by Rosie Alfatlawi
At least six people were killed on Monday after a train derailed south of Seattle, but U.S. President Donald Trump tried to make it about the Middle East.
Just a few hours after the incident, Trump tweeted slamming “seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble!”
It was only ten minutes later that a second tweet added “my thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident,” leading some to brand him “insensitive.”
Twitter quickly pointed out that “the Amtrak train derailment has nothing to do with the Middle East.”
In fact, many emphasized, it likely had nothing to do with “crumbling infrastructure.” The train was making its first trip on a new high-speed route as part of a $181 million project.
The seven trillion dollar figure in particular had commentators crying “fake news.”
Journalist Daniel Dale explained that the number was drawn from a misinterpretation of predicted spending.
Beside the point, but the US has not spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. Trump takes an old Brown University estimate of $6T by the 2050s, then claims it’s now obviously $1T higher because a few years have passed. pic.twitter.com/PAU3pr4GZd— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 18, 2017
A Nov. 2017 report by Brown University’s Costs of War Project said that the U.S. had spent or committed to spending more than $4.3 trillion on wars in the region.
The most recent update to the Brown report says the US has spent $4.3 trillion on its Middle East wars to date, with an estimated future total of $5.6 trillion.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 18, 2017
The same source had said a year previously that interest on borrowing to fund that spending could reach 7.9 trillion dollars by 2053.
Military efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and on the Department of Homeland Security were included.
It is a very broad definition of “the Middle East” which encompasses Afghanistan and Pakistan, typically identified as Central or Southern Asian nations respectively.
In fact, journalist Sulome Anderson pointed out, recent Pentagon data showed that the U.S. military presence in the Middle East had increased by a third in the past four months.
There was not a single Middle Eastern country where the number of U.S. military personnel did not increase in the most recent period.
Foreign policy expert Micah Zenko told Newsweek that: "The expansion in overseas troop deployments and vast increase in airstrikes (and tolerance for civilian harm) everywhere [former President Barack Obama] was bombing, was totally consistent with what Trump promised as a candidate.”
Trump’s claim to be reducing previous administrations’ focus on the Middle East to prioritize issues at home is undermined by his actions in practise.
Indeed, following his decision earlier this month to take the highly controversial step of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some suggested he was “actively stoking conflict.”
He's actively stoking more conflict!— sdselkie (@sdselkie) December 18, 2017
Meanwhile, the irony that U.S.-backed or led wars in Middle Eastern nations have had a devastating impact on their infrastructure did not go unmentioned.
“Who will they have rebuild our infrastructure?” Asked Syrian @JoeKahl3 in reponse to Trump's tweet.
@DogsareLoyal1s claimed that U.S. “nation building” often involved the destruction of infrastructure first.
In 2013, The Atlantic reported that Washington had spent $60 billion on Iraq’s “failed reconstruction” following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
Iraq itself had, at that point, spent a further $146 billion on reconstructing infrastructure.
As recently as 2011, it said, Iraqi households received only an average of 7.6 hours of electricity a day, with a sixth of the population having access to drinking water for only two hours daily.
The ongoing Syrian civil war, another site of U.S. military spending, has “torn apart the the social and economic fabric of the country," according to World Bank Vice President for MENA Hafez Ghanem.
Estimates on how much it will cost to rebuild range from $100 billion to a trillion, according to Middle East Eye. Excluding Raqqa and Deir Ezzour, 9 percent of electricity and water infrastructure has been destroyed and 18 percent of industry, the U.N. reports.
Yet again Trump made an ill-informed political point - claiming that U.S. military spending on the Middle East has led to the neglect of infrastructure at home while neglecting to consider the impact of U.S.-backed wars on the infrastructure of that region.
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