Did we call it? USS Arleigh Burke launches Tomahawks against targets that essentially round off to zero last night, as part of the Potemkin offensive. Navy photo.
The president has a simple, straightforward strategy for combating ISIL in the Middle East. But there’s just one problem with it: it’s designed to fail.
As he describes the Allied approach, it comprises ground forces provided by the Iraqis, along with separately-stovepiped air forces provided by the US (and possibly some allies, if he can convince any of them to sign on to a war he himself prosecutes halfheartedly). The problem is, for precision strikes to be effective you need two things: one, eyes on target to control and direct the fire, and two, precision guided munitions. In the past every attempt to use one or the other in isolation has come a cropper.
For example, the Kosovo War was conducted by PGM without eyes on the ground. Most of the ordnance was wasted on decoys or mistaken targets. In 1998, the US conducted a retaliatory strike against several Al-Qaeda-related targets in Afghanistan and Africa. The strikes were carried out using PGMs – specifically, sea-launched cruise missiles. The missiles we will have we hit their targets, but the targets were at best, worthless: in Afghanistan, we blew up the empty bleachers at training camps; and at worst, counterproductive: in Africa, we blew up an unrelated factory because of bad intelligence. In 1993, in Somalia, we tried putting Special Operations Forces on the ground without PGMs or, for that matter, any air support to speak of. We know how that worked out.
Precision guided munitions and drone strikes appeal to Washington politicians because politicians are men of incrementalism and half-measures and compromises, and these weapons are half-measures. War is no place for half-measures; ask a Vietnam veteran.
Some in the commentariat see the problem, that is, the problem of will and intent, if not the tactical and operational problem of how these half-measures can be even half-effective without skilled guidance from the ground, in close proximity to the targets (and therefore, in close proximity to the enemy). Angelo Codevilla, writing in The Federalist:
This indulgence so overwhelms our ruling class’s perception of reality that the recipes put forth by its several wings, little different from one another, are identical in the one essential respect: none of them involve any plans which, if carried out, would destroy the Islamic State, kill large numbers of the cut-throats, and discourage others from following in their footsteps. Hence, like the George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and for the same reasons, this exercise of our ruling class’s wisdom in foreign affairs will decrease respect for us while invigorating our enemies.
via Washington’s Ruling Class Is Fooling Itself About The Islamic State.
Codevilla is right, and he is right on target: none of the plans being kicked around by the amateur strategists in DC have either the intent or the capability of defeating the enemy.
There’s another problem with the absence of boots on the ground — what happens when a pilot goes down? Without a PR package on standby, he or she stars on al-Jazeera’s Beheading of the Week.
History tells us how Fortune disposes of irresolute half-measures. We’ve mentioned Vietnam, but another eerie parallel to the situation now unfolding in Syria and Iraq (and threatening Jordan and Lebanon) is the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 17-19, 1961.
Operation Bumpy Road was ordered by President Eisenhower, but was not ready to execute yet… and therefore the go/no-go decision fell to Eisenhower’s successor, John F Kennedy.
But Kennedy couldn’t decide, “go” or “no-go”. Instead he, And his brother, Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, decided to micromanage the invasion plan. They moved the invasion, from a place where a failure could’ve left the survivors in good position to conduct guerrilla warfare from the mountains, to a place where a failure would have left the survivors defenseless on the water’s edge. And then they cut the planned Exile Air Force airstrikes, to well below the minimum the professional planners had originally been willing to accept. (Once the operation was undeway, RFK cut the strikes still further).
Result: the biggest US foreign policy fiasco of the 20th Century.
And it looks like the prototype of what they’re planning now.
Well, the 21st Century is young.
Well, what did we tell you? The image we just added to this is not a file photo of the futile, symbolic, domestic-politics-driven cruise missile pinpricks against AQ in 1998. No, it’s from last night’s futile, symbolic, domestic-politics-driven cruise missile pinpricks against Khorasan (same Islamic turd with a new label on the punch bowl):
U.S. strikes hit the group’s “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building, and command and control facilities,” according to a Pentagon statement released Tuesday morning.
…White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes …
Wait, was he the guy who used to be a campaign flack, or the guy who used to be a campaign van driver? We get our incompetent national security officials confused sometimes…
Rhodes said that Syrian opposition forces alone are “certainly unable” to combat the threat of the Khorasan Group.
What Syrian oppo is he referring to? ISIL, against whom we’re supposedly also launching ineffectual pinpricks with one eye on the approval ratings and the other on the midterm elections? The Al-Nusra Front, which has made common cause with AQ? AQ itself? There’s no western, pluralistic opposition. They were wiped out during a previous period of half-measures and poll-watching!
And what good can we expect a handful of Tomahawk pinpricks directed at empty bleachers (“training camps”) and mud huts (“explosives and munitions production … and command and control facilities”) to do? Ah, but it makes a manikin look more like a man, perhaps.
And finally — the Navy was critically low on Tomahawks before this little play opened in off-Broadway national security theater. Now they’re lower than that, and nothing to show for it.