During the last half century America’s attitude towards war has changed markedly.
In 1945 Harry Truman introduced the nuclear age by dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending the war with Japan. Over 200,000 civilians died in the attack and millions were affected by radioactivity for years thereafter.
In the 60s and 70s Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon fought a vicious combined air and ground war in Southeast Asia that killed 1.4 million combatants and citizens in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The U.S. suffered casualties of over 58,000
In the 90s George H.W. Bush attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait. American casualties were minimal (149). Iraqi deaths totaled over 20,000. This was the first time that the U.S. conducted a war almost exclusively from the sky.
In 2003 George W. Bush invaded Iraq, and the U.S. lost 4,500 troops while Iraq had casualties of over 110,000 including 60,000 civilians. The U.S. sustained many more deaths in this war compared to the previous Iraq war because ground troops were deployed and the conflict continued for a much longer time.
There are many ways to fight a war. Casualties are directly related to the type of warfare employed. Air wars result in substantially fewer casualties for the aggressor, but civilian casualties can be very high. Ground wars result in greater casualties for both the aggressor and the civilian population.
Which type of war will the next president fight in the Middle East against ISIS and other terrorist organizations? President Obama has chosen to take the most conservative approach. This has radically decreased the number of casualties for both the U.S. and civilians. Unfortunately his decision to shun massive firepower tactics has extended ISIS’ reign of terror. The ultimate loss of lives resulting from this strategy is difficult to quantify.
Collateral damage, a term most Americans never heard of before the 21st Century, totally dominates the way that America has prosecuted conflicts in the Middle East during the past eight years. Unfortunately our enemies are not concerned with civilian casualties and thrive on them politically in many situations.
Under current leadership the U.S. would not bomb a building in Iraq or Syria where terrorists are domiciled if it were also the current residence of innocent civilians. On the other hand ISIS fighters randomly assassinate civilians as part of their unholy jihad.
Our enemies know America values life so we are at a serious disadvantage in conflict. Our moral compass limits our options and makes achieving victory much more elusive.
The only way to effectively defeat an enemy such as ISIS and most terrorists in the Middle East that are embedded in the general population is up close and personal using ground troops. Soldiers can usually distinguish the enemy from the innocents. Whereas a bomb dropped from the sky has no conscience. And it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a school is teaching children or sheltering radical Islamists, or both.
The speed of progress in the Middle East region is going to be determined by America’s mindset about war, the enemy and collateral damage. If our next president adopts a perspective that civilians are sacrosanct regardless of how many terrorists can be killed, the U.S. will not make much headway against ISIS.
Even more deplorable would be a policy in which America leaves the decision of civilian life and death in the hands of other aggressors. Consider the Syria/Russia attacks on innocents.
Having said all this I’m thankful that I’m not the ultimate decision maker. I’m not sure an opportunity to kill 100 enemies is worth the simultaneous death of 25 or 50 innocent people.
And finally there is the issue of nation building. It has been U.S. policy to assist nations we defeat. I suppose that by doing so we encourage new leadership to be friendly towards America.
During the years after World War II the U.S. has experienced dismal results in its nation building efforts. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have not been successful experiences. Our leaders destroy and destabilize rogue nations and then ask for forgiveness by using taxpayer dollars to assuage their guilty feelings.
The occupation of another country is never welcomed by the occupied. The U.S. should avoid nation building projects prospectively.