The Volokh Conspiracy

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Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey undermines Obama administration criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza


Back in July, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes suggested to CNN's Candy Crowley that Israel wasn't doing enough to avert civilian casualties in Gaza. "I think you can always to more. The U.S. military does that in Afghanistan." On August 3rd, ten people, including an undetermined number of civilians, died when an Israeli shell landed on a street near an UNRWA school, leaving the school and its grounds completely undamaged. Before the incident could be properly investigated the U.S. State Department issued a harsh condemnation: "The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah… We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties."

I pointed out the hypocrisy of these statements at the time, but administration supporters claimed that the U.S. is in fact more careful about civilian casualties than Israel. Further accentuating my point, last week Join Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey stated "that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit … civilian casualties" in the Gaza operation. In fact, Dempsey said, the Pentagon sent a team to learn what it could from Israel's operations, including lessons about how to limit civilian casualties.

Incredibly, when asked about Dempsey's statement, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki asserts "it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that [Israel] could have done more and they should have taken more—all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties." First, Dempsey is an Obama appointee, so the idea that the "entire Administration" agrees with this is nonsense. Second, we have the informed judgment of America's top military commander against State Department civilians who don't even bother to wait until the facts are established before condemning Israel, plus Benjamin Rhodes, whose only claim to military knowledge that he's been serving as President Obama's mouthpiece on foreign policy matters since 2007 ("My main job, which has always been my job, is to be the person who represents the president's view on these issues.") Is Psaki really inviting us to make this comparison?