Last updated: August 20. 2014 2:42PM - 224 Views

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Is it right to kill in order to prevent greater killing?

A “yes” answer to that question was behind the atomic bomb decision that ended World War II. It is a common dilemma for those who can order troops into battle.

Now President Barack Obama has authorized “targeted airstrikes” if they are needed to protect the lives of Americans in Iraq. The president also approved airdrops of food and water to religious minority groups who are trapped on an Iraqi mountaintop by Islamic militants.

“Today, America is coming to help,” is how Obama put it.

Calling the airstrikes “targeted” makes them sound precise, almost surgically clean. But bombing, like any tactic of warfare, is never clean. It’s always a messy business, and we can be prepared for repercussions.

The Obama decision marks a significant escalation of U.S. involvement, one which the president has been pondering for weeks. But he took pains to assure us that it’s not the first step toward a new ground war in Iraq.

U.S. congressional leaders of both parties expressed support for Obama’s action.

On Thursday, USA Today reported, three low-flying U.S. military cargo planes dropped meals and water to trapped civilians facing dehydration and starvation. They were escorted by two fighter jets.

Civilians trapped on the mountaintop apparently were trying to reach a Kurdish region to the north.

Airstrikes will depend on whether militants directly threaten U.S. personnel and facilities, Obama said.

The U.S. decision to act points to the growing strength of militants in the region. The political entity known as the Islamic State has become “a formidable force,” one military analyst said.

— The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn.

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