When the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, began this month by issuing a farewell report on U.S. military strategy, the gist was hardly big news. “Dempsey to Pentagon: Prepare for the Never-Ending War” read the headline on the cover page of the National Journal.
The “war on terror” now looks so endless that no one speculates anymore about when it might conclude. “This war, like all wars, must end,” President Barack Obama declared in a major speech more than two years ago. “That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” But midway through 2015, this war seems as interminable as ever.
In the process, Washington has blazed trails for cross-border impunity. The U.S. government’s latest expression of contempt for international law is its full support for the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that has been bombing Yemen since late March. (Other countries deploying jets for the airstrikes are Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and United Arab Emirates.)
At the end of last month, Human Rights Watch criticized the air assaults in a report that cited “numerous civilian deaths and injuries.” Days later, the Associated Press reported, “a massive airstrike” by the coalition killed more than 45 civilians and wounded over 50 others on June 6 in a suburban marketplace near the Yemeni city of Aden.
“Best estimates are that about 3,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi bombing campaign,” says Yemeni writer Farea Al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Middle East Center. “The bombings are horrible enough, but what’s worse now is that more people are probably dying because of the blockade and food shortages. And all sides of the conflict are responsible for this.”
The Obama administration has made America a powerful role model for impunity, with unapologetic violations of international law that continue to fly drones and missiles across borders into half a dozen countries. It’s a star-spangled perversion of the Golden Rule — those who have the military power make the rule — giving Washington the globe’s lead role as high-tech destroyer of international law.
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