Iraq: Enjoying Their Democracy

It takes real talent to turn a developed oil-rich country into a failed state. But this is no challenge to the United States of America. They never get tired of doing it.
Hell, they even turned the USA into a failed state!
Losing the oil is one thing but no drinking water! There should be a limit.
Haider al-Abadi Is Losing His Grip on Power, But It Will Mean Little

An Iraqi joke says that their country must have the most environmental government in the world since the same political leaders are always recycled, however dismal their past performance and low expectations that they will do any better in future.

The biggest change in the next Iraqi government will be that Haider al-Abadi, appointed prime minister after the Isis victories of 2014, is unlikely to be heading it. He has conceded that he will not last in office after protests engulfed Basra in southern Iraq and led to important religious and political leaders withdrawing their support and calling on him to resign.

Mr Abadi’s fate had been in the balance since he did unexpectedly badly in the general election on 12 May when his coalition came in third. Weakened by the result of the poll, he needed to bring on side those who had done better such the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but he ultimately failed to do so.

Although Mr Abadi will not be the next prime minister, most of the top political players will be the same as those blamed by many Iraqis for misruling the country in the 15 years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A quota system dividing senior posts between Shia, Sunni and Kurds combined with the sharing out of ministries between the parties, favours permanent political stalemate and ensures a complete failure to tackle rampant corruption or to provide essential services such as electricity and water.

Mr Abadi had hoped that the defeat of Isis and the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month siege last year would win voters’ backing. The Iraqi armed forces followed up victory at Mosul by retaking Kirkuk along with territory long disputed with the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Security in Iraq has much improved since the defeat of Isis and over the last six months it has been the best since 2003. But Iraqis did not see Mr Abadi as the sole architect of military success and the low 45 per cent turn out in the election underlined their disillusionment with the entire political elite. Mr Sadr and his Sairoon group got the most seats by campaigning for progressive economic and social policies, followed by the Fatah alliance led by the paramilitary leader Hadi al-Amiri. Mr Amiri has withdrawn from consideration to become prime minister.

Mr Abadi, strongly supported by the US, might have clung on if he had kept the backing of the Sadrists, but they felt that their support had been taken too much for granted in the past. They wanted Mr Abadi to resign from the ruling Dawa party and endorse their reformist programme. Other politicians whom Mr Abadi needed to conciliate accused him of seldom consulting them and operating through a narrow clique of advisers.

Although the main players in Iraqi politics are much the same, the overall political environment has altered radically. Isis had been advancing on Baghdad when Mr Abadi first became prime minister and people feared massacre and displacement. But the defeat of Isis meant less concern for personal security and heightened resentment against the corruption and incompetence of the government, despite oil revenues that in August alone this year were worth $7.7bn. Mr Abadi could claim credit for defeating Isis, but many Iraqis felt that this was almost his only identifiable achievement.

The protests in Basra, at the heart of the area that produces most of the crude oil, were the most widespread and destructive since the fall of Saddam Hussein. They showed grievances boiling over in the majority Shia community. During this summer, which was hot even by Iraqi standards with temperatures rising to 50C, there was an electricity shortage in southern Iraq so air conditioning did not operate and there was too little drinking water.

The breaking point for many in Basra came when there was not only a lack of water to drink but thousands of those who did drink it became ill with diarrhoea and stomach complaints. There were fears of a cholera epidemic. Salt water was mixing with the fresh water because of broken pipes, reducing the effectiveness of the chlorine in killing bacteria. Hospitals said they had treated 17,500 patients, though this was denied by a government official who, showing a lack of sympathy that enraged people in Basra, said that the figures for those in hospital were much exaggerated and “only 1,500 people have been poisoned”.

Peaceful protests grew violent with 27 people killed as government and party offices, with the exception of Sairoon, were set ablaze as well as the Iranian consulate. Mr Abadi went to Basra but could not get a grip on the crisis. This was a final blow to his hopes of remaining prime minister. Mr Sadr withdrew his support and called on him to resign. The vastly influential Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a statement saying that the next prime minister should be a new one.

The parties will eventually choose a new prime minister and a national unity government, in which all the big players will get a share of the political cake, but it is unlikely to be any more effective than Mr Abadi’s outgoing administration.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
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US War in Yemen

The American War in Yemen

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

It was the rarest of graphics in the American news media: a CNN map in which recent Saudi air strikes in Yemen were represented by little yellow explosions. Below them were the number of civilians killed (“97,” “155,” “unknown casualties”) and, below those, the names of the makers of the weapons that had done the killing (Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics). In fact, in the nearly three decades since the Soviet Union imploded, U.S. weapons makers have had a remarkable grip on the global arms trade (latest figure: 34% of all arms sales) and regularly sold their weaponry into places that were hell storms of conflict, particularly the Middle East. Nonetheless, remarkably little thought is given here to how snugly death and destruction in distant lands fit with these glory days of U.S. weapons makers, their soaring profitsand rising stock prices.

Fortunately, we now have a report from Code Pink, “War Profiteers: The U.S. War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes,” that focuses on the five largest U.S. arms makers – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics – and their dealings with just three countries: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale – or, more accurately, the beginning of one, for as that report points out, while the U.S. spent $1.3 trillion on its wars between 1999 and 2011, it also spent a staggering $1.8 trillion in those years to buy, as Code Pink puts it, “new warplanes, warships, weapons, and equipment, most of which were unrelated to the wars it was actually fighting.” (And those figures seem, if anything, to be on the rise in the Trump era.) Keep in mind as well that the Pentagon is slated to receive more than six trillion taxpayer dollars in the next decade alone. The Code Pink researchers grimly point out (as few others do) that

“Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson was paid $20.2 million in 2017, even as the company’s weapons killed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy made $24.8 million, as millions of people became refugees, fleeing the carnage caused by its weapons. Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenberg made $18.5 million, as even the World Bank noted that 90% of the people killed in today’s wars are civilians, mostly women and children.”

As that CNN map suggests, of all the wars underway from which the U.S. weapons companies are profiting, none may be bleaker right now than the Saudi war in Yemen. Five years old and a human tragedy of the first order, it has become a catastrophe of still unknown but staggering dimensions for Yemen’s civilian population. Today, TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon considers that local Armageddon and the grim role the U.S. military (and those arms makers) continue to play in it. Talk about – to resurrect a phrase from a long-gone era – “merchants of death“! Those five giant arms makers give the phrase new meaning in our time. ~ Tom

Yemen’s Descent into Hell
A Saudi-American War of Terror

By Rajan Menon

It’s the war from hell, the savage one that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with seven other Middle Eastern and North African states, have been waging in Yemen since March 2015, with fulsome support from the Pentagon and American weapons galore. It’s got everything. Dead children in the dozens, a never-ending air campaign that pays scant heed to civilians, famine, cholera, you name it. No wonder it’s facing mounting criticism in Congress and from human rights groups. Still, ever since President Donald Trump (like Barack Obama before him) embraced the Saudi-led coalition as this country’s righteous knight errant in the Middle East, the fight against impoverished Yemen’s Houthi rebels – who have, in turn, been typecast as Iran’s cats-paw – has only grown fiercer. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda affiliatethere continues to expand.

For years now, a relentless Saudi air campaign (quite literally fueled by the U.S. military) has hit endless civilian targets, using American smart bombs and missiles, without a peep of protest or complaint from Washington. Only a highly publicized, completely over-the-top slaughter recently forced the Pentagon to finally do a little mild finger wagging. On August 7th, an airstrikehit a school bus – with a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin – in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them schoolchildren. Seventy-nine others were wounded, including 56 children. Soon after, a U.N. Security Council-appointed group of experts issued a report detailing numerous other egregious attacks on Yemeni civilians, including people attending weddings and funerals. Perhaps the worst among them killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, this April.

The attack on those schoolchildren and the U.N. report amplified a growing global outcry against the carnage in Yemen. In response, on August 28th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis let it be known that the Trump administration’s support for the Persian Gulf potentates’ military campaign should not be considered unreserved, that the Saudis and their allies must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.” Considering that they haven’t come close to meeting such a standard since the war started nearly five years ago and that the Trump administration clearly has no intention of reducing its support for the Saudis or their war, Mattis’s new yardstick amounted to a cruel joke – at the expense of Yemeni civilians.

The Statistics of Suffering

Some appalling numbers document the anguish Yemenis have endured. Saudi and Emirati warplanes officially have killed – and it’s considered a conservative estimate – 6,475 civilians and wounded more than 10,000 others since 2015. Targets struck have included farmshomesmarketplaces,hospitalsschools, and mosques, as well as ancient historic sites in Sana’a. And such incidents haven’t been one-off attacks. They have happened repeatedly.

By April 2018, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted 17,243 airstrikes across Yemen, hitting 386 farms, 212 schools, 183 markets, and 44 mosques. Such statistics make laughable the repeated claims of the Saudis and their allies that such “incidents” should be chalked up to understandable errors and that they take every reasonable precaution to protect innocents. Statisticscompiled by the independent Yemen Data Project make it clear that the Gulf monarchs don’t lie awake at night lamenting the deaths of Yemeni civilians.

Saudi Arabia and its partners have accused the Houthis, the rebels with whom they have been in such a deadly struggle, of also attacking Yemeni civilians, a charge Human Rights Watch has validated. Yet such a they-do-it-too defense hardly excuses the relentless bombing of non-military sites by a coalition that has overwhelming superiority in firepower. Houthi crimes pale by comparison.

And when it comes to the destruction of civilian lives and livelihoods, believe it or not, that may be the least of it. Take the naval blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that cut the number of ships docking in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida from 129 between January and August 2014 to 21 in the same months of 2017. The result: far less food and medicine entered the country, creating a disaster for Yemenis.

That country, the Arab world’s poorest, has long relied on imports for a staggering 85% of its food, fuel, and medicine, so when prices soared, famine spread, while hunger and malnutrition skyrocketed. Nearly 18 millionYemenis now rely on emergency food aid to survive: that’s an unbelievable 80% of the population. According to the World Bank, “8.4 million more are on the brink of famine.” In December 2017, following a barrage of bad publicity, the Saudi-Emirati blockade was eased marginally, but it had already set in motion a spiral of death.

The blockade also contributed to a cholera epidemic, which the shortage of medicines only exacerbated. According to a World Health Organization report,between April 2017 and July 2018, there were more than 1.1 million cholera cases there. At least 2,310 people died from the disease, most of them children. It is believed to be the worst cholera outbreak since statistics began to be compiled in 1949. At 800,000 cases between 2010 and 2017, Haiti held the previous record, one that the Yemenis surpassed within half a year of the first cases appearing. The prime contributors to the epidemic: drinking water contaminated by rotting garbage (uncollected because of the war), devastated sewage systems, and water filtration plants that stopped running due to lack of fuel – all the result of the horrendous bombing campaign.

Wartime economic blockades starve and sicken civilians and soldiers alike and so amount to a war crime. The Saudi-Emirati claim that the blockade’s sole purpose is to stanch the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis is nonsense, nor can it be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, even though it was instituted after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at the airport in the Saudi capital and the residence of that country’s monarch. (Both were shot down by Saudi air defenses and were clear responses to coalition airstrikes on Houthi-held territory that killed 136 civilians.) By the standards of international humanitarian law or simply common sense, choking off Yemen’s imports was a disproportionate response, and clairvoyance wasn’t required to foresee the calamitous consequences to follow.

True to form, President Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, echoed Saudi charges that the Houthi missiles were Iranian-supplied Qiam-1s and condemned that country’s interference in Yemen. Given the scale of destruction by a foreign coalition using armaments and technical assistance provided by the United States (and Britain), her comments, in less grim circumstances, would have been laughable.

Those American-supplied weapons have included cluster munitions, which pose a particular hazard to civilians because, when dropped from a plane, their devastating bomblets often disperse over enormous areas. (Such bombs are banned under a 2008 treaty signed by 120 countries that neither Riyadh nor Washington has joined.) In May 2016, the Obama White House confirmedthat it had stopped sending such weapons to Saudi Arabia, which then continued to use Brazilian-made variants. However, other American arms have continued to flow to Saudi Arabia, while its warplanes rely on U.S. Air Force tankers for mid-air refueling (88 million pounds of fuel as of this January according to a Central Command spokeswoman), while the Saudi military has received regular intelligence information and targeting advicefrom the Pentagon since the war began. And with the advent of Donald Trump, such military involvement has only deepened: U.S. Special Operations forces are now on the Saudi-Yemen border, helping to find and attack Houthi redoubts.

In June 2018, ignoring U.S. opposition, the Saudi coalition heightened the risk to Yemeni civilians yet more by launching an offensive (“Golden Victory”) to capture the port of Hodeida. (So much for the Pentagon’s standard claim that supporting the war gives the U.S. influence over how it is waged and so limits civilian casualties.) Saudi and Emirati airpower and warships supported Emirati and Sudanese troops on the ground joined by allied Yemeni militias. The advance, however, quickly stalled in the face of Houthi resistance, though only after at least 50,000 families had fled Hodeida and basic services for the remaining 350,000 were disrupted, creating fears of a new outbreak of cholera.

The Roots of War

Yemen’s progression to its present state of perdition began as the Arab Spring’s gales swept through the Middle East in 2011, uprooting or shaking regimes from Tunisia to Syria. Street demonstrations grew against Yemen’s strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and only gathered strength as he attempted to quell them. In response, he allied ever more strongly with Saudi Arabia and the United States, alienating the Houthis, whose main bastion, the governate of Saada, abuts the Saudi border. Adherents of Zaydi Islam, the Houthis played a pivotal role in creating a political movement, Ansar Allah, in 1992 to assert the interests of their community against the country’s Sunni majority. In an effort to undercut them, the Saudis have long promoted radical Sunni religious leaders in Yemen’s north, while intermittently raiding Houthi territories.

As a Houthi rebellion began, Saleh tried to make himself an even more indispensable ally of Washington in its post-9/11 anti-terrorist campaigns, notably against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a growing local franchise of al-Qaeda. For good measure, he joined the Saudis in painting the Houthis little more than tools of an Iran that Washington and Riyadh both loathed. When those powers nonetheless came to see the Yemeni autocrat as a political liability, they helped oust him and transfer power to his deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Such moves failed to calm the waters, as the country started to disintegrate and Saudi-U.S. efforts to consolidate the transition from Saleh to Hadi unraveled.

Meanwhile, regular American drone strikes against AQAP angered many Yemenis. In their eyes, not only did the attacks violate Yemen’s sovereignty, they intermittently killed civilians. Hadi’s praise for the drone campaign only discredited him further. AQAP’s power continued to grow, resentment in southern Yemen rose, and criminal gangs and warlords began to operate with impunity in its cities, highlighting the Hadi government’s ineffectuality. Neoliberal economic reforms only further enriched a clutch of families that had long controlled much of Yemen’s wealth, while the economic plight of most Yemenis worsened radically. The unemployment rate was nearly 14% in 2017 (and exceeded 25% for young people), while the poverty rate rose precipitously, as did inflation.

It was a formula for disaster and when Hadi proposed a plan to create a federal system for Yemen, the Houthis were infuriated. New boundaries would, among other things, have cut their homeland off from the Red Sea coast. So they gave up on his government and girded for battle. Soon, their forces were advancing southward. In September 2014, they captured the capital, Sana’a, and proclaimed a new national government. The following March, they occupied Aden in southern Yemen and Hadi, whose government had moved there, promptly fled across the border to Riyadh. The first Saudi airstrikesagainst Sana’a were launched in March 2015 and Yemen’s descent to hell began.

The American Role

The commonplace rendition of the war in Yemen pits a U.S.-backed Saudi coalition against the Houthis, cast as agents of Iran and evidence of its increasing influence in the Middle East. Combatting terrorism and countering Iran became the basis for Washington’s support of the Saudi-led war. Predictably, as this cartoonish portrayal of a complicated civil war gained ground in the mainstream American media and among Beltway pundits (as well, of course, as in the Pentagon and White House), inconvenient facts were shunted aside.

Still, all these years and all those dead later, it’s worth considering some of those facts. There are, for instance, significant differences between the Houthis’ Zaydi variant of Shia Islam and the Twelver Shiism dominant in Iran – and some similarities between Zaydis and Sunnis – which makes the ubiquitous claims about a Iran-Houthi faith-based pact shaky. Moreover, Iran did not jump into the fray during the violent 2004-2010 clashes between Saleh and the Houthis and did not have longstanding ties to them either. In addition, contrary to the prevailing view in Washington, Iran is unlikely to be their main source of weaponry and support. Sheer distance and the Saudi coalition’s naval blockade have made it next to impossible for Iran to supply arms to the Houthis in the volume alleged. Besides, having pillaged various military bases during their march toward Aden, the Houthis do not lack for weaponry. Iran’s influence in Yemen has undoubtedly increased since 2015, but reducing the intricacies of that country’s internal crisis to Iranian meddling and a Tehran-led Shiite bloc expanding from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula amounts to, at best, a massive oversimplification.

The obsession of Trump and his key advisers with Iran (a remarkable number of them are Iranophobes) and The Donald’s obsession with plugging American arms makers and hawking their wares helps explain their embrace of the House of Saud and continuing support for its never-ending assault on Yemen. (Jared Kushner’s bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman undoubtedly played a part as well.) None of that, however, explains the full-scale American backing for the Saudi-led intervention there in the Obama years. Even as his administration denounced Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians, his officials seemed unmoved by the suffering war was inflicting on Yemenis. In fact, the Obama administration offered $115 billion worth of weaponry to Riyadh, including a $1.15 billion package finalized in August 2016, when the scale of Yemen’s catastrophe was already all too obvious.

In recent years, opposition to the war in Congress has been on the rise, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna playing prominent roles in mobilizing it. But such congressional critics had no effect on Obama’s war policy and are unlikely to sway Trump’s. They face formidable barriers. The mainstream narrative on the war remains powerful, while the Gulf monarchies continue to buy vast quantities of American weaponry. And don’t forget the impressive, money-is-no-object Saudi-Emirati lobbying operationin Washington.

That, then, is the context for the Pentagon’s gentle warning about the limits of U.S. support for the bombing campaign in Yemen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent certification, as required by Congress, that the Saudis and Emiratis were taking perfectly credible action to lower civilian casualties – without which the U.S. military could not continue refueling their planes. (Mattis “endorsed and fully supported” Pompeo’s statement.) As the fifth anniversary of this appalling war approaches, American-made arms and logistical aid remain essential to it. Consider President Trump’s much-ballyhooed arms sales to the Saudis, even if they don’t total $100 billion (as he claimed): Why then would the Saudi and Emirati monarchs worry that the White House might actually do something like cutting off those lucrative sales or terminating the back-end support for their bombing campaign?

One thing is obvious: U.S. policy in Yemen won’t achieve its declared goals of defeating terrorism and rolling back Iran. After all, its drone strikes began there in 2002 under George W. Bush. Under Obama, as in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, drones became Washington’s anti-terrorist weapon of choice. There were 154 drone strikes in Yemen during the Obama years according to the most reliable high-end estimates, and civilian casualties ranged between 83 and 101. Under Trump they soared quickly, from 21 in 2016 to 131 in 2017.

The reliance on drone attacks has bolstered al-Qaeda’s narrative that the American war on terror amounts to a war on Muslims, whose lives are deemed expendable. And so many years later, in the chaos of Yemen, the group’s power and reach is only growing. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led intervention is also likely to prove not just self-defeating but self-prophetic. It seems to be cementing an alliance between Iran and the Houthis who, though they have been pushed out of Aden, still control a big chunk of Yemen. Meanwhile, in a move that could make the war even deadlier, the Emiratis appear to be striking out on their own, supporting secession in southern Yemen. There’s not much to show on the anti-terrorism front either. Indeed, the Saudi coalition’s airstrikes and U.S. drone attacks may be moving Yemenis, enraged by the destruction of their homes and livelihoods and the deaths of loved ones, toward AQAP. In short, a war on terror has turned into a war of and for terror.

In Yemen, the United States backs a grim military intervention for which – unless you are a weapons company – it is hard to find any justification, practical or moral. Unfortunately, it is even harder to imagine President Trump or the Pentagon reaching such a conclusion and changing course.

Rajan Menon, a TomDispatch regular, is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, and Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Syria Update

Washington’s Influence in Syria is Nowhere to be Found

Yet we’re still there, threatening Assad as though we won the war.

A poster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hangs in front of a shop in the old city of Damascus. By serkan senturk/shutterstock

DAMASCUS—Syria’s capital looks a bit like Washington, D.C.: imposing government buildings, heavy traffic, busy streets, and imperious officials. Public edifices are surrounded by concrete walls. The main difference may be the ubiquitous regime propaganda: you can’t miss images of President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez, whereas President Trump’s visage is missing from Washington.

Also unusual are the ubiquitous checkpoints. They’re there to prevent terrorism via car bombs. Although the threat of terrorism scares most Americans, it actually offers a form of relief to Damascus residents. Until recently insurgents controlled some suburbs, from which they fired artillery and mortars into the city. Today those neighborhoods, just a few minutes away, are wrecked and empty. It may be the peace of the grave, but at least it is peace.

On a recent trip to Syria, I found similar situations in Homs and Aleppo. The damage was greater and more extensive—entire neighborhoods in the latter are just rubble—but other areas of the cities were recovering. The government rules without an overwhelming public security presence. The war is over and they have won.

The last area under insurgent control, surrounding Idlib, faces an imminent offensive by the Syrian military backed by Russian airstrikes. Washington has warned the Assad regime against using chemical weapons but otherwise won’t intervene. The humanitarian consequences could be severe, but Damascus is widely expected to prevail.

If so, only lands in the north, where U.S. forces are cooperating with Kurdish militias, and in the southeast near the Iraqi border, the site of another American base, remain outside of Syrian government control. President Donald Trump said he wanted to keep America out of the Syrian conflict and remain only long enough to defeat the Islamic State. But the administration recently announced what sounds like a plan for an essentially permanent, though lawless—without any congressional authorization—presence in Syria.

According to Washington, there are two primary objectives. One is to force Assad from power, presumably through some political settlement negotiated with Moscow. The other is to force Iran to withdraw its forces, also apparently with the assistance of Russia. These are quixotic, bizarre plans. The Syrian Civil War is over. The government won. The U.S. can’t force Syria, Russia, or Iran to do anything. America’s intervention in Syria is entirely misguided.

Syria is a humanitarian tragedy, of course. But that is no reason for the U.S. to risk sacrificing its own peoples’ lives and wealth in another lengthy, brutal conflict. Washington has been entangled in Afghanistan for 17 years and Iraq for 15 with no ends in sight. There is little that it can do in Syria, absent becoming just another active participant in a complicated, multi-sided battle with multiple bad actors. President Assad was one of them and deserved to fall, but ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda affiliate), and a gaggle of other radical groups were even worse, murderous totalitarians that brutalized those they rule and threatened those who believe differently, including Americans.

In contrast, Syrian rebel “moderates” were largely irrelevant and ineffective. They never appeared to be real contenders for power and routinely cooperated with the radicals, often surrendering personnel and (U.S.-supplied) materiel.

Nor was ousting Assad likely to end the humanitarian crisis. Overthrowing him would have merely led to the next conflict over who would succeed him. In countries from Iran to Nicaragua, diverse coalitions defenestrated long-ruling dictators only to see the most vicious authoritarians among them take control. There is no reason to believe Syria would have been any different. Alawites, Christians, and other minorities saw Washington’s previous production in Iraq and didn’t like the ending. For understandable reasons these groups saw Assad as their best protection.

In any case, today Washington’s ability to influence events in Syria is only a little above nil. U.S. forces occupy part of that sovereign nation without the slightest legal authority. And the Assad government is more secure today than at any point during the last seven years. Why would it give way now? American policy actually gives the regime a plausible excuse to its own people for a slow recovery.

In fact, the administration said it will not support reconstruction in government-controlled areas. The theory, apparently, is that people will rise up and throw off their Assad-imposed chains in disgust. That is unlikely, given the fact that Damascus triumphed against a plethora of well-armed and funded opponents. Anyway, disgruntled Syrians are more likely to target Washington with their disgust, having felt punished by the U.S. for not making political choices that aren’t actually empowered to make.

Nor could Moscow displace Assad even if it wished to do so. His government controls the ground. At most, Russia could withhold air support in a conflict that has largely ended. And having invested so much, the Putin government is unlikely to risk its ties with Damascus. Relations are close: pictures of Assad and Putin together are common, the two countries share an airfield near the coast, and I saw truckloads of armed Russian soldiers driving about. The belief that Moscow would, or even could, force Iran from Syria is even more fanciful: Tehran has long has been allied with Syria and has far more at stake there than does Washington.

Indeed, America’s position is beyond arrogant. Washington is in Syria illegally. In contrast, Iran, like Russia, has been invited in by the legally legitimate (however brutal) Syrian government. Whatever the tensions between Moscow and Tehran, the former has no way of pushing out the latter. And given U.S. policy toward Russia, why would the latter do Washington any favors?

Moreover, the administration apparently imagines that the U.S. can use the Kurds to limit the access of Iranian forces to Syria, as if Tehran was unaware of airplanes. Worse, Kurdish forces know that Washington will not protect them, from Turkey or likely anyone else. So they have little reason to take great risks for America. Indeed, Damascus is engaged in negotiations with Kurdish officials. A Syrian takeover along the Turkish border might satisfy Ankara and finally end Turkey’s invasion, which is designed to prevent the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state.

Given the inevitable failure of the administration’s plans, how long will Washington continue its illegal military occupation of another country? The problem is not just wasted time, effort, and money. America’s role creates a serious risk of wider conflict.

U.S. forces are taking aggressive, confrontational positions within a war zone, forcibly occupying another nation’s territory. Washington is daring Damascus and its allies to take a shot at the foreign invaders. Simple error or misjudgment could land Washington in a violent conflict with Syrian, Iranian, and/or Russian forces.

Perhaps worse, the U.S. remains at odds with its NATO ally Turkey. Washington has positioned American military personnel between the Turkish military and Kurdish militias, having promised what it has no authority to do: force the Kurds away from their home territory along the border. Earlier this year, the threat of violent collision appeared real when the Pentagon promised to defend its positions and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to deliver an “Ottoman slap” to the U.S.

The Syrian civil war was and remains a tragedy. Unfortunately, the Trump administration appears to share the belief of the Obama and Bush administrations that it can transform the Middle East in America’s image. But Washington’s record when it attempts that is not just bad: it is catastrophically awful.

It’s time to say no more. Social engineering doesn’t work at home. It has worse results when attempted overseas. President Donald Trump has a unique opportunity to change the course of U.S. foreign policy for the better. It is time to bring home America’s troops and leave at least one foreign problem, Syria, to others.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.