The increasingly vocal and numerous critics of President Donald Trump saw an opening and they seized it. By all measures other than those used by Trump, the Jan. 29 attack on an al-Qaida base in central Yemen appears to have been a tragic mistake. While 14 al-Qaida fighters died in the gunfight, so did a Navy SEAL and up to 30 civilians, including an 8-year-old American citizen. It was the first military action approved by Trump, so his adversaries had plenty to work with.
At least on the information available, however, the harsh criticisms are unfair. Military operations come with risk, as do diplomatic efforts in Benghazi, Libya. The Yemen operation was planned not by Trump, but by the Pentagon under the Obama administration. Whether former President Barack Obama would have OK’d the mission is an unknown, but he approved many missions that resulted in civilian casualties. If as a nation we choose to aggressively pursue terrorists overseas, an approach adopted with enthusiasm not just by the current president but by the previous two, innocent people will sometimes die. If those deaths are unacceptable, then the argument is with a longstanding policy, not with a single operation.
Trump’s angry critics should already have learned this lesson over the last eight years. The attacks on Obama were reckless and constant, and the nation suffered for them.
While Americans have no way to know whether Trump was at fault in the botched raid, they can see an early consequence of the new president’s abusive treatment of allies. Yemen officials, who have cooperated with U.S. forces in previous attacks on terrorists within Yemeni borders, reacted strongly to this one. Yemen’s government initially signaled it would withdraw all permission for U.S. special operations ground missions there. It has softened that stance, but still is demanding more cooperation in advance of such missions than it required when Obama was president.
Yemen is a country in transition, but it is struggling toward democracy. Its government needs the support of the people. Those people — 99 percent of whom are Islamic — have listened to Trump slam Muslims for the past year, promise to end foreign aid, and then include Yemen on a list of seven Muslim-majority countries whose people are prohibited from traveling to the United States. Yemeni officials are understandably leery of cooperating with Trump or the nation he leads.
But if Trump is to make good on his promise to eradicate the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations, he needs the cooperation of countries with Muslim majorities.
If he is to have any success in blocking undocumented immigrants and drug traffic, he needs the cooperation of Mexico. If he is to have any success in multilateral military missions, he needs the cooperation of Australia and other nations.
For all of America’s military might, it cannot function as an island. It needs cooperation from other countries for efficient trade, to accomplish military objectives and to tackle global problems. The reaction of Yemen to the Jan. 29 raid is a small but important reminder that Trump needs to focus some attention on improving international relations.