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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How Do You Ask a Man to Be the Last Civilian to Die in Iraq?

On April 23, 1971, John Kerry once famously asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" By "a man," Kerry was obviously referring to American soldiers. A more compelling question to ask 38 years later is, "How do you ask a man, or woman, or child, to be the last civilian to die in Iraq? Or Afghanistan? Or Pakistan? Or anywhere else to which we might capriciously and recklessly decide to import freedom and democracy?" An even better question to ask is, "Will there even be a last one?"

It had come out in the NY Times over six years ago that some genius or geniuses in the Bush administration had somehow come up with a number of Iraqi civilian casualties that was acceptable in any one airstrike or raid: The humane number was 50, and Rumsfeld, just months into the war, had already authorized 50 of them. Missions involving higher projected collateral damage weren't scrapped but had to be personally signed off by the Sec Def.

So naturally, as we're ramping up our offensives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the question remains: How many civilians can we dispassionately kill at once before we should stop crowing about our noble mission in central Asia? The answer: Redacted.

Unlike the Bush administration, when Rumsfeld, who didn't "do body counts", matter-of-factly told John Kerry an exact number, the current acceptable size of collateral damage in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains unknown unless Senator Kerry's committee declassifies the updated answer. But the very fact that the transparent Obama administration is keeping the answer under wraps tells you all you need to know. If the number of acceptable civilian deaths had gone down, there wouldn't be an iron curtain of secrecy keeping it from public scrutiny.

In a May 4th bombing raid in Afghanistan this year, 147 civilians were reportedly killed, 90 of which being women and children. The Pentagon sprang into action and Gen. David Barno, our top general in Afghanistan 2003-5, decisively said, "We’ve got to be careful about who controls the narrative on civilian casualties."

In other words, The real cost is not in human civilian lives but in terms of public relations. Individual human deaths, collectively rendered less precious and invaluable as the body counts mount, can be haggled and negotiated like prices at an Arabian bazzar, eventually written off like so many liabilities on a 1040 long form.

Yet the rising level of rage and rebellion that we're seeing from the populations of these countries and from their militaries and governments, are disproportionate to the official narrative that we may or may not get from the DoD. And, with the ROE (or Rules of Engagement) murky at best and the acceptable collateral damage and the identities of those who make such murderous policy decisions redacted and classified, what we're seeing is an Obama administration that, in many cases, is less transparent and more furtive and secretive than even the preceding administration.
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