Presidential Campaign

That’s not how wars work, Donald

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Sunday night’s presidential debate garnered a number of headlines from the media, from Donald Trump’s “you’d be in jail” zinger to Hillary Clinton’s tough talk on her opponent’s newest gaffe — a leaked tape of Trump making lewd comments about women to Billy Bush, third-hour host of the “Today” show.

One of the more high-profile moments of the debate arose when the candidates were questioned on their foreign policy stances in terms of the Syrian civil war. Trump broke from his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, saying “he and I haven’t spoken and I disagree” with Pence’s remarks that “Russian provocations should be met with American strength” and that strikes on Syrian regime positions could become necessary.

{mosads}“Syria is fighting ISIS,” Trump said. “I believe we have to get ISIS.”

He later cited the recent announcement that U.S. troops would aid the Iraqi military in an attack on ISIS-held Mosul as representative of the “stupidity” of U.S. foreign policy. “All these bad leaders from ISIS are leaving Mosul,” he asserted. “Why can’t they do it quietly, do the attack, make it a sneak attack, and after the attack is made inform the American public that we’ve knocked out the leaders, we’ve had a tremendous success. People leave.”

The GOP nominee concluded his comment on the announcement by asking, “how stupid is our country?”

Trump’s remarks are designed to rile his base and undecided voters who are suspicious or unsure of the United States’s actions against security threats in the Middle East. But they are also so blatantly misleading, and represent such a stark misunderstanding of these military situations, they demand analysis and correction.

Such announcements are not new — American Central Command often announced upcoming non-lethal humanitarian missions in Iraq in 2011, and back in 2005 the American-backed Iraqi government disclosed the existence of Operation Lightning before it began. Furthermore, the disclosure of military operations is very standard in the Syrian civil war, even to major world powers such as Turkey, whose military released situational maps of Operation Euphrates Shield quite frequently. Both pro-rebel and pro-regime entities intentionally leak reports on upcoming assaults.

There are a few reasons why this has become standard operating procedure for militaries involved in the Middle East. One of them is that these anti-insurgency operations run the high risk of civilian casualties, as debate moderator Martha Raddatz briefly mentioned on Sunday. U.S. counterinsurgency operations depend on the minimization of collateral damage and civilian deaths for long-term success. A “sneak attack,” as Trump asserts, would not allow civilians any time to flee the area, especially in a country where public transportation infrastructure is largely inactive. If so many civilian lives are at risk of being taken, the net benefit of such an assault on Mosul would be nonexistent. These announcements also allow for broader planning on behalf of the Iraqi government.

Secondly, it is simply untrue that ISIS’s leaders are now leaving Mosul. Not only does this wholly subvert the actual political and military situation in Iraq, it also represents a categorical misunderstanding of how wars are fought. Why would ISIS retreat from Iraq’s second largest city, a huge fraction of their established “caliphate” and a large source of profit for their operations? Trump’s assertion paints the situation in a way that makes the Islamic State out to be an underground guerilla military that can mobilize secret operations on a whim, which is a distortion of their capacities and goals in the region. Mosul is highly important to both ISIS and the Iraqi government, and these leaders wouldn’t abandon it because of an announcement from U.S. command they knew was coming anyway.

Though military officials have criticized the disclosure of strategic military information in the past, the practice protects humanitarian objectives and allows better communication with military allies. The idea that this is fatal to national security is sensational and reactionary.


Carbonella is a freelance journalist and recent graduate from the University of New Haven.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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