Politics & News
Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

By Tom Engelhardt

The U.S. Military Bombs in the Twenty-First Century
Cross-posted with With that in mind, let’s take a look at what those worried CENTCOM commanders, the folks at the Pentagon, and the Obama administration are planning for the FFFIHW in the near future. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that, with almost a decade and a half of grisly military lessons under their belts, they are evidently going to pursue exactly the kinds of actions that have, for some time, made the U.S. military look like neither the finest, nor the greatest anything. Here’s a little been-there-done-that rundown of what might read like past history but is evidently still to come:

Afghanistan: So many years after the Bush administration loosed the U.S. Air Force and its Special Operations forces on that country and “liberated” it, the situation, according to the latest U.S. general to be put in command of the war zone, is “deteriorating.” Meanwhile, in 2015, casualties suffered by the American-built Afghan security forces reached “unsustainable” levels. The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001, and the Islamic State (IS) has established itself in parts of the country. In response, more than a year after President Obama announced the ending of the U.S. “combat mission” there, the latest plans are to further slow the withdrawal of U.S. forces, while sending in the U.S. Air Force and special operations teams, particularly against the new IS fighters.

Libya: Almost five years ago, the Obama administration (with its NATO allies) dispatched overwhelming air power and drones to Libyan skies to help take down that country’s autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi. In the wake of his death and the fall of his regime, his arsenals were looted and advanced weapons were dispatched to terror groups from Mali to the Sinai Peninsula. In the ensuing years, Libya has been transformed not into a thriving democracy but a desperately failed state filled with competing sectarian militias, Islamic extremist outfits, and a fast-growing Islamic State offshoot. As the situation there continues to deteriorate, the Obama administration is now reportedly considering a “new” strategy involving “decisive military action” that will be focused on… you guessed it, air and drone strikes and possibly special operations raids on Islamic State operations.

Iraq: Another country in which the situation is again deteriorating as oil prices plunge — oil money makes up 90% of the government budget — and the Islamic State continues to hold significant territory. Meanwhile, Iraqis die monthly in prodigious numbers in bloody acts of war and terror, as Shiite-Sunni grievances seem only to sharpen. It’s almost 13 years since the U.S. loosed its air power and its army against Saddam Hussein, disbanded his military, trained another one (significant parts of which collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of Islamic State fighters in 2014 and 2015), and brought together much of the future leadership of the Islamic State in a U.S. military prison. It’s almost four years since the U.S. “ended” its war there and left. Since August 2014, however, it has again loosed its Air Force on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, while dispatching at least 3,700 (and possibly almost 4,500) military personnel to Iraq to help train up a new version of that country’s army and support it as it retakes (or in fact reduces to rubble) cities still in IS hands. In this context, the Obama administration now seems to be planning for a kind of endless mission creep in which “hundreds more trainers, advisers, and commandos” will be sent to that country and neighboring Syria in the coming months. Increasingly, some of those advisers and other personnel will officially be considered “boots on the ground” and will focus on helping “the Iraqi army mount the kind of conventional warfare operations needed to defeat Islamic State militants.” It’s even possible that American advisers will, in the end, be allowed to engage directly in combat operations, while American Apache helicopter pilots might at some point begin flying close support missions for Iraqi troops fighting in urban areas. (And if this is all beginning to sound strangely familiar, what a surprise!)

Syria: Give Syria credit for one thing. It can’t be classified as a three-peat or even a repeat performance, since the FFFIHW wasn’t there the previous 14 years. Still, it’s hard not to feel as if we’ve been through all this before: the loosing of American air power on the Islamic State (with effects that devastate but somehow don’t destroy the object of Washington’s desire), disastrous attempts to train proxy forces in the American mold, the arrival of special ops forces on the scene, and so on.

In other words, everything proven over the years, from Afghanistan to Libya, not to bring victory or much of anything else worthwhile will be tried yet again — from Afghanistan to Libya. Above all, of course, a near-religious faith in the efficacy of bombing and of drone strikes will remain crucial to American efforts, even though in the past such military-first approaches have only helped to spread terror outfits, chaos, and failed states across this vast region. Will any of it work this time? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Declaring Defeat and Coming Home

At some point, as the Vietnam War dragged on, Republican Senator George Aiken of Vermont suggested — so the legend goes — that the U.S. declare victory and simply come home. (In fact, he never did such a thing, but no matter.) Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and their adviser Henry Kissinger might, however, be said to have done something similar in the end. And despite wartime fears — no less rabid than those about the Islamic State today — that …read more

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