War is hell for civilians, too

Berl Falbaum

A degree of hypocrisy is part of the DNA of most, if not all, politicians. But President Barack Obama gave that trait new meaning with a change in policy as it relates to the killing of civilians in a wartime setting.

Obama’s policy barred U.S. drone strikes unless there was a “near certainty” there would be no civilian casualties.

As welcome as this policy might have been in terms of its humanity, it was also naive since in most wars civilians suffer more casualties than the military. (In World War II, the ratio was 2 to 1).

But now comes a new policy which was confirmed to Yahoo News by Cailtin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, who revealed that the policy will not cover airstrikes against ISIS in Syria or Iraq.

In other words, it is now OK to kill civilians, at least, in Syria and Iraq for the time being.

The policy came to light after reports that a U.S. Tomahawk missile struck Kafr Daryan, in Syria’s Iblib province, killing at least a dozen civilians, including women and children.

So Obama now recognizes that, at times, as regrettable as it is, civilian deaths are inevitable and unavoidable in wartime.

At least he recognizes it now as it pertains to the U.S. but not Israel.

Almost at the same time as the new policy was uncovered, Obama and his State Department continued to criticize Israel for the civilian deaths of Palestinians in the Gaza conflict, despite the fact that Israel had no choice given that its enemy, as a matter of strategy, purposely fought from among the civilian population.

Nor has the president acknowledged that Israel is probably the first country in the history of the world to alert civilians of coming attacks, thereby, in effect, warning its military enemy. It did so with flyers and, almost unbelievably, with cellphone calls to individual civilians.

Yet, Obama joined the rest of the world in its criticism of Israel while, incidentally, Syria, which has slaughtered 200,000 civilians in a three-year civil war, has, overall, escaped outrage.

It might also be pointed out that Obama changed U.S. policy without having thousands of rockets rain down on the U.S., as Israel experienced over several years.

The world was silent as Israel endured the attacks and did not respond.

No other nation in history would have shown such forbearance.

This scenario is the definition of hypocrisy and no amount of linguistic gymnastics can change the fact that the president, for whatever motives, has again found a reason to place the onus of the tragedy in Gaza on Israel.

It came once more, violating traditional diplomatic protocol, during the recent visit to the White House by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Incidentally, the media, which always deny any double standard or lack of objectivity, share some culpability in this since Obama’s new policy has escaped any significant coverage while Israel was skewered daily on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and the nightly news.

According to sources who acknowledged the new policy, under the new guidelines, military commanders will have more discretion.

Indeed, they had none before because they needed White House approval for each strike. Yes, the sources said, they had to contact the president through his aides each time they wanted to fire a missile.

In explaining the new policy, Hayden is quoted as saying: The original standard was to apply “only when we take direct action outside areas of active hostilities ... that description ... simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.”

Whatever the reasons for Obama’s enlightenment, the president now seems to understand that civilian deaths, while tragic, are part of what makes war hell.

Berl Falbaum, formerly of The Detroit News, taught news writing and media ethics at Wayne State University for 45 years.