Yesterday I mentioned that, besides fearing entanglement in another ground war, the other reason that the United States is reluctant to mount wholesale attacks against the Islamic State is concern about civilian casualties. Estimates of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes already range from 250 to 500. In the New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt write:

For months, the United States military has known that the Islamic State uses the city hall in Raqqa, Syria, as an administrative center and a dormitory for scores of fighters. Some American officials even believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, may have been in the building at times.

Yet, despite the American air campaign against the Islamic State, the white, three-story building remains standing because it also houses a jail.

The inmates of which the U.S. does not wish to place in harm’s way, thus violating international law. Not to mention providing the Islamic State with civilian casualties it can capitalize on in its recruiting drives.

Meanwhile, of course, “Current and former residents of Raqqa … say the group’s leaders move constantly, mixing with the civilian population.”

[Abu Bakr al-] Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s leader, may have been in city hall, but according to a senior military official, he “moves constantly, and is in and out of buildings all over” areas the Islamic State controls.


Mr. Baghdadi is such a valuable target that if the coalition got a clear shot at him it might take it and accept the risk of civilian deaths. “Our threshold for collateral damage increases with the value of the target we’re going after,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress this month.

That begs the question: If you lived under a regime as cruel and destructive as the Islamic State, could you learn to accept that the greater good — ridding the world of its leader — might mean sacrificing you and your family? That’s a tall order. Some make the case that the U.S. is even more destructive, though not as obviously cruel, which means that they might accept the danger to them and their family from an Islamic extremist terrorist attack with a similar semblance of equanimity.

Of course, neither scenario is likely. Nevertheless, it behooves us to remember that it was the West that got the killing-civilians ball rolling with the mind-numbing barbarity it wreaked on Muslims during the Crusades.