The Lesson Trump Has (Thus Far) Not Taught Us: Civilian Casualties

I have a confession.

There’s something I like about the Trump Administration.

It’s the way that his unpopularity taints long-standing policies or practices or beliefs, making people aware of and opposed to them in a way they weren’t when the same policies or beliefs were widely held under George Bush or Barack Obama. Many, though not all, of these policies or beliefs were embraced unquestioningly by centrists or even avowed leftists.

I’ve been keeping a running list in my mind, which I’ll begin to lay out here (I guess I’ll update it as I remember more).

  • Expansive surveillance
  • The presumption of regularity, by which courts and the public assume the Executive Branch operates in good faith and from evidence
  • Denigration of immigrants
  • Denigration of Muslims
  • Denigration health insurance

As an example, Obama deported a huge number of people. But now that Trump has expanded that same practice, it has been made visible and delegitimized.

In short, Trump has made things that should always have been criticized are now being far more widely so.

But there’s one thing that Trump has escalated that has thus far — with the singular exception of the botched raid on Yemen — escaped widespread condemnation: the bombing of civilians. There was the Al Jineh mosque on March 16, a school sheltering families in Raqqa on March 21, and this strike last week in Mosul, not to mention continued Saudi attacks in Yemen that the US facilitates.

Again, I’m not saying such civilian strikes didn’t happen under Obama. And it’s not clear whether this spate of civilian bombings arises from a change in the rule of engagement put in place in December, the influence of James Mattis, or Trump’s announced review of rules of engagement. But civilians are dying.

And for the most part, unlike all the other horrible things happening under President Trump, they’re getting little notice and condemnation in the US.

Update: This NYT story on the Mosul strike says that the increased civilian casualties do reflect a change in rules of engagement put in place under Trump.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

38 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    Yes! Think there is any hope we will get as far as recognizing the profound dangers in the expansion of the unitary executive pioneered by Duhbya and institutionalized by Obama?

     

  2. justsomeguy says:

    As if the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital attack wasn’t enough to provoke the military (and the general populace) to some degree of introspection.

    Can’t blame you for hoping the US might initiate policy changes in this regard, but wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    Agreed!  Yes, I remember what a laugh the two of us had not long into Obama’s first term.  We decided then that he was to be called, “The Great Pretender”.  The old song from the Platters was shared.  It hasn’t quite been a full 6 months yet for Trump, but as you say there are people waking from the slumber.

  4. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT:  Tuesday closed hearing.

    Did Nunes take Uber to avoid a tail?

    Did he exit car to go to a SCIF?

    Or did he meet a leaker?

    Is this why the plans for Tuesday changed?

    Who has access to the SCIF logs?

    Note ‘communication’ does not mean call.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/24/devin-nunes-vanished-the-night-before-he-made-trump-surveillance-claims.html

     
    Devin Nunes Vanished the Night Before He Made Trump Surveillance Claims
    Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.

     

    • PeasantParty says:

      Great questions!  I saw that report in lots of other places.  I thought that maybe he was trying to meet secretly with someone.  Besides, why would Nunes take an Uber ride?  He access to Town cars, and other upscale, if not Govt. transportation.  Heck!  He may even have his own personal driver/car.

       

  5. seedeevee says:

    I understand scum rises to the top (Trump/Obama/Schumer/McConnell), but there is plenty of blame to lay on all levels of the US military and its continuing and permanent terror campaign – not just the leadership.

    You’ll never ever hear Neo-Red-Baiter-In-Chief Rachel Maddow criticize the US military – as most of our “esteemed” media also refuses to do.  Just like some of us are finally willing to blame individual cops instead of their “training” for their atrocities – we need to blame the individuals pulling the triggers, calling in the airstrikes and murdering/torturing their way through the world.

  6. John Casper says:

    seedeevee,

    With all due respect, you’re doing it from behind a handle.

    Neo-liberals are serving the fossil fuel oligarchs, Exxon, BP,….

    How are kids on the ground and pilots–following orders–anywhere near as responsible as the Joint Chiefs, Congress and the Executive branch? I agree it would be nice for other soldiers with the courage of Chelsea Manning and Hugh Thompson, Jr. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Thompson_Jr. to emerge.

    “In Deadly Combat” is a good read.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CRIHAK0/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    Are you going to let the NFL owners off the hook?

    Are Maddow and MSNBC as bad as Sean Hannity and Fox?

    Economists should be leading. Per Adam Smith, money spent on national defense is always bad for the economy. Countries have to do it, but it’s pouring resources down a hole. Whatever those resources are–increasingly IT–military spending on them increases their price.

    WW2 didn’t last four years, because FDR made it impossible for the elites to make money off it. As long as GWOT is lining the elites’ pockets, it’s not going to end.

    • seedeevee says:

      The “just following orders” excuse is a fail.

      Rich People Making Money Off Of War is a win.  But, rich people find a way to make money off of everything. Politicians helping rich people make money is as old as government.

      Chelsea Manning showed what you can do with a shit-sandwich – make everyone else see it.  Too many cowards, sociopaths or mass murderers live in our military and their code of silence is despicable.

  7. Evangelista says:

    Marcy,

    The improvement of moral focus perception of a despised leader as an immoral monster induces is a plus for the emplacement of the Trump Administration.  There was a lot of ignorant self-righteousness that needed shaking, in the government and in the inert-ia (those masses who put up with the from Obama “change” to articulate-Bush about-face, and who jump aboard a cause-wagon and party along with no idea of who the wagon’s wheels are crushing, or whee the wagon is going).

    A minus is the ‘hands-off’ ‘Commander-Not-In-Command’ delegation of top-level military decision-making to military authority, obviating, and violating, the Constitutionally framed civilian authority overseeing the military authority intended to check and balance (and prevent excursion, though it never has).  That delegating is a Trump executive manner product;  his business record proofs his predilection for the delegate, encourage and react form of management, much loved by those who like presidents they can ‘run’, such as Harding, Reagan, Dubya Bush and Obama.  The reason the traditional of these don’t love Trump is his being off their agendae.  It is to be assumed those he is on-agenda with, e.g., generals he lets run, are more pleased with him (we don’t know if Jared and Bibi are amongst these, at this point, because while Trump has spoken confidence in them, and given encouragement to them, we haven’t seen engagements in actions, as we have in the military sphere.

    Note that the non-presidentially controlled Trump military is running a la George Bushes erae, with concern for civilians essentially non-existent, as in early Afghanistan and both assaults on Iraq, and a la Viet Nam in the designation-of-victory department, e.g., 70-million dollar aircraft and casualties marking ‘glorious victories’, whether gaining even the “thumb-drives” objectives ostensibly the mission-purpose, as the United States’ “most costly in the world military” plows toward another real-world defeat…

  8. RickR says:

    You might include Russia in your list.
    For most Americans the USSR collapsed, the Cold War was over, we won. Back to the sitcoms. So it was chaos and plunder under Yeltsin during our Clinton years, the rise of Putin while we were preoccupied with our Neocon debacle, then the difficulties with Obama/Clinton. All the while for Americans Russia was lost in the international background noise.
    For western capitalists Putin has created what the Milton Friedman disciples would do with a blank country to start with. They love him and want in. He teases them with his macho man PR image. They love him even more.
    For Trump and company, caught in their own political BS about the failure of America, have found that our intelligence boys and girls ain’t as slack as they might have naively believed. Obama’s been following the money that supports a lot of nefarious international activity, especially terrorism and other anti-American finance. Non-Americans have always been fair game and Americans supposedly “masked”. But if foreign entities are demonstrably evil the FISA court might understand domestic surveillance of their American contacts. Therein lies the rub for Trump.
    So the America/Russia relationship has come under heightened scrutiny by Americans thanks to Trump. It will be interesting to see how Congress will try to avoid the issue while dealing with the Comey investigations.

    • greengiant says:

      Putin’s trail of dead journalists,  opposition figures,  and refugees,  defines his character ever more than Giuliani and Prince’s slurs that Hillary was a pedophile define their characters.   Journalist Paul Klebnikov’s murder in 2004 maybe a nexus point connected to today’s troubles.

    • PeasantParty says:

      Thank you for your observations.  I agree with the fact that people are entertained, bread and circus style.  However, I’ve not seen any other serious write-ups of what Obama is doing.  Do you have links of articles referring to this, or a speech, or an editorial?  I would like to learn more about it.  I am not questioning what you say yet.  God knows I get enough of the ugly responses when I reveal things.

       

  9. lefty665 says:

    Civilian casualties are the defining characteristic of US foreign policy in this millennium. The million or more civilians we have killed puts us between Idi Amin and Pol Pot in the ranks of mass murderers. Civilian deaths are a byproduct of war, they are the essence of “collateral damage”. The more war we make the more civilians we kill.

    US media only occasionally and episodically focuses on civilian deaths. In recent years the coverage has been mostly on fake civilian deaths, Oscar nominated “White Hat” propaganda paid for by the Brits and DoD. The irony in this latest mosque we hit in Syria is that the “White Helmets” covered it. For once the casualties were real, and for DoD it was like being bit by yer own dog after it smelled real blood.

    How do we count the civilian deaths caused by ISIL, al Nusra, et al? They could well add to our totals. We and our allies have been supporting them by recruiting, training, arming, supplying and advising.  It seems likely Trump has stopped those CIA operations in support of al Nusra et al in Syria. We don’t know yet, and will never likely hear about it from US media reporting.

    Yes, the rules of engagement have changed, we are actually attacking the head-choppers instead of supporting them in Iraq and Syria, and that includes the folks who attacked us on 9/11. The unfamiliarity and newness of that role for us may explain the recent rash of mis-targeting causing civilian deaths. The results of our recent efforts along with those of the Syrians, Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah may free the area of the terrorist scourge unless the Turks, our NATO ally, and our ally the Izzies, upset the applecart. Both have been actively supporting ISIL. It makes a difference when we are supporting the efforts of forces opposing terrorists rather than supporting the terrorists.

    Duhbya and Obama both earned the opportunity to be tried as war criminals. Will Trump join them, or will he change our role in the middle east to keep us from destroying more countries? We do not know yet, but there do seem to be some reasons to hope for the better. 16 years of murder and carnage is plenty more than enough.

    There is also the issue of the more than 10 million refugees who have fled the nations we have destroyed, but that’s a topic for a different day.

     

    • Desider says:

      The number and deadliness of wars has been decreasing for decades.

      I’ve seen the nonsense tallies of hugely inflated US civilian deaths, and they’re rather laughable or despicable, depending – such as blaming us for every civilian death in Korea because why, North Korea invaded with China and the Soviet Union’s help?

      “The nations we have destroyed” – well, we didn’t destroy Iraq until after 10 years of overflights, when certain never-satisfiable far-lefties managed to declare Bush & Gore the same, so we got Bush and hey, seems he wasn’t the same.

      Satisfied? Apparently not – you seem to be expecting Trump to somehow do better than Obama, despite every sign of an over-reaching military madman, including his first failed attack in Yemen and his instructions for airstrikes in Iraq & Syria to stop using kidgloves just because of civilians.

      Go ahead, make my Sunday with another round of hilarious agitprop.

      • lefty665 says:

        Fantasy, please share some of what you’re smoking. It must be good shit.

        The Syrians have objected to our invasion of their territory. We are there in violation of their express objections.  Every US military action in Syria is an act of offensive war. That makes them war crimes, and we are the war criminals.

        It is indeed my hope that Trump will do better than Obama in the middle east. It will be hard for him to do worse. That would put him in Duhbya territory.

        That along with de-escalating our bizarre new cold war with Russia were the potential bright spots in Trump’s candidacy. They were perhaps where he most differed from neocon Hillary.

         

        • John Casper says:

          “Fantasy, please share some of what you’re smoking. It must be good shit.”

          In past threads you’ve claimed there were “Hillaryphiles” at this site.

          Did you miss “REPUBLICANS PREPARE TO ACCUSE HILLARY OF RUSSIAN TIES”

          https://www.emptywheel.net/2017/03/24/republicans-prepare-to-accuse-hillary-of-russian-ties/

          Where is even one “Hillaryphile” in the comments defending Ms. Clinton?

          I didn’t see any comments from you in that thread. Aren’t you concerned the Republicans may be politicizing intelligence? I’ve never seen you miss an opportunity to bash Dems when you suspect they are engaging in it. Do you only object to one party politicizing intelligence? How do you think we got into Iraq? Did you miss Cheney aide Scooter Libby leaking to Judy Miller.

          Comments are still open. There’s still time for you to register your concerns.

          • lefty665 says:

            Congratulations twit on trivializing even serious issues. This may be a personal best for you. You could include it with your application for the twit race.

            • John Casper says:

              “Congratulations twit on trivializing even serious issues. This may be a personal best for you. You could include it with your application for the twit race.”

      • jerryy says:

        You sure are glossing over a lot.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_military_operations

        http://mosquitocloud.net/how-many-armed-conflicts-has-the-us-been-involved-in-since-world-war-two

        Skip down to the year 2000 and start from there. These are just the publicly acknowledged ones.

        Regardless of how you may feel about the US’ participation in the events, how they did what they did, and the outcomes, washing away that the events happened is just wrong.

        p.s. It was not ‘…certain never-satisfiable far-lefties managed to declare Bush & Gore the same…’ that gave us Bush, it was the large number of Democratic party members that felt they could vote for the Republican candidate and did so. Maybe it was the portrayal of the candidate as being ‘someone you could have a beer with’ that did it.

        • lefty665 says:

          “Someone you could have a beer with”. That had to be pure Rove, pushing the idea that people would like going for a beer or 47 with a dried out alcoholic. He certainly re-framed the issue.

          Amazing number of military expeditions the “essential nation” has engaged in isn’t? Good link, tks.

          Gore eventually won the count in Florida, unfortunately long after the Court ruled the issue dead, and the Dems are still demonizing Nader. Too bad Gore did not push vigorously for the recount to be completed before the SC ruled. If either he or Bill had won their home states, Florida wouldn’t have mattered. Seems long ago, far away and perhaps a little quaint.  It’s been a vigorous millennium, and it’s just started.

           

      • Donald says:

        We get blamed for most of the civilian deaths in the Korean War because we caused most of them–the bombing flattened virtually every town in North Korea and some in the South.  Curtis LeMay himself said we killed over a million.    You can find that quote online in an Air Force history if you google around.

  10. John Casper says:

    @lefty665 at 11:21 a.m.

    You wrote, “We do not know yet,….”

    Who do you mean by “we?” Do you have a mouse in your pocket?

    Isn’t the “terrorist scourge” Exxon–your buddy Tillerson–BP and other fossil fuel oligarchs using the U.S. military and NATO to steal Middle Eastern oil, natural gas, and pipelines?

    Any idea why tropical diseases are migrating away from the equator?

    “Is America ready for a new wave of tropical diseases?”

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/13/health/america-tropical-disease/

    • lefty665 says:

      Hey twit, you are as inane and wrong as usual.  Go get an education. But, you’ll never get it from domestic mainstream media, so you need to figure out enough about this web thingie to find reality based news. I know that seems a daunting challenge to you, but you could at least give it a try.

      Got your application in for the twit race in yet?  Time’s a wastin’.

       

      • John Casper says:

        “Hey twit, you are as inane and wrong as usual.  Go get an education. But, you’ll never get it from domestic mainstream media, so you need to figure out enough about this web thingie to find reality based news. I know that seems a daunting challenge to you, but you could at least give it a try.
        Got your application in for the twit race in yet?  Time’s a wastin’.”

        Have you started donating $100–your number–to this site for every time you repeat any form of your favorite words, “twit, inane, tantrum bonkers, delirious,….”

        • lefty665 says:

          You really are a masochist as well as a twit. The clustering of disabilities strikes again. How many more ‘ya got?

          Perhaps you are a failed attempt at AI, or maybe a successful experiment with AT – Artificial Twitism.  If the latter, congratulations, you’ve succeeded.

          Odd as it may seem to you,  actually addressing the issues Marcy framed in this thread instead of wandering off into la la land would be a step in the right direction.

          • John Casper says:

            “You really are a masochist as well as a twit. The clustering of disabilities strikes again. How many more ‘ya got?
            Perhaps you are a failed attempt at AI, or maybe a successful experiment with AT – Artificial Twitism.  If the latter, congratulations, you’ve succeeded.
            Odd as it may seem to you,  actually addressing the issues Marcy framed in this thread instead of wandering off into la la land would be a step in the right direction.”

      • John Casper says:

        @lefty665,

        If you think “reality based news” is important, why don’t you include links with your comments? Having trouble figuring “out enough about this web thingie?”

        Please, share links to sites you trust in this thread.

        • lefty665 says:

          Not my job to educate you. I’m not your mama or daddy, thank goodness. Nor am I arrogant enough that I would suggest that you adopt my preferences.

          You need to find and validate your own sources of real information. You start by getting your NPR totebag off your head so you can see and hear, and by eliminating the MSM as primary sources. It is not easy and requires thought exercised over time. That’s hard work, at least it is for me, but I encourage you to undertake the task. It has been rewarding for me, and sometimes unpopular. At least that’s the way it has worked for me, and I would not have it any other way.

          I would suggest the propornot list published in the Wash Post several months ago as a good starting point.  It includes sites like this one and Consortium News, as well as many others. It is not inclusive, nor does inclusion guarantee virtue. But as in background checks, secondary sources derived from primary sources are sometimes the most informative.

          Hope this is helpful. I would be pleased to have the opportunity to have a witting discussion with you. The current nonsense you initiate with me does not help the value of this site.

           

            • lefty665 says:

              So true, wish I’d said that. {sarcasm} Pay attention twit, I gave you a thoughtful and informative response. You can do better than to embrace your foolishness.

  11. seedeevee says:

    It seems like Obama was early in “taking the gloves off”.

    “In response to an earlier query about the reported mass-casualty airstrike on Raqqa this week, the US military command in Iraq denied any “recent changes in operational procedures for approving airstrikes under the past or current administration”. But it said that in December, the war’s commander, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, “delegated approval authority for certain strikes to battlefield commanders” in order to accelerate aid to Iraqi forces facing a grueling battle in Mosul. “

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