Home / Robert Farley / Bombing!



I’d comment at more length on the Ann Marie Slaughter op-ed, but Daniel Larison is killing it.

For my part, it’s the operational aspect of the demand for the use of airpower that’s so puzzling. One of the reasons (I presume) that the Obama administration was so reluctant to bomb Syria was that it was difficult to sort out how a brief, or even moderate, bombing campaign might bring the conflict to a close. As we discovered in Libya, it’s impossible to bomb for humanitarian purposes; if you’re going to engage, you need to decide who you want to win and push for it. In Syria, the state was considerably more robust, the opposition more fractured, and the nastiest elements of the resistance more powerful than in Libya, meaning that it would be harder to win and the fruits of victory would be more ambiguous. I suppose this is why Slaughter has determined to rely on the Credibility Fairy, suggesting that bombing would have resolved everything from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea to Jose Fernandez’ Tommy John surgery.

Strangely enough, the operational case for limited use of airpower in Iraq is a lot stronger than in Syria, precisely because we presumably wouldn’t be bombing for “humanitarian” reasons. The intention would be to support the efforts of Iraqi forces to identify, fix, and defeat ISIS fighters, then recover and control actual territorial objectives. These, not atmospheric nonsense such as “resolve” and “messaging,” are objectives that airpower can actually contribute to.

Note that “operational” is a different thing than “strategic.” At this point, to the extent that the US prefers the current Iraqi government to an ISIS-controlled government, I think it’s sufficient to help out with intelligence assistance that will allow the Iraqi Army to use its vastly superior firepower to track and defeat the insurgents/fighters/whatever. Iraq isn’t fighting the PAVN; it should be able to use its overwhelming superiority in just about everything to push back. The fundamental problems remain with Iraq’s political settlement, and airpower is singularly incapable of resolving those issues.

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  • tsam

    But what about John McCain’s song? Just change Iran to Iraq and problem SOLVED.

    • And I raq, I raq so far away
      I just raq, I raq all night and day
      I couldn’t get away

      • tsam

        to much werds for john mavrick.

        • You made me think about A Flock of Haircuts and it was for nothing? CURSE YOU, TSAM!

          • tsam

            Overshare: I love that song. Still on my iPhone.

    • witless chum

      It could be much worse. It’s pretty much a shrug and an amen to David Frum, but it could be much worse. I suppose it’s also a rather good sign that someone like Douthat doesn’t feel the need to adopt The Slaughter Rule, so to speak, in order for him to be taken seriously.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Slaughter does, after all, have Girl Cooties.

    • pillsy

      That’s not nearly as weird as the fact that David “Axis of Evil” Frum wrote something sensible about the topic.

      • It’s a little late for Frum to discover the split between Sunni and Shia, isn’t it?

    • Matt T. in New Orleans

      Your endorsement is not enough to convince me to click that link. I can live with a stopped clock, though.

    • herr doktor bimler

      Is Douthat consciously channelling Yeats (Cast a cold eye On life, on death)? Or is it just that “cold-eyed realism” is the cliche of choice these days, taking over from the hard-headed form?

  • NonyNony

    The fundamental problems remain with Iraq’s political settlement, and airpower is singularly incapable of resolving those issues.

    I’m fairly certain that there are some proponents of bombing that don’t believe this.

    • Manta

      If everybody dies, peace ensues.

      • Calgacus

        Where they make a desert they call it peace.

    • Arouet

      I bet we know where Maliki is….

    • Chris

      The funny thing is, that makes it exactly like The Surge in 2007 (military victory with zero political breakthrough).

      Of course, they will mistake this to mean that they should TOTALLY use air power.

      • Yes. Christ. I’ve never understood the right wing fetishization of The Surge, ™. You would think it was Reagan single handedly (sic) tearing down the Berlin Wall–a visionary and courageous gamble that saved the nation. It was just more careless spending of lives and treasure in an already lost war. Like throwing a last bucketful of sand on a child’s sand castle as the tide flows over it and insisting that you had solved king canutes problem.

  • Well, she’s right about bombing!

    Look at how successful bombing was in Germany and Japan, during WWII. They were always on the precipice of surrender!

    And how Great Britain, especially London, was cowering, and about to surrender, after the Nazi’s bombed that city, and others.

    And then, in the Vietnam War, look at how that made the North Vietnamese, Cambodians Laotians, come out of their cities and jungles and surrend…

    It didn’t?
    It just hardened people’s resolve?



    • toberdog

      Have you ever seen the time-lapse animation representing all the bombing runs over Laos? It’s horrifying.

      • Sadly, yes.
        And it was also against the law, when it was done – as were the bombings of Cambodia.

        Impeaching Nixon over Watergate was like nailing Al Capone for tax evasion.

    • Anonymous

      They were always on the precipice of surrender!

      They did surrender, you hippie.

      After six months.

      And another six months…

  • toberdog

    Shorter Larison: If you don’t want people to call you a warmonger, then don’t be a warmonger.

    • tsam

      Well that’s not fair.

      • toberdog

        Why isn’t it fair? I wasn’t trying to insult Larison.

        • tsam

          I mean it’s not fair that when you think bombing shit flat is a good idea that they call you a warmonger. You kill a half a million people and you’re labeled for LIFE. Not fair.

          • toberdog

            Ah, got it. My sarcasm detector was malfunctioning.

            • tsam

              I didn’t set it up very well, either.

              • Mickey Kaus

                Its faster to say “You fuck one goat…”

          • A sad neo-con

            Can’t we have just a little bit of warmongering? Just a smidgeon? I promise we won’t be sucked into a quagmire this time. Solemn oath. No quagmire.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              you were told not to eat it all at once, to save some for later, but did you listen?

            • Anonymous

              a little bit pregnant

    • rea

      AMS: “Fresh fish! Fresh fish for sale!”

      Bystanders: “Oh, look, a fishmonger.”

      AMS: “It’s really unfair for you to pillory me like that! Fresh fish! Fresh fish for sale!”

      • Warren Terra

        Seems relevant.

        “To start armed conflicts without cause, rely on me to monger wars!”

  • Lede with the whine.

    FOR the last two years, many people in the foreign policy community, myself included, have argued repeatedly for the use of force in Syria — to no avail. We have been pilloried as warmongers and targeted, by none other than President Obama, as people who do not understand that force is not the solution to every question.

    I salute anyone who was able to get read that without breaking into derisive laughter.

    • witless chum

      I, for one, was moved to imitate an orchestra worth of very small violins on her behalf.

    • tsam

      Well, if the shoe fits, save a penny for a rainy day, I always say.

      • Lee Rudolph


    • So-in-so

      So,is she really saying she thinks force is the answer to every problem? The sentence parses that way, but few pundits would be so bold (stupid) as to state it openly!

    • Ann Outhouse

      Or who can read it without imagining these fumbducks actually pilloried. Hand out the rotten tomatos.

    • Anonymous

      She should have womaned up and said: The war-mongers were right.

    • joe from Lowell

      I find that a good way to get around that particular pillory is to have been against a bunch of wars.

      If the charge isn’t true, it doesn’t work. If it is true, you actually have a problem.

  • fledermaus

    Anne Marie Slaughter and Susan Power just show that the glass ceiling is gone in foreign policy as long as you are willing to advocate bombing in any and all occasions

    • Warren Terra

      What’s the point in having those surnames if you’re not going to occasionally urge a muscular foreign policy of military intervention?

      • MikeJake

        Somebody ask Anna Gunn what we should do.

        • wjts

          There’s no point – she only has two possible solutions to any given problem: buy a car wash or fuck Ted.

          • mark f

            She did a pretty good job with both tbh.

          • witless chum

            It is awful dusty and sexually-repressed in parts of Iraq…

      • Aaron B.

        I would be a pacifist just for the irony.

    • shah8

      If you’re all Christina Romer and awesome for your own sake, you get locked out of the boy’s club.

    • Este

      Samantha Power, not that it affects your point.

    • Francis


      Is it the Slaughter Power Doctrine,
      or the Power Slaughter Doctrine?

      I suspect that the proponents are thinking of the latter, but the former seems more accurate.

      Seriously, truth really is stranger than fiction. Who could possibly put these names in a novel, Vonnegut?

  • MikeJake

    The strategic case for intervening in Iraq is to try and salvage the shambolic nation building project the neocons initiated.

  • jon

    Bombing is action at a distance. It let’s me hold the conceit that I’m not right there, punching someone else in the nose. In fact, I don’t have to think about actual other people at all. And it lessens the likelihood that my personal nose might get punched in the process. Sweet to think so.

    Apparently, ISIS has become so effective and successful, because they are now incorporating substantial elements of the former Baath government and the Army, and are operating mainly in Sunni ethic areas. This is not a good development, as they are skilled and disciplined, and the Baath Party might reconstitute itself.

    Seizing oilfields has a way of getting folks attention. The Sunnis want them, because the rest of their area is mostly agricultural, and it denies essential resources and funds to the Shia and the Kurds. It also complicates any coordination between Kurds and Sunnis.

    • catclub

      and the Baath Party might reconstitute itself.

      That is the part I am not seeing. Baath Party was pretty explicitly non-Islamic. Plus, Baath Party means Assad in Syria.

      I admit that the same Sunni Baath party members might sign on,
      but the Islamic part is in front.

      • mark f

        Is an allied Syrian/Iraqi Baath even a real possibility anymore? My impression was each devolved separately and by Saddam’s fall were pretty thoroughly discrete. Am I wrong about that?

      • Lurker

        Yeah. I don’t really see why a Baath party would be particularly problematic. Baath was an “arab-socialist” party that was more heavy on “arab” than on socialism. They were essentially militant nationalists. The same phenomenon has been experienced in all countries at the same stage of political development. Washington, Napoleon, the 1914 Serbia, Chiang Kai Sek’s Kuomintang, Castro’s 1958 revolution, Nasser were variations of the same universal theme. Baath would be something we all know and we know how to handle them: flatter them, sell them arms, educate their sons in Western universities and eventually, they will liberalise or at least become corrupt puppets.

        The problem is that arab nationalism is dead. The Arabs know quite as well as we how corrupt such governments usually are.

    • Ronan

      afaik, and Im no Iraq expert, ISIS have allied with Sunni factions who are disenchanted with Maliki (tribes, former awakening councils, militias etc) That doesnt mean theres a huge amount of support for ISIS in these regions (which there probably isnt) or that in the long run (if there is some sort of local control in these regions) that the local Sunni groups will want ISIS to stay (as in Syria and as with AQ in Iraq theyll prob try to boot them out)

      • Anonymous

        Read the War Nerd on this – basically, ISIS is a group which flourishes in a power vacuum. They are not going to seize Shiite-majority areas.

        • Ronan

          I will fucking not read the war nerd !

        • I read thst essay. Very interesting.

        • Ronan

          anon – i was only joking btw(although i always found becker to be kind of breathless) but read it last night. Seems largely correct ?

  • politicalfootball

    I’m accustomed to the idea of Democrats being evil and stupid, but Slaughter manages to be evil, stupid and incoherent.

    In Syria, she wants us to bomb Assad’s enemies to bring him down? This isn’t just stupid, this is Feith-level stupid.

    • wjts

      Now, if we attack where the line is strongest the anti-Assad forces, then Fritz Assad will think that our reconnaissance is a total shambles. This will lull him into a sense of false security, and then next week we can attack where the line is actually badly defended Assad’s forces thereby taking them completely by surprise. And win the greatest victory since the Winchester flower-arranging team beat Harrow by twelve sore bottoms to one!

      • tsam

        How are you not one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

        • catclub

          Weakness for a certain female impersonator.
          Mustache too impressive for the other chiefs.

          • tsam

            So catty about their mustaches. Geez.

  • catclub

    I think that the difference in oil resources between Syria and Iraq is important. No matter how often we are told not to notice.

  • Andrew

    Great analysis as always, but I disagree with this: “Iraq isn’t fighting the PAVN; it should be able to use its overwhelming superiority in just about everything to push back.”

    However “overwhelming” the Iraqi army is on paper, this seems to be irrelevant in light of the poor operational control from the central government. Not to mention the panic and lack of discipline that has led to (apparent) mass firings of commanders and mass desertions among the troops.

    So I’d frame the case for/against intervention this way: bomb ISIS if you think the Iraqi army is salvageable, and just needs enough time and space to get its shit together; otherwise, don’t bother, because it’s not going to get any better.

  • Davis X. Machina

    did I mention Vox is awful:

    Vox Headline: Obama just opened the door to airstrikes in Iraq

    Vox Story (first para):

    While Obama did not explicitly say he was considering air strikes, those military advisers could also potentially be used to lay the groundwork for US airstrikes if Obama decides to launch them in the near future.

    Where would data journalism be without the subjunctive?

    • mark f

      I wasn’t as down on most of the Vox guys as is fashionable, but everything I’ve seen, especially from this particular author, has seemed pretty shoddy.

      • Davis X. Machina

        I know editors, not writers, write headlines, but could they please read the stories beforehand?

        • Most Favoured Commenter

          I think these days web authors are required to write their own click bait/SEO headlines.

    • witless chum

      It’s really a good thing Vox was created so we could read this type of analysis that could be found nowhere else in the media landscape.

    • Warren Terra

      I don’t think anyone doubts airstrikes are on the table given (1) good actionable intelligence of someone worth bombing or (2) an ability to use airstrikes in support of a major offensive by something seen as the forces of law and order.

      Given the way these things work, the debate is largely between bomb willy-nilly and bomb with some planning – not between bombing and not.

      • Davis X. Machina

        The notion that the door is any more open, or less open, after the president’s remarks today suggests a pretty simplistic view of how the White House works, or the foreign policy/defense apparat generally.

        Beauchamp is a naif, or playing one for money.

        • FMguru

          It’s all about clicks. Nothing new was really established during today’s press conference, but Vox has bills to pay, and so the sexxxy head-turning headline (the president said what?) was a necessity. They don’t pay all those salaries for people to sit around coming up with reasons not to spam their front page with instant analysis of breaking news (and “news”), that’s just the nature of the job.

          You can set up your web media journalism site to be as high-minded as possible, but the daily grind of chasing clicks for money inevitably drives all sites to become Buzzfeed. Exciting click-bait headlines to non-stories are just the coin of the realm.

    • Ronan

      Vox is terrible. It really is (and Im trying to be fair here)

    • sharculese

      Vox just hired Todd VanDerWeff to be their culture editor, tho, so hopefully their tv coverage won’t suck. But I’m not happy about having to go there.

      • Johnny Sack

        Does this mean he left AV Club? If so, thank christ. The mass exodus of their best writers to The Dissolve left VDW in charge of way too much at AV Club. And he just happens to review my three favorite shows: The Americans, Game of Thrones, Mad Men. Ugh.

    • Arouet

      The idea that those advisers will not include some type of forward air control is laughable. It doesn’t mean anything other than we’re rushing capabilities in that the Iraqi army isn’t capable of providing for themselves, but that’s probably a fair assessment of the situation.

      Vox is still terrible, but this one is likely on the money.

      • joe from Lowell

        So we’ve now we’ve backed off from “US airstrikes” to “some type of forward air control.”

  • mud man

    bombing to support the efforts of Iraqi forces to identify, fix, and defeat ISIS fighters and their closests friends and supporters, I suppose, all those Sunni tribes. We gonna get all sectarian onem?

    I would have thought from Kosovo we learned that even when you know which side you’re on, you can’t do it without at least committing the goddam Apaches.

    • Lurker

      Those Apaches did not fly any sorties into Kosovo. They were placed in Albania. They could not be flown in combat because the Serbian air defence was pretty solid. No NATO aircraft, except stealth bombers, were used below 5,000 feet and most planes flew over 15,000 feet.

      And you can make a case that the Serbs won the war. The negotiated peace they got was better than the original Rambouillet agreement they turned down. Both agreements would have resulted in Serbia losing Kosovo. The difference was that the final treaty did not allow NATO free access and logistics bases in Serbia proper.

  • dilbert dogbert

    Here is a little light reading from Pat Lang: http://turcopolier.typepad.com/files/iraqi-tribal-study—final.pdf

    Most at LGM will not be happy with a lot of Pat’s philosophy but this is interesting.

  • Bombing would be a totally workable solution if ISIS just had a heavily publicized ISIS-only picnic in the middle of nowhere with mandatory attendance. Perhaps we could convince them one was scheduled if we dropped lots of advertising flyers and made a promotional website and promised that there would be cake. Without that, all of the smart bombs in the world won’t kill more ISIS members than ISIS opponents, bystanders and probably cows too. We wouldn’t need smart bombs, we’d need ‘way smarter than the guy dropping them bombs’ that could ask everyone in the area of effect if they are members of ISIS, figure out if they’re telling the truth and blow up killing only bad guys.

    • toberdog

      For this plan to work, we’d need to go all out: Promise both cake AND ice cream.

      • Hogan

        Free keffiyehs for the first five hundred guests!

        • Warren Terra

          “I’ve never seen a keffiyeh with a luminescent concentric circle pattern before!”

          • Col Bat Guano

            “or an infrared strobe.”

      • wjts

        They’ll probably be thirsty. We should get some lemonade, too.

    • Nuh-uh. We can just use the Victim Blame Doctrine that was so popular with the Bush II Crew:

      If bad guys are living in your midst, you’re just as bad as they are for not fighting them or leaving the area or turning them in to the authorities. So it is your fault when good guys do bad things to you while attempting to get the main bad guys.

    • tsam

      The US duz gud surgical boming tho see?
      You don’t kill the spiders, you kill their food.
      You don’t bomb people with accuracy you wish you had, you just kill em all and let god sort em out.
      You hafta break a few eggs to make a benedict
      Them Aayrabbs got it coming nohow.

    • FMguru

      Not a picnic – a Fourth-of-Ju-luau.

      It couldn’t be any more of a debacle than the last one.

      • Warren Terra

        If the Bushies organized this, they probably would include a pig roast.

    • Mitt Romney

      You’ve got it all wrong. We can bomb the ISIS areas and then declare whoever died, posthumously, a member of ISIS. It works for the Mormon church and the Jews!

      Why didn’t you gosh darn Americans elect me president over the mooslim? I have all the answers! Car elevator!

      • Warren Terra

        I hear he has binders full of bombing targets.

      • tsam

        Bombing victims are decidedly NOT people, my friend.

      • The ones that run are terrorists. The ones that don’t run are well-disciplined terrorists.

        • tsam

          How do I gun down women and children? Easy! Just don’t lead ’em off as much.

  • max

    I suppose this is why Slaughter has determined to rely on the Credibility Fairy, suggesting that bombing would have resolved everything from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea to Jose Fernandez’ Tommy John surgery.

    The sugary sanctimony wafted off her piece made me gag so much I could barely speak. She seems to be on Team Kill Assad, and the stuff about chemical weapons and barrel bombs (homemade daisy cutters kids) is the equivalent of those fundraising letters one receives with the gruesome pictures of the dead horses on the envelope. (We have recently been inundated.) Then you send the money and it turns out 90% of the money is used for fundraising and salaries – the remaining 10% goes to ‘other’.

    As far as I can tell, Team Kill Assad is mainly interested in reenacting Iraq II as Syria I. Given how well that worked out, you wouldn’t think there should be a repeat (and she says Iraq was a bad idea without saying how she thought it was a good idea at the time), but obviously this is different. Because she said so.

    I didn’t want to repeat the Iraq II escapade, didn’t care about the chemical weapons (since it didn’t look like policy but a screw-up somewhere), don’t care about this resolve crap either.

    At this point, to the extent that the US prefers the current Iraqi government to an ISIS-controlled government, I think it’s sufficient to help out with intelligence assistance that will allow the Iraqi Army to use its vastly superior firepower to track and defeat the insurgents/fighters/whatever.

    I’ve been eyeballing ISIS for awhile now, and while they aren’t AQC-affliated anymore, they are the degenerate mutant offspring of AQC, which is good enough for me and the AUMF.

    Iraq isn’t fighting the PAVN; it should be able to use its overwhelming superiority in just about everything to push back.

    If we’re going to compare things to Vietnam, it seems to me that Iran was the closest analogue to the PAVN (but the various Iraqi guerrillas never seemed to actual extensions of Iran the way the VC were an actual extension of the PAVN). In which case, I’d say ISIS was an analogue for the Khmer Rouge. Which seems to match with the stink of ‘dedicated mass murderers’ they have about them.

    The fundamental problems remain with Iraq’s political settlement, and airpower is singularly incapable of resolving those issues.

    If the Shia want to be friends with the Iranians, it’s fine by me. If the actual Sunni residents of central Iraq don’t want to be ruled by the Shia, that’s fine by me too.

    [‘ISIS, on the other hand, can just go away and die in a fire.’]

    • FMguru

      those fundraising letters one receives with the gruesome pictures of the dead horses on the envelope.

      Is it LGM Pledge Drive season again already?

    • joe from Lowell

      She seems to be on Team Kill Assad, and the stuff about chemical weapons and barrel bombs (homemade daisy cutters kids) is the equivalent of those fundraising letters one receives with the gruesome pictures of the dead horses on the envelope.

      Just right.

      During the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, there was one policy track coming out of the White House that was actually about chemical weapons, and then there was another one coming out of the neocon think tanks and many Republicans in Congress that was about using the chemical attacks to get their years-old wish for direct intervention into the Civil War. Slaughter was in the latter group.

  • Just like Syria, if most of the fighting is in the cities it would be very difficult to use airpower without causing a lot of collateral damage.

    We were able to use airstrikes to some effect in Libya because most of the fighting was out in the countryside.

  • Pingback: After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers? | Fabius Maximus()

  • joe from Lowell

    Exactly right about air strikes. They’re just not particularly relevant here.

  • Junaid Noori

    I actually support military action in Syria. Had we done it earlier, the FSA would not have been eclipsed by Nusra and ISIS.

    This article is very good in explaining Obama’s lost chance:


    • Col Bat Guano

      There was never any chance that aiding the FSA was going to change the course of that war. If they had represented a serious threat to Assad, someone would have armed them. Everyone else has managed to find arms in that conflict without U.S. support.

      • joe from Lowell

        For a while the FSA, did represent a serious threat to overthrow Assad – back in 2011 and early 2012.

        But the Iranians and Russians backed him up, and he survived.

        None of these theories takes into account the willingness of Iran and Russia to keep escalating their support as we escalated ours. They all talk in terms of the Assad regime by itself.

    • Chris

      People who say we should’ve taken military action in Syria are missing the most immediate problem: it wasn’t possible given Congressional opposition. Congress learned from Libya and raised holy hell last August when it looked like Obama was considering action in Syria. Between the liberals and Ronulans who didn’t want any action at all, the teabaggers and Blue Dogs who didn’t care one way or another but would’ve opposed anything Obama did because Obama did it, and the McCain crazies on the other side for whom nothing Obama did would’ve been enough and would’ve probably tried to seize control of the “military action” and micromanage it into a full scale war… any kind of rational “military action” was never in the cards.

      Obama understood this, which is why he put the ball in Congress’ court (and sure enough, all they did was splutter and bicker uselessly, because dear God if there was ever a group incapable of transitioning from backseat driving to actual driving, it’s this Congress).

      So. Of course, there are also all kinds of reasons why military action in Syria would have been a bad idea. But it’s all a moot point, because such action was never on the table in the first place.

      • Manta

        “it wasn’t possible given Congressional opposition.”

        From what I understood of how this things go: if the president wants war, he bypasses Congress; if he does not want war, he asks for a proper authorization (there are some notable exceptions, though).

        • Chris

          Bypassing Congress is daring them to pass legislation basically outlawing what you’re doing – and then, if you keep doing it anyway, daring them to impeach you, which they actually would have grounds for.

          The fact that a spineless Congress has ceded more and more of its oversight power to the presidency over the decades doesn’t mean it’ll always be that way, especially with this President in the White House and the chorus of people just longing for that kind of cause.

    • Dave

      “Supporting military action in Syria” means having an answer to two related questions:

      How many of your own citizens in the armed forces, with families and communities back home caring for them, are you willing to get killed?

      What vital national interests will be served by aiding one side in the conflict over another?

      As the prevalent answer among the electorate to both questions is currently “none”, just exactly how brave a politician do you want to be?

      • scott

        It seems bravery for politicians these days is actually doing what their constituents want rather than what their cocktail-warrior friends would prefer.

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