One of the frustrating lines of punditry we’ve seen in the wake of the Paris attacks has been the idea that we have to “get serious,” which means paying less attention to the number of non-combatants we kill in airstrikes. I’m not mischaracterizing their position. Ted Cruz, for example, said ISIS, “will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties.”
Consider this: “During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”
Or this: “Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.”
Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.
The president’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted.
Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.
What percentage of civilian casualties would Ted Cruz find more acceptable? 15? 20? More? How high could he get away with before his boosters withdrew their support?