Crocodile Tears On Afghan Airstrikes
The Afghan President demanded a halt to all US airstrikes today, but I think Juan Cole is right to view this as a political ploy. As we saw in Iraq, populist rhetoric against US occupation plays well with the public, especially when the US military gives the public so many reasons to hate us. The latest revelation about the possible use of white phosphorus used in battle with the Taliban just caps it.
Doctors voiced concern over "unusual" burns on Afghan villagers wounded in an already controversial U.S.-Taliban battle, and the country's top human rights groups said Sunday it is investigating the possibility white phosphorus was used.
The American military denied using the incendiary in the battle in Farah province — which President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did. The U.S. says Taliban fighters have used white phosphorus, a spontaneously flammable material that leaves severe chemical burns on flesh, at least four times the last two years.
Using white phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is considered legitimate under international law, but rights groups say its use over populated areas can indiscriminately burn civilians and constitutes a war crime.
This again echoes the war in Iraq, as our use of phosphorus caused outrage there.
While Karzai depends on the US for his very survival, and his demands will not, in all likelihood, change US policy on bombings, I think the Administration would do well to listen to the concerns. Obama himself eloquently discussed during the campaign the futility of bombing villages and causing civilian casualties, which only produces more extremism and antipathy toward the United States. He claimed that more troops would obviate the need for these airstrikes, but we're seeing that rendered false, as I always assumed. Dan Froomkin is right to assail the President's lack of remorse here:
Air strikes in Afghanistan -- along with missiles fired from drones in Pakistan -- have continued to be a staple of the American approach to the region. And now, under his command, the U.S. military appears to have made a tragic mistake.
So far, however, Obama's public response has been muted. This could be because the military is refusing to confirm the reports from the ground.
But it makes me wonder: Have we all, including Obama, gotten so desensitized to the violent death of civilians at our hands, ostensibly in the name of fighting terror? Is this another tragic Bush legacy?
Where is Obama's anger, his sadness, his regret, his vow to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again?