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It Doesn’t Pay to Slaughter Innocents

Posted on Jul 18, 2014

Photo by Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy magazine points to the civilian deaths on a beach in Gaza and airspace over Ukraine to argue that using “the chaos of combat” to achieve complex political ends is futile.

“Modern low-intensity conflicts are won and lost on their ragged edges,” Rothkopf begins. “Nations act as though the careful plans of their militaries and intelligence operations can harness the chaos of combat and guide it to advance their interests. And then the unplanned happens, collateral damage occurs, and it has a bigger impact on politics and the position of combatants than all the calculated elements of the conflict added up.

“We need look no further than the headlines of this week—to the four dead Palestinian boys on the beach in Gaza or to the scattered wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight allegedly shot down over Ukraine.”

The Israeli government cannot argue that the children’s deaths served the goal of self-defense, and the Russian government will find it difficult to escape a sentiment of revulsion if it comes to light that Russian-supported separatists using Russian weapons were responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the deaths of 298 passengers and crew members. “[I]t will be much harder for the friends of the Russian leader to embrace him or his brazen efforts to destabilize Ukraine,” Rothkopf continues.

Neither of the developments serve the purpose of rallying popular support to the perpetrators’ causes. On the contrary, they betray them.

“In total warfare, it is easier to shrug off collateral damage as the cost of achieving a vital goal, of survival. But in more limited conflicts, it can reset the political context that is as much a part of the overall battle as is the use of force. Random errors can as a consequence become great defeats. When innocents die, standard military metrics for success or failure pale in comparison with the human costs depicted so graphically in the media—highlighting once again with indelible and deeply disturbing images the hubris of leaders who delude themselves into believing they can control the uncontrollable.”

Read Rothkopf’s full essay here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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