“We might survive a communist occupation, but not another American liberation,” I heard a Frenchman say in 1948 when I first visited Paris. I thought he must just be a leftist; I was a child and so innocent. My mother was working in occupied Germany as a correspondent for Reader’s Digest and had taken me to Paris for a few days of sightseeing.
Years later I learned what he meant—any resistance, even a single man shooting from a village, would have the American Army pull back and call in the artillery and Air Force to flatten the area until it was rubble. There could be a case that saving one American soldier’s life is worth destroying some foreign town. But are we justified in doing it to serve the interest of one Arab tribe against another? Do the “liberated” foreigners then thank us?
Reading a New York Times report that the so-called Iraqi Army, backed by American bombers, would soon liberate the city of Mosul, I searched for the results of other “liberated” cities. Reuters describes the “staggering” destruction of Ramadi. The city, which had a half a million population, now “liberated from ISIS” with American bombers’ “help,” is in total ruins and deserted—no water nor electricity grid, unexploded bombs and ruins everywhere. “The fighting saw Islamic State bomb attacks and devastating U.S.-led coalition air strikes,” according to Reuters. Similar almost-total destruction was wreaked upon the Syrian town of Kobane in 2014 by the American air forces helping to liberate it.
During the Iraq war we had the earlier example of Fallujah, destroyed by U.S. Marines in a “liberation,” partially designed to “punish” its inhabitants for hanging four U.S. contractors, and a picture of the gruesome act was widely circulated at the time.
An Iraqi force gearing up to attack Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, is composed in part of Shiite tribesmen. It’s not difficult to imagine that many Shiites would like to totally destroy the mainly Sunni city, not to mention looting it in the process. But is it really in America’s interests to partake and make possible such a change in control, or will it instead generate new thousands of bitter victims hoping one day to wreak similar vengeance on America? Yet this is the Obama policy, following in the footsteps of its helping Saudi Arabia to decimate the civilian infrastructure of Yemen (with aerial refueling and providing targeting information for Saudi bombers, not to mention selling them the actual bombs).
I put the word “army” in quotes because American journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan repeatedly use the word to describe what are actually tribes and clans—but hardly representing nations as European and American armies do.
It’s one thing for foreigners destroy each other’s cities, but for us to do it? It’s very different when America takes one side and helps the other to “bomb them back into the stone age,” an expression sometimes heard from our generals. Our cities have never been so destroyed, so we have little comprehension about what we do to the cities of other nations. Bombers today, with their extraordinary accuracy, quickly run out of military targets. Then they often go after civilian infrastructure.
Other times, as in the first Iraq war in 1991, we purposely bombed the irrigation, sanitation, and electric plants. A million Iraqis, mainly children, subsequently died from starvation and disease. TV news rarely reports such information, which might cause Americans to question some of the wanton destruction. However, in this case we have the admission of Madeleine Albright on “60 Minutes”. The destruction we have helped do to Yemen would be a war crime under rules America used at the Nuremberg Trials.
Most of Mosul’s population is probably not pro-ISIS; the group captured the city and was not invited in. Yet now we hear Republican presidential candidates urging carpet bombing and obliteration of Iraqi and Syrian cities in order to “win” a war against ISIS. But will such actions gain us peace or allies among other Arabs? Or will it just continue our unending wars in the Muslim world? And generate more bitter hatred of America?
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.