised to stop what he—and many peace activists—often call America’s “endless wars.” He has come closer to ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan, now nearing its 20th year, than either Bush or Obama, and he has all but ended the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria started by Obama.
There is, however, a tremendous caveat. The reason why the war in Iraq and Syria is effectively over is because Trump followed through on his campaign promise to “bomb the shit out of” militants there and “take out their families“—a war crime.
Civilian casualties have soared in nearly all of the countries under U.S. attack during Trump’s tenure, as the administration has loosened rules of engagement meant to protect innocent people. In 2017, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis—who earned his “Mad Dog” moniker during the atrocity-laden battles for Fallujah in 2004—announced that the U.S. was shifting from a policy of attrition to one of “annihilation” in the war against ISIS. Mattis drew condemnation from human rights advocates when he added that “civilian casualties are a fact of life” that cannot be avoided in such a war.
The U.S.-led coalition victory over ISIS was achieved at a tremendous cost of civilian life. Cities, towns, and villages including Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria were largely reduced to rubble in furious air and ground assaults that left thousands of residents dead and many thousands more wounded and displaced.
While it is impossible to say exactly how many civilians have been killed during the ongoing so-called “War on Terror”—Gen. Tommy Franks infamously declared on the eve of the Iraq invasion that “we don’t do body counts”—the number is at least in the hundreds of thousands and possibly over one million. Common Dreams reported Tuesday that a new report from the Brown University Costs of War Project estimates the U.S.-led war has also displaced a staggering 59 million people in eight nations since 2001.
Since waging the world’s only nuclear war in 1945, U.S. bombs and bullets have killed more foreign civilians than those of any other armed force on the planet, by far.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) was among the progressives who pointed out the president’s own warmongering tendencies.
“If you are really opposed to companies that make bombs and planes making money, why have you proposed over $140 billion MORE in defense spending than Obama, including a slush fund for endless wars?” the congressman tweeted.