FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Perpetual War, Perpetual Bombing, Perpetual Losing

by

President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS depends crucially on precision bombing by drones and airplanes.  The heavy lifting on the ground is supposed to be accomplished by our ‘allies’ in Iraq and the Syrian opposition, but as any reader of the news knows, these allies are, to put it charitably, unreliable and prone to panic and/or treachery.  So, despite Obama’s rhetoric, our new war against ISIS will be an air power war.

The key ideas in Obama’s bombing strategy will be the identification and killing of ISIS leadership targets and the disruption/destruction of coherent ISIS ground operations with precision weapons.  That target identification task is likely to be done by small numbers of US forces working with our supposed allies. This plan is a prescription for disaster.

The seductive idea of victory thru airpower alone is not a new one, and Obama has fallen for a modern improv of an old score —  no doubt, in part, for domestic political reasons.  The background music was conceived and advocated in the 1930s by a small group of officers in the Army Air Corps based in the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.  The two-part claim was that (1) targeteers use detailed analysis to identify key nodes crucial to functioning of the enemy’s economic infrastructure and (2) precision bombing of those nodes would bring about a socio-economic collapse. (Destroying ball bearing factories in WWII became the quintessential example of this thinking).  A subsidiary proposition was that precision bombardment (code for the Norden bombsight) would minimize civilian casualties, even when targets were inside cities.  The theory was tried in Germany and failed. The bombing campaign did not achieve its predicted effects; the ambiguity surrounding perceptions of progress caused the target list to grow like crazy; and the bombing campaign degenerated into carpet bombing on cities, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of civilians — readers who doubt this should read the Strategic Bomb Survey conducted after WWII (The Summary Report is easily available, but the real meat is in the full report.)  The fire bombing raids on Japanese cities and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not pretend to play the charade.   The intent behind the claim of victory thru air power alone was that such a war winning capability justified an independent Air Force, equal in stature and budget grabbing capability to the Army and the Navy.  That intent was achieved in 1947.

Using wildly proliferating target lists to cover for failed predictions has been a staple of every precision bombing campaign since WWII.  Strategic bombing in subsequent wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Kosovo, Iraq II, Afghanistan played on the idea of the critical target theme with similar results.  This phenomenon has reached what may be an apotheosis of absurdity in the proliferating lists of high value terrorist targets.  And the rise of ISIS proves the point — we obsessed over and eventually killed Abu Musab al-Zakawi,  the founder of the original incarnation of ISIS, only to see an even more capable ISIS arise from ashes.

But there is more to the failure of the theory of precision bombardment.  The precision war in its current incarnation suffers from the same historical flaw that complimented the theory of critical targets: Bombing is never as precise as its advocates claim. The theory assumes we can use technology to turn war into a methodical predictable battle; in effect this mentality places priority on technology at the expense of human factors.  The substitution results in magnified organization and technical complexities that always break down in real war.  My good friend Andrew Cockburn has just written an outstanding essay in Harpers that examines this aspect of a fatally flawed theory of victory thru airpower alone. And in so doing, he has provided a case study in how this theory captures thinking and creates a rigid, non-adaptable, techno-mechanical OODA loop* that turns Colonel Boyd’s maxim — machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds — on its head.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail