28th December, the commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the infants slaughtered by King Herod. Collateral damage would be the description of the killings now; innocent lives lost for reasons completely unconnected with them.
Collateral damage in the 21st Century tends to be associated with actions by United States’ forces, possibly because they admit to causing such losses, while sub-Saharan dictators, and others of their ilk, embarking upon incursions into neighbouring states deny even the presence of their forces on foreign soil.
American responsibility for collateral damage is likely to decline as their forces disengage from the conflicts of the past decade. If oil has been the motivation behind United States involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, then that motivation is dwindling. The United States Energy Information Administration provides extraordinarily detailed data on the country’s energy production and consumption, its energy imports and exports.
The United States depends upon imports for less than half of its petroleum requirements, and of the 49% of petroleum that is imported, 49% is from the Western hemisphere and just 18% is from the Persian Gulf. Just 9% of American petroleum consumption comes from a region that has so preoccupied US politicians and military forces.
If the United States reaches the point where it no longer needs Persian Gulf oil, it will be logical to begin to disengage from the Middle East, where its experiences, while securing oil supplies, have brought considerable pain.
And if it disengages from the Middle East, will it not look also at its involvement in Europe? Europe has an ageing population, is persistently rude and hostile and offers a market of declining importance. Why not pack the bags and look instead across the Pacific where the huge Asian economies offer considerably more prospects than tired old Europe?
And what would happen to Europe without an American umbrella over it? At the level of continental politics, would Russia under Putin take the slightest notice of a European Union left militarily toothless without an American presence? How many other situations would change for the worse with an American departure? Even if their current presence is only a matter of self-interest, with the Americans gone, the countries of Europe would be prey to the nationalisms and religious divisions that plagued the continent for so much of its history.
The loss of any life is unacceptable, collateral damage is unacceptable; but so also is a world where the liberal democratic values are pushed aside.