by Trevor Timm
Advocates for even more war in the Middle East apparently have a new strategy for defeating Isis: allow the US military to kill more civilians. If you think I’m exaggerating, just read their deranged and pathological arguments for yourself.
It began in late May when the New York Times reported that both Iraqi and American officials started complaining the US was too worried about killing civilians, suggesting that the Obama administration shouldn’t be worried that indiscriminately killing innocent people might turn the Iraqi population even more against the US than it already is. (Nevermind that it could be considered a war crime.) As the Times’s Eric Schmitt wrote: “many Iraqi commanders and some American officers say that exercising such prudence with airstrikes is a major reason the Islamic State, also known as Isis or Daesh, has been able to seize vast territory in recent months in Iraq and Syria.”
US News and World Report’s Paul Shinkman took this to a new extreme this weekin an article entitled “Iraqi Civilians Will Die: US Must Get Used to It, Experts Say.” Shinkman quoted multiple “experts” who were apparently upset the US military was investigating one of its own bombings due to credible reports that civilians were killed. Given the US government took months to admit that they had killed even one civilian in Iraq or Syria, the fact they are willing to investigate it at all should tell you something about its validity. Admitting the US cares about civilian deaths only “complicate[s] the war effort,” he writes. Shinkman ended his piece – after claiming that the firebombing of Dresden and the millions of civilians killed in Vietnam were merely “part of the cost of waging warfare” – by essentially lamenting that US military members are attempting to avoid collateral deaths:
For now, it seems clear to some that no pilots are willing to venture beyond their strict orders to find and kill the enemy.
“In this environment, nobody wants to get investigated, nobody wants to be on the wrong side of the rules of engagement,” Harmer says. “The pilots are only going to want to attack a target that has been clearly identified by somebody else.”
If only pilots would stop focusing on killing the enemy and start carpet-bombing entire cities, then we could get somewhere!
While one can dismiss the US News piece as particularly deranged trolling, the same idea is coming through in news articles about US strategy. CNN’s most reliable Pentagon stenographer, Barbara Starr, reported Friday that the US believes that Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding among civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa, “knowing that the US will not target civilians and well aware of the US ‘rules of engagement.’” Members of Congress have also gotten in on the act, in what amounts to complaining that we shouldn’t worry about killing civilians since Isis will kill them instead.
Let’s put aside for a moment that the US and its allies are dropping thousands of bombs per month on Iraq and Syria and have likely killed hundreds of civilians in its airstrikes on Isis already, as Glenn Greenwald comprehensively documented in May. The entire premise that the US won’t attack an enemy in civilian areas is false.
The Pentagon just released a new version of its laws of war manual, and contrary to the blood-thirsty commentators who are sad the US isn’t dropping more bombs in civilian-packed areas, the Pentagon actually has no problem doing so. “The Defense Department apparently thinks that it may lawfully kill an unlimited number of civilians forced to serve as involuntary human shields in order to achieve even a trivial military advantage,” Rutgers law school professor Adil Ahmad Haque wrote in an analysis of the new rulebook for the indispensable Just Security legal blog. (Nevermind that what these kill-more-civilian commentators are arguing for is likely against international law, no matter what the Pentagon’s manual says.)
If the US is being a little more careful about civilian deaths on its third go-around in Iraq – and that’s a giant “if” – we should all be commending that. Perhaps they’ve learned that if our second invasion of Iraq didn’t lead to the deaths of 100,000 Iraqi civilians, we wouldn’t be in this Isis mess in the first place. A call for a return to anything short of only killing enemy soldiers should be called what it is: sociopathic.