• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Perpetual War, Perpetual Bombing, Perpetual Losing

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

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail