VENICE, CALIFORNIA — The United States and its allies have dropped at least 326,000 bombs and missiles on countries in the greater Middle East/ North Africa region since 2001. That is the conclusion of new research by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies of anti-war group CODEPINK.
Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen are the countries that have felt the worst of the violence, but Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine and Somalia have also been targeted. The total amounts to an average of 46 bombs dropped per day over the last 20 years.
CODEPINK’s numbers are based primarily on official U.S. military releases, as well as data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Yemen Data Project, and the New America Foundation. As striking as the figure of 326,000 is, it is an underestimate, as the Trump administration ceased publishing figures of its bombing campaigns in 2020, meaning there is no data for Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan for either of the previous two years. Also not counted are bombs or missiles used in helicopter strikes, AC-130 gunship attacks, strafing runs from U.S. bombers, or any counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism operations in other parts of the world.
Tough but nice?
Last week President Joe Biden gave the order to attack Iraqi militias in Syria, dropping 1.75 tons of bombs on a border village and killing 22 people — something that brought cheers from Washington insiders and corporate media pundits alike. The move was reportedly in response to strikes on U.S. military bases in Iraq — bases that, last year, the Iraqi parliament unanimously demanded be closed.
Yesterday, anonymous administration officials claimed that Biden called off a second Syria strike after being warned that women and children were in the area. Though no evidence was offered and the officials refused to go on record, corporate media diligently parroted the State Department line, allowing the new administration to simultaneously present itself as getting tough on its enemies and as a champion of human rights.
War, war, and more war
The United States has been at war for nearly every year of its existence as an independent nation, fighting in 227 years of its 244-year history. While both Barack Obama and Donald Trump offered up anti-war rhetoric when they were on the campaign trail, both moved steadfastly away from that position once in office. By 2016, Obama was bombing seven countries simultaneously and had earned the moniker “Drone King.” Trump, meanwhile, escalated the war in Yemen and even carried out the targeted assasination of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani while he was in Iraq for regional peace talks. The 45th president also authorized the use of the “Mother of All Bombs,” a 21,000 pound (9,500 kg) explosive dropped on Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province in April 2017.
Many of the Biden administration’s early moves signal that there will be more continuation of than rupture with previous U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. While Biden had pledged to end the U.S. role in Yemen, the State Department’s qualifying language makes it clear that the U.S. is merely returning to Obama’s position on the conflict. Biden promised only to end support for “offensive” Saudi campaigns and limit “relevant” arms sales. Yet his administration immediately began emphasizing and denouncing Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, and reaffirming its commitment to help Riyadh “defend” itself from Houthi aggression. U.S. envoy Timothy Lenderking even went so far as to praise Saudi Arabia for its “generous support over the decades for the people of Yemen.”
On Israel, Biden has fully supported Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a controversial move effectively approving the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Today, Vice-President Kamala Harris had a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which she reaffirmed the White House’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel and its security.
Meanwhile, on Iran, Biden has dragged his feet on lifting sanctions and returning to the negotiating table to bring the U.S. back to the nuclear deal Trump abandoned. He also framed his Syria attack as a “message” to Iran.
Despite its spending almost as much as every other country combined on defense, the impact of war is largely unfelt in the United States. As Benjamin and Davies write: “The American public and the world are left almost completely in the dark about the death and destruction our country’s leaders keep wreaking in our name.” With studies such as this one, CODEPINK hopes to change that fact.