“We Were Surprised At The Civilian Victims”: Has Trump Changed The Rules Of Engagement?

I get it.

Everybody’s got an agenda and having an agenda means you sometimes have to argue out of both sides of your mouth.

And that’s fine. I mean, it’s not great for promoting balanced discussions of important issues and it’s detrimental to the mental health of those who are looking for the truth but hey, the bills have to be paid whether figuratively in terms of winning votes or literally in terms of getting clicks.

That said, don’t expect that someone won’t come along eventually and call bullsh*t.

On Sunday, I’m calling bullsh*t.

Critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy were always quick to lampoon his administration for characterizing ISIS as the “JV squad” of terrorists only to see Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s brainchild roll up the Iraqi army and take control of Mosul.

But those very same critics were quick to criticize the very same Obama administration for civilian casualties when being over zealous in the fight against Sunni extremists accidentally (I hope) resulted in civilian casualties.

See the contradiction there?

Well now, Donald Trump is finding out how difficult it is to strike a balance between being “tough” on terror and not accidentally getting people who aren’t terrorists killed.

Although it’s since faded from the news cycle, more than a few reports suggested that Trump’s brashness may have been responsible for sending the SEALs off half-cocked in the deadly Yemen raid that left one American soldier dead and cost the lives of dozens of civilians.

Now, we learn that the very same trigger-happy approach may have been responsible for the deaths of some 200 innocent Iraqis in Mosul. As you’ve probably noticed, this story is front page news this weekend.

Here’s a quick excerpt from The Times:

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

[…]

Iraqi officers say they know exactly what happened: Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, said that the civilian deaths were a result of a coalition airstrike that his men had called in, to take out snipers on the roofs of three houses in a neighborhood called Mosul Jidideh. General Saadi said the special forces were unaware that the houses’ basements were filled with civilians.

“After the bombing we were surprised by the civilian victims,” the general said, “and I think it was a trap by ISIS to stop the bombing operations and turn public opinion against us.”

General Saadi said he had demanded that the coalition pause its air campaign to assess what happened and to take stricter measures to prevent more civilian victims. Another Iraqi special forces officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that there had been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.

Now look, who the f*ck knows what actually happened here. Certainly not me.

But the story (not necessarily the part about Trump and the rules of engagement, but rather the bit about human shields) certainly seems plausible. That is, ISIS thought they could use civilians as cover, but as it turns out, no one on the other side was aware the civilians were there. So that’s an “oops” for ISIS and an “oops” for the coalition all at the same time.

At the end of the day though, this underscores the same basic point that a whole lot of people are making this week. Namely that being President of the United States is a hard ass job.

And while it’s easy to say things like “we’re going to bomb the hell out of ISIS,” and “we’re going to repeal and replace on Day one,” it turns out there’s a reason why President Obama ended up looking indecisive on terror and why Obamacare ended up looking like a jumbled mess. That reason is simple: all of this sh*t is complicated.

Which is why you can’t have someone running the show who does things like rush comprehensive health care reform just so the vote lands on the anniversary of his predecessor’s bill, and who (possibly) loosens the rules of engagement in foreign conflicts just to prove how “tough” he is on terror.

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