Bombing Iraq, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore indicates today, has become an American pastime. (These days, you can't be president without sending in the bombers and drones.) So let's try to get our heads around the latest U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the new "caliphate." It's a campaign that President Obama has already indicated is likely to go on for months and may soon enough spread south to the Baghdad area. It looks like Washington has finally created the perfect machine for the weapons industry.
Think of it this way: first Washington provides the Iraqi military with training and massive infusions of military equipment to the tune of $25 billion. Next that military, faced with its first serious opposition, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), numbering in the thousands against security forces in the hundreds of thousands, collapses. In June, two full divisions, 30,000 Iraqi troops, flee the city of Mosul, abandoning their posts in the face of the advance of ISIS fighters. In all, four divisions of the country's 14-division army disintegrate throughout the north. Left behind is a massive trove of U.S.-supplied weaponry, including 1,500 Humvees, 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers, tanks, trucks, rifles, and ammunition.
ISIS militants, who seem remarkably capable of operating such equipment without an American trainer or adviser in sight, then turn some of that weaponry (as well as weapons captured from the Syrian military) on U.S.-backed forces, including, in the north, Kurdish pesh merga militias. (They have evidently even brought tanks into play near the Turkish border.) To save its Kurdish allies from disaster, the Obama administration then sends in the U.S. Air Force (both fighter-bombers and Predator drones) in close support of the beleaguered Kurdish forces. Doing what air power seems most capable of, the planes begin destroying the armored vehicles and artillery pieces ISIS has brought to bear in Kurdish areas. In other words, U.S. air power is called in to take out U.S. military equipment (and anyone manning it).
To complete the circle, both the Iraqis defending Baghdad and the Kurds now desperately need new weaponry, and Washington is already starting to supply it in the north and soon undoubtedly in the south as well. Can there be any question that this is a win-win situation for the American arms industry and the military-industrial complex? It gives new meaning to American bombing campaigns that, since 1991, have proven to be disastrous regional destabilizers. Think of this as an innovative profit center for American industry and a jobs-creation exercise of the first order: we provide the weapons, we destroy them, then we provide more.
Given what William Astore calls the American "cult" of bombing and its remarkable futility in policy terms, this is a significant development. And don't for a second think that it's a one-of-a-kind situation. After all, Washington has put at least $50 billion in weaponry and training into Afghanistan's security forces. So the future is bright. Tom
The American Cult of Bombing
Why You Should Expect More Bombs to be Dropped Everywhere
By William J. Astore
When you do something again and again, placing great faith in it, investing enormous amounts of money in it, only to see indifferent or even negative results, you wouldn't be entirely surprised if a neutral observer questioned your sanity or asked you if you were part of some cult. Yet few Americans question the sanity or cult-like behavior of American presidents as they continue to seek solutions to complex issues by bombing Iraq (as well as numerous other countries across the globe).
Poor Iraq. From Operation Desert Shield/Storm under George H.W. Bush to enforcing no-fly zones under Bill Clinton to Operation Iraqi Freedom under George W. Bush to the latest "humanitarian" bombing under Barack Obama, the one constant is American bombs bursting in Iraqi desert air. Yet despite this bombing -- or rather in part because of it -- Iraq is a devastated and destabilized country, slowly falling apart at seams that have been unraveling under almost a quarter-century of steady, at times relentless, pounding. "Shock and awe," anyone?
Well, I confess to being shocked: that U.S. airpower assets, including strategic bombers like B-52s and B-1s, built during the Cold War to deter and, if necessary, attack that second planetary superpower, the Soviet Union, have routinely been used to attack countries that are essentially helpless to defend themselves from bombing.
In 1985, when I entered active duty as an Air Force lieutenant, if you had asked me which country the U.S. would "have" to bomb in four sustained aerial campaigns spanning three decades, among the last countries I would have suggested was Iraq. Heck, back then we were still helping Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, sharing intelligence that aided his military in pinpointing (and using his chemical weapons against) Iranian troop concentrations. The Reagan administration had sent future Bush secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld there to shake Saddam's hand for a photo op. We even overlooked Iraq's "accidental" bombing in 1987 of a American naval vessel, the USS Stark, that resulted in the death of 37 American sailors, all in the name of containing Iran (and Shia revolutionary fervor).
It's said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but Saddam didn't remain a friend for long. Emboldened by U.S. support in his war with Iran, he took Kuwait, only to initiate the first round of devastating U.S. air raids against his military during Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991. As these and subsequent bombing campaigns damaged and debilitated Iraq, contributing to Saddam's overthrow in 2003, the Shia majority in that country found common cause with Iran, strengthening one branch of militant Islam. At the same time, the general destabilization of Iraq from a generation of air war and invasion has led to a Sunni revolt, the strengthening of an al-Qaeda-style movement, and the establishment of a "caliphate" across significant parts of Iraq (and Syria).
Now, given that less-than-stellar record, does anyone want to hazard a guess about the next American response to peoples and leaders our government doesn't like in Iraq or the rest of the Middle East? My money is on more bombing, which surely requires explanation.
Cranking Out Bombers
If one weapon captured the image of the former Soviet Union, it was the main battle tank. From T-34s during World War II to T-72s near the end of the Cold War, the Russians cranked them out like sausages. And if one weapon captured the image of the U.S., then and now, it has surely been the bomber, whether of the strategic or heavy variety (think B-52) or the tactical or fighter-bomber variety (think the F-105 in the Vietnam years, the F-15 "Strike Eagle" in Iraq, and for the future, the most expensive weapons system of all time, the F-35). As the richer superpower, the U.S. cranked out high-tech bombers like so many high-priced sausages.
"The bomber will always get through." That article of faith, first expressed in 1932 by Stanley Baldwin, thrice Prime Minister of Britain, was seized upon by U.S. airpower enthusiasts in the run-up to World War II. Despite decidedly mixed and disappointing results ever since, bombing remains the go-to choice for American commanders-in-chief.