Poor, poor Yemen.
This weekend, the father of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL member who died in the vain, disastrous raid in Yemen last month, openly criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to launch the “stupid mission.” In an interview with the Miami Herald, Owens (the father) said he had refused to meet Trump when his son’s body arrived at Dover Air Base, and is now demanding a full investigation into the raid and Trump’s decision-making process behind it. “Don’t hide behind my son’s death,” he said.
Here’s Trump’s decision-making process behind the raid.
A few weeks ago, NBC News reported a White House leak that General James “Mad Dog” Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford peer pressured D.J. Trump into approving the failed special ops raid in Yemen.
The mission, a joint operation between US, Yemeni, and UAE commandos, was the largest special ops “package” since the Obama raid that took out Bin Laden and the first US ground mission in Yemen in two years. For two years Obama stuck to drones and offshore missiles, wary of escalating the US role in a conflict that’s impossible to understand,) let alone engage in, let alone win. But according to NBC, the generals’ winning argument was simply telling Mr. Trump that “they doubted that the Obama administration would have been bold enough to try it.”
Yes: The President of the United States of America was peer pressured into ordering the largest US special ops mission in nearly six years.
It was a failure by any measure.
The New America foundation reported that US warplanes and drones fired at least 16 missiles at the targeted compound. The raid resulted in the deaths of somewhere around 40 people: 23 civilians (nine of them under the age of 13, including a four-month-old); 14-16 al Qaeda militants; and one U.S. Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens.
Yet the White House repeatedly called the raid a “success by any measure,” saying it was an information gathering mission. But it wasn’t, at least not not primarily. According to senior officials, the possibility of capturing or killing the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qassim al-Rimi, was what drove the high-risk mission in the first place. And though the raid did kill a little over a dozen al Qaeda fighters, al-Rimi either escaped or wasn’t at the target site to begin with. The next day he released an audio recording mocking Trump, saying, “The fool of the White House got slapped at the beginning of his road.”
In defense of the mission, the Pentagon claimed the operation had scored some valuable intelligence. To prove it, they trotted out a video that had been seized, of someone instructing young jihadists how to make explosives. The video turned out to have been public and widely circulated for ten years. But now, in a new NBC report, Pentagon, congressional and White House officials claim they’ve seen zero evidence of significant intelligence gathered from that raid.
As John McCain pointed out, a failed raid does no less honor to the men who died carrying it out than a successful raid. Trump himself, for instance, has repeatedly called Iraq a disaster. And yet this week, Sean Spicer, responding to the comments from Owens’ bereaved father, said, again, without flinching, that the mission was a success. Spicer added for good measure that Owens would have known that his death was part of the job.
But it seems Chief Owens’ father is getting his wish: Three probes into the raid have been opened.
This is part of a pattern in Trump’s White House: You try to act, you fuck everything up, you say everything’s fine. That’s an unsustainable way to run a fourth-grade science project, let alone the United States government.
Here’s the case against Trump.
Anonymous sources in Congress and the national security establishment said Trump approved his first covert military operation “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.” President Obama refused to act on that intelligence because he believed a ground raid would escalate US involvement in Yemen, and Yemen is, as they say in the military, completely and utterly FUBAR. So Obama left the call to Trump.
And the intelligence that informed the raid? That intelligence came from Yemen and the UAE. And the night before the raid, Trump implemented the travel ban, which targeted Yemen specifically. The raid was reportedly compromised over radio chatter. It’s not unlikely, given the incestuous mess of the Yemen Civil War, that someone working on the ground tipped off the targets.
But this wasn’t even the first military operation in Yemen under the Trump administration. In fact, on the day Trump was inaugurated, a drone strike in Yemen reportedly killed an al Qaeda military instructor. The next day, a second and third strike killed anywhere between three and ten AQ fighters.
The natural question: Did Trump know this?
The natural answer: Probably not. The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon spokesperson who confirmed the strikes said they didn’t need the approval of General Mattis or Trump. In other words, they were CIA strikes.
It’s worth pointing out here that on Jan. 21, the day two of those CIA strikes were carried out, D.J. Trump attacked the press and lied about his crowd size in front of a wall honoring CIA agents killed in the line of duty.
I hope Trump knows that covert US military operations in Yemen on his watch have already killed somewhere between 40 and 50 people. And I hope he knows he only ordered one of them.
Maybe, in a way, he didn’t order any of them.
We know D.J. has a pathological need to be liked, to please whomever he’s talking to at the time. He’s afraid of being found a fraud and takes a shot at Barack Obama every chance he gets. But the fact the President’s flaws were so quickly and deftly exploited in such a high-stakes decision, basically with the school-yard dare that the cool kid didn’t have the guts to do it, should give all of us pause.
This isn’t Trump getting trolled by The New York Times . This is tragic material evidence that our new president has a literally fatal flaw: Whoever has D.J.’s ear at decision time will be the one making the call.
So who has Trump’s ear? He’s surrounded himself with military men. Possibly because he knows/feels he’s an incompetent president and needs authority on his side to validate himself to himself, or possibly because he desperately needs to prove himself to be an authoritarian figure. Or both.
And if Trump so desperately wants to be seen as a strong commander-in-chief, why the hell wasn’t he even in the Situation Room for his first major military operation? (Which, again, and it’s hard to overstate this, was also the first US ground operation in Yemen in two years.)
No, when the first US soldier died on Trump’s orders, Donald J. Trump, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, was, unbelievably…
You guessed it: Tweeting.
Trump sent a tweet in the middle of the raid (no one knows or will say exactly where Trump was at the time or what he was doing) promoting his appearance that evening on the Christian Broadcast Network: “I will be interviewed by @TheBrodyFile on @CBNNews tonight at 11pm. Enjoy!” The tweet was deleted a few minutes later.
And when Mr. Trump woke up the day after the raid, knowing what had happened, the first thing he did was send an attack tweet at The New York Times.
That’s pretty bad.
So at this point, if you have a heart, you start to wonder about things. And at that point, if you have a brain, you quickly realize there are too many things you don’t know. So you decide to start reading. You decide to start reading about Yemen.
You read) that the Yemen Civil War has been going on since the 1950s but in its most recent form began only two years ago, then quickly spiraled into complexity far beyond your comprehension.
You read that the Houthis took down the Yemen government and they are the bad guys; al Qaeda are, as usual, the bad guys too; and the Hadis (the “legit” government) are the good guys.
You read that the Hadi government has been helping al Qaeda fight the Houthis, and that the Yemeni ambassador had made this clear to the “highest levels” of the US government.
You read that a Saudi-backed Yemeni security official denied the SEAL raid killed an al Qaeda militant, but a “good honest man” who was fighting the Houthis.
You read that the raid hit a hospital, a mosque, and a school.
Then you read that rebels drove the US out of Yemen and ran over our last base there two years ago.
You read we then resorted to supplying Saudi Arabia weapons and technical support to the tune of $20 billion a year.
You read that one time the Saudi air force dropped some of those US bombs on thousands of people at a Yemeni funeral, killing 140 people and wounding over 500 more.
You read that Human Rights Watch has accused, backed by hard evidence and common sense, that the Saudis are intentionally targeting civilians.
You read that the UN has done that, too.
You read that the Saudis, in their campaign against the Houthis, have allowed al Qaeda to quadruple in size.
You read that Obama was worried about all of this and stopped weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia.
But then you read that Trump is set to approve the Saudi weapons shipment that Obama blocked.
And you read that after the raid Yemen is reassessing just how much it wants the US involved in its war.
And you read that the Trump administration is considering declaring Yemen a “formal battlefield,” to go along with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
But you cannot read anywhere that Trump has even spoken on the phone to Hadi, the leader of Yemen.
You read Trump’s travel ban and see it includes Yemen but does not include Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and Osama Bin Laden himself.
You read Trump spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia the day after the Yemen raid.
But you cannot read a transcript of that call.
You read Trump’s very next call was with the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who partnered with us in the (failed) covert raid the night before.
You read that the Abu Dhabi tourism office rents space in Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Then you read Trump lent his name to a golf course and real estate project opening this month in the UAE.
And you read that Damac, the developer of the new Trump golf course, offered Trump a TWO BILLION-DOLLAR development deal A MONTH AGO that Trump turned down to avoid a “conflict of interest” with the head of that company, whom he calls “a good friend.”
Then you read that Eric Trump and DJTJ will travel to Dubai this month to celebrate the opening of the Trump luxury golf course built by Damac.
You read that Damac struck a development deal with Russia’s state invesment arm.
You read that none of the countries on the travel ban do business with Trump.
You read Trump doesn’t think he needs intelligence briefings.
You read he wants them to contain as little as possible.
You read that when he was scheduled to be taking a security briefing this week, Trump attacked a company that refused to sell his daughter’s product.
You read more about the endless horrors of life in Yemen, a country where the Trumps don’t have any business deals.
Then you read that after two years of civil war, 19 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, 2.1 million children are starving, and over half of the country’s medical centers don’t function.
And then you try to read more because you haven’t even begun to understand that country, but you fail miserably, over and over and over and over.
And you read that Donald Trump says he “reaches the right decisions ‘with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words common sense, because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability,” which is why, he says, he doesn’t have to read.
But you read. You read and you read and you read. About Yemen.