Avoiding Civilian Casualties? We’re Causing Them

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Every military commander in the Obama administration will tell you a version of the same thing: If we wanted to destroy ISIS tomorrow, we could do it. There are really only two things standing in our way: Our fear of losing American soldiers and our fear of causing mass civilian casualties. No one wants a repeat of Iraq, and no one wants to inflame Middle Eastern unrest by bombing thousands of civilians. ISIS takes full advantage of this latter concern, intentionally placing their headquarters in heavily-populated areas that discourage airstrikes.

As sensible and shared as our concerns might be when it comes to limiting the deaths of innocent bystanders, the fact is that civilians are paying the price for our inaction. The death toll in Syria and Iraq is astonishing, but that’s only part of the problem. The other part – the part found in Orlando, Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino, Istanbul, and Nice, to name a few recent examples – is unfolding in our major world cities on a biweekly basis.

In an interview with Sean Hannity last week, Newt Gingrich stirred up controversy by calling for all American Muslims to submit to a test: Disavow Sharia Law and radical Islam or be deported. This drew the usual round of condemnation from the usual sources, but the underlying point – that we’re not doing all we can to stop terrorism – should not be missed.

“I am sick and tired of being told the wealthiest, most powerful civilization in history is helpless in the face of a group of medieval barbarians who, for example, recently burned 20 young women to death because they wouldn’t have sex with them,” said Gingrich. “This is the fault of Western elites who lack the guts to do what is right, to do what is necessary, and to tell us the truth, and that starts with Barack Obama.”

War is not pretty, but we’re engaged in war whether we like it or not. We’re not waiting to be attacked; we have been attacked repeatedly. Our vengeance is mild; we have successfully kept ISIS – the army itself – trapped in certain parts of Syria and Iraq, but we have not come close to destroying the organization as a whole. As a philosophical movement, the Islamic State has its tentacles spread more widely than ever. They may never achieve their Middle Eastern Islamic caliphate, but their threat has hardly been diminished.

If we want to stop that threat, we’re going to have to get our hands dirty. We’re going to have to accept that innocent lives will be lost.

Because that’s going to be the case either way.