A recent drone strike conducted by the United States military may have killed as many as 200 civilians in Mosul, Iraq. It is one more indicator that the emerging administration of President Donald Trump plans to be much more indifferent to the death of civilians killed by the military.
Combined with recent operations that have resulted in unnecessarily high casualty counts, the drone strike in Mosul has “raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement … were being relaxed under the Trump administration…” according to The New York Times.
If true, the relaxation of military restraint under the new administration should concern Americans and non-Americans alike.
American foreign policy has rarely been a peaceful affair, but over the past two months the already bloody tactics have expanded excessively. In the week between March 16-23, for example, there were nearly 300 civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria from drone strikes.
Even if 10 targeted terrorists did pose a danger to society and were successfully killed in the attack—which is not at all guaranteed—it was at the cost of hundreds.
While some may argue that the murders were a mere fluke and a failure of technology, intelligence or protocol, it seems to demonstrate a determined policy shift by the Trump administration.
Trump has apparently moved to expand counterterrorism operations into countries like Yemen, Somalia and Libya as well as to loosen the constraints placed on the military, according to The Economist.
It might appear that the best way to proceed in the region is to do just as the administration is doing—expanding the fight and giving the military the reins would ostensibly be the best way to defeat terror organizations.
Of course, this potential solution falls apart quickly under closer examination. The military is restricted for several reasons. The primary reason is that military leaders are mainly concerned with the success of a certain military objective and less so with the broader political or societal effect.
A mission that kills the target, but also 100 civilians, could still be deemed successful to the military objective.
The military, of course, has the crucial role of managing logistics, but the weighty decisions of life or death should be entrusted to the civilian leaders, who are more concerned with the long-term impacts of such a decision.
The other component of the administration’s operational changes is the expansion of possible areas of military engagement further in Somalia, Yemen and Libya. The main problem with this shift is that expanding the areas in which the U.S. could conduct drone strikes mainly functions in creating more warzones.
It is already tragic that the U.S. can rain death from the skies upon civilians in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and large swathes of other territories in the Middle East. By increasing the sphere where strikes can reasonably be conducted, the Trump administration is increasing the probability of killing people who have done no wrong.
Trump has disrupted the norms of both domestic politics and international relations in countless ways. The loosening of rules of engagement in the Middle East—both in terms of who is making decisions and where military operations can occur—represents possibly the greatest such disruption.
Should the administration continue to appear amorally indifferent to the mass killings of civilians by the American military, the whole world will suffer.