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.