WASHINGTON, March 21, 2016 – When Donald Trump proposed “taking out the families” of ISIS fighters, political opponents conjured up a vision of American soldiers kicking in doors, finding ISIS-affiliated women and children cowering in corners and gunning them down in cold blood.
Yet this is not what Trump sanctioned.
And the only dastardly attack so far was launched by a cadre of GOP establishment-linked national security bureaucrats who penned an open letter branding Trump a likely war criminal and instigator of mass mutiny should he become commander in chief.
Their goal? Scare voters into thinking a vote for Trump is a vote for a war criminal—and even (gulp) a Nazi.
Clearly, the GOP establishment relies on the fact that most Americans are woefully uninformed about making and implementing national security strategy. That is, after all, the business of the defense and intelligence communities and the elected officials who fund, task and oversee these professionals.
And most Americans never serve in the volunteer military and never acquire even the passing familiarity with defense issues that might embolden them to challenge the presumed “experts.”
But Trump is on to something in drawing terrorists’ families within the crosshairs of a national security strategy against radical Islam, and, in trying to smear him as a scofflaw reprobate who would besmirch U.S. military honor and shame Americans into voting against him, GOP elites butt up against two very inconvenient facts.
The first is that, for 75 years, the ultimate guarantor of the safety of the American people has been nothing less than the credible threat that the U.S. armed forces are ready, able and willing to kill millions of enemy women and children.
One night in February 1945, U.S. Army Air Corps bombers ignited a firestorm in Dresden, incinerating one hundred thousand Germans—primarily women and children. Although the city had military value, U.S. strategists hoped that great suffering would shatter the morale of the German people, turn them against the Nazi regime, and end the war.
Weeks later, the U.S. immolated one hundred thousand residents of Tokyo for the same reason. Two atomic bombings that summer and another 150,000 dead finally broke the will of the Japanese people and the legitimacy of the Japanese emperor, ending World War II.
The use of air power to shatter civilian morale and oust a government was attempted again in Vietnam and Serbia.
Its discussion, let alone its use, is now deemed verboten by the architects of Pentagon political correctness. Yet killing enemy women and children, or at least the threat to do so, remains a part of U.S. national security strategy not merely as a morale buster to undermine enemy regimes and end wars. It has prevented World War III since the late 1940s.
Mutual assured destruction guaranteed that, if the Soviet Union launched a nuclear attack on the U.S., the U.S. would retaliate by launching an attack against the Soviet chain-of-command, military, and population—65 percent of whom were women and children. By credibly threatening to kill Soviet women and children, the U.S. made the outcome of a Soviet first strike against the U.S. so terribly costly that it was no longer in the Soviet Union’s interest to launch that first strike. The assumption—that the Soviet Union valued the lives of its people—held within certain parameters. Deterrence arose and persisted, preventing World War III, only because the U.S. was ready, able and willing to kill women and children.
Today, with three countries—China, Russia, and North Korea—targeting the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and others like Iran and Pakistan preparing to do so, U.S. readiness, willingness and ability to kill enemy women and children is the ultimate deterrent against nuclear war.
And with radical Islamists like ISIS and al Qaeda intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, only extension of the credible threat that the U.S. will target and kill their women and children has any hope of deterring them.
It may be difficult to deter globally dispersed non-state actors who can deliver suitcase nuclear weapons across porous borders. And ISIS fighters may value their women and children so little that the certainty their attacks on the U.S. will result in the deaths of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters in a retaliatory strike won’t dissuade them.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration fired the only two professors within the Department of Defense professional military education system—Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley and this author—who dared broach the subject of if and how deterrence of radical Islam might be accomplished.
Trump’s proposal to target ISIS-affiliated women and children can thus be interpreted as congruent with a longstanding American strategy to undermine an enemy population’s willingness to continue to wage war on the U.S. And, read thusly, it is a long overdue and necessary corrective for Obama’s dogged refusal to even permit consideration of how to deter, let alone defeat, radical Islamists.
Furthermore, Trump’s establishment critics, in their desperation to block his nomination, make common cause with leftist and Islamophilic law professors, journalists and others who, as outlined in “Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflicts Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column,” falsely claim the killing of civilians is invariably a war crime to undermine U.S. military effectiveness and break the will of Americans to defeat radical Islam.
In fact, under the law of war the death of civilians in a U.S. military airstrike or ground combat operation does not establish that the airstrike or operation was illegal. Civilians may lawfully be killed so long as attacks do not deliberately target them and the number killed is not “excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” by attacking forces. High value targets can lawfully be destroyed even if many civilians die in the process.
Even so, the U.S. goes far beyond what the law requires to minimize collateral damage.
Yet radical Islamists deliberately increase the probability that lawful U.S. attacks will kill civilians, knowing their allies in U.S. academia, media and government will spin these deaths into demoralizing allegations of U.S. war crimes. Here’s how.
Islamists often fight in civilian clothes—a violation of the law of war that in itself can earn the unlawful combatant, if captured, a trip to Guantanamo. After the dust settles, many “civilians” killed by U.S. military action were lawfully targeted terrorists whose deaths are broadcast as “evidence” of U.S. war crimes.
Islamists hold women and children hostage in and around concentrations of fighters and targets in an attempt to immunize themselves and these targets from attack. During U.S. airstrikes, these human shields are often killed. Under the law of war these attacks are legal, and civilian deaths are emphatically the fault of terrorists. Yet radical Leftists and Islamophiles ignore Islamists’ war crimes while spuriously alleging war crimes against the U.S. The goal? Compel the U.S., faced with being accused of war crimes or refraining from attacks, to elect the latter.
Islamist commanders illegally site command infrastructure in residential areas to avoid detection. Then they launch attacks from the cover and concealment of civilian crowds, hospitals, schools and mosques, committing war crimes by converting otherwise protected places into lawful targets. Incredibly, civilians killed by U.S. counterattacks on these positions are held up as evidence of U.S. war crimes.
In sum, Trump is simply calling on Americans to inure themselves to false claims of U.S. war crimes and harden their hearts when family members of the barbaric foes who threaten our national existence are killed by U.S. retaliatory strikes. Trump also signals that women and children who do not wish to die in lawful U.S. attacks should dissociate, ideologically and physically, from their terrorist menfolk. By making it dangerous for women to marry, cohabit with, reproduce with or be in proximity to radical Islamists, Trump would reduce radical Islamists’ familial prospects, making it less desirable for them to take up arms against the U.S.
The GOP establishment knows Trump wouldn’t create U.S. einsatzgruppen to machine-gun ISIS-affiliated women and children, although you wouldn’t know it to read their purple prose. But Trump has done what no other Republican or Democrat auditioning for the role of commander in chief will do. He has elaborated an actual pillar of a coherent national security strategy—deterrence, from the strategic to the tactical level—that can protect Americans against the existential threat of radical Islam.
And, sadly, that threatens the GOP more, at least as of this writing, than the radical Islamists against whom that strategy is directed.
It’s unclear whether Trump will secure the Republican nomination for president. But it is absolutely guaranteed that radical Islam will be defeated only if Americans, as they have for 75 years, remain mentally tough enough to be ready, willing, and able to threaten the destruction of anything and everyone our enemies value—including their women and children—and refuse to be snookered by false claims of war crimes when the women and children of radical Islam perish in the fights their men start and American men finish.