National Security

Two More Bad Policies: Rules of Engagement and Hostages

Obama moves to embolden our enemies and further chaos.

Paul Albaugh · Jun. 30, 2015

The Obama administration made two policy announcements last week, one regarding new rules of engagement (ROE) for American troops and the other about how to handle the taking of American hostages. It’s little surprise that both of these policies embolden our enemies and will do nothing to prevent more atrocities in the Middle East.

The first announcement involves more restrictive ROE and is certain to make the U.S. military’s job even more frustrating and dangerous. The policy, which for now applies to pilots conducting airstrikes, is aimed at preventing any civilian casualties. An Air Force official said, “There is a target of zero civilian casualties, so if there are civilian casualty concerns we would continue to monitor a target or potential target to see if there is a way to mitigate that.”

On the surface, this policy may sound admirable, as our troops are trained to fight combatants and to minimize civilian casualties. But the reality is that in warfare, even with state-of-the-art weaponry, there will always be civilian casualties. Although our troops try to mitigate civilian loss of life, their primary objective is to take out the enemy in order to protect themselves and fellow service members from being killed or injured. And until Barack Obama came along, the objective in war was victory. Now it’s just to cease fighting.

National Review’s David French, himself a veteran, notes, “We’re turning the purposes of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) on their head. The intent of LOAC is to render conflict more humane by imposing basic rules of war on belligerents. But LOAC only works if offenders are punished, if they face greater adversity through their violations than through their defiance.”

Simply put, the publicly announced policy gives the Islamic State the upper hand, because now jihadists know that as long as they are amongst civilians they won’t be a target. And Islamic jihadists already have made a despicable habit of using civilian shields. We might as well have handed out flyers telling them how to avoid being killed.

Why would this administration make known to our enemy the ROE for our troops? Does this incompetent commander in chief think that members of the Islamic State will choose not to use civilians to their advantage simply because we don’t want civilians to die? When facing this kind of barbaric enemy, they don’t care if we take the moral high ground. The Islamic State has clearly shown that they have zero regard for human life. But putting our service members at risk by tying one hand behind their back when they are sent on a mission is a gross disservice to them, and it prolongs the conflict and puts more lives at risk — both military and civilian. Indeed, American troop deaths spiked under Obama’s previous ROE restrictions.

Speaking of putting more lives as risk, Obama also announced last Wednesday a new policy for dealing with Americans who are kidnapped abroad. The new policy creates a Hostage Response Group in the White House to coordinate the policy throughout the government, as well as a new “fusion cell” that includes someone who is tasked with coordinating government support for a hostage’s family.

That’s just what we need — another layer of bureaucracy to coordinate the other bureaucracies. But that’s actually not the worst part. While Obama reaffirmed that the U.S. government will not directly pay ransom or make concessions with terrorists who are holding Americans hostage, he also said, “We are clarifying that our policy does not prevent communications with hostage-takers — by our government, the families of hostages, or third parties willing to help these families. And, when appropriate, our government may assist these families and efforts in those communications.”

In essence, if a terrorist group demands payment for a hostage, then the U.S. government will assist the family in the matter, and will look the other way if a family chooses to pay. This of course becomes an incentive for terrorist groups to take more Americans hostage, because they can now successfully demand a ransom — which will be met indirectly by the help of certain government agencies. Shouldn’t those who take Americans hostage be fearful of what will happen to them if they do?

The stricter ROE and the revised hostage policy represent more foreign policy blunders from Obama. He has incessantly boasted about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet his decision to retreat from rather than defeat our enemies has led to the current chaos in the Middle East. With these new policies, the Islamic State and other terrorists will be further emboldened to carry out their atrocities because they know that this commander in chief will take no meaningful action to stop them.

Not only that, but former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argues, “The Framers would have regarded unconscionable ROE as an impeachable offense of the first order.” Unfortunately, that won’t be taken seriously today, because there is no political will for holding politicians to their oaths.

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