Entry from March 31, 2017

Maybe you’ve noticed, as I have, how much more media interest there has been in the ongoing war in Iraq since Donald Trump took office as commander-in-chief. Hm. I wonder why that might be? A clue could lie in the amount of reporting there has been lately about civilian casualties. A couple of days ago, the headline news in The New York Times told of how, “Engulfed in Battle, Mosul Civilians Run for Their Lives,” and also how, for those who didn’t run fast enough, “U.S. ‘Probably Had a Role’ in Mosul Deaths, Commander Says.” Then, yesterday, it was “U.S. War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With No Endgame in Sight.” Does anyone else sense a “quagmire” coming on?

Today, the Times editorialists are weighing in:  “Iraqi and Syrian Civilians in the Crossfire.”

The Pentagon insists that there has been no major change in its rules for airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and that a surge in civilian casualties is a result of increased military operations in western Mosul, said to be the most intense urban combat since World War II. Nevertheless, the disturbing number of casualties raises concerns that President Trump’s approach to counterterrorism puts too many civilians at risk and ultimately leads more people to side with the terrorists.

Nevertheless! Yet we didn’t get such coverage of quagmires or solicitude about civilian deaths when Barack Obama was president, did we? Nor is there any mention of the fact that we are only fighting in Mosul today because of Mr Obama’s (and, to be fair, his Iraqi counterpart’s) having bungled the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

Anthony Loyd in the rather less rabidly anti-Trump Times of London [pay wall] concludes that “this one probably cannot be stuck on Trump.”

Instead, the roots of the intensification of airstrikes in west Mosul, where heavy artillery and IRAM “area weaponry” rocket systems are also being used in residential areas despite the supposed commitment of the prime minister Haider al-Abadi to protect civilian lives, lie in the earlier operation to liberate east Mosul. There, Iraqi military casualties ran into the thousands as they attempted to flush Isis fighters from the east bank of the Tigris. The rules of engagement for aircraft were apparently the same, but the target-verification procedures were slower. Consequently, amid fewer airstrikes and more house-to-house fighting, the Iraqi army nearly “bled out”, leaving Iraqi and coalition commanders certain that if they were to have any chance of success in attacking the more heavily defended west bank, airstrike procedures would have to be accelerated. In essence, they decided that in west Mosul speed and fury would save lives in the long term, bringing the battle to a quicker conclusion than another house-by-house struggle.

As someone who owes his life, in all probability, to the dropping of atomic weapons on Japan in 1945 — my father would have been in the first wave of the invasion of the home islands — I’m somewhat predisposed to agree with the argument of those who value their own soldiers’ lives above those of enemy civilians, but I recognize that those who don’t agree also have reason on their side, as well as good and honorable motives in arguing the contrary. But, having sold their journalistic souls for a mess of scandals, the New York Times can no longer even recognize a good faith argument when it sees one. Everything is either moral assertion or scandal — and, if it relates in any way to Mr Trump, it’s all scandal, all the way. Can they possibly expect anyone not so hostile to the Trump presidency as themselves to believe a word they say?

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