Saturday, August 9, 2014

Iraq: Is calling in air strikes enough?

The Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq clearly needed help to resist the invasion by the Sunni Muslim terrorists who call themselves "the Islamic state" (ISIS). The word "genocide" springs to mind when 1000s of people are herded like sheep -- lambs to the slaughter -- to the top of a mountain and told that they must either convert to Islam or die.

Divine intervention is called for, prayed for. But God and the Pope have no divisions, as Joseph Stalin famously said, so help must come from those that do. Walt therefore applauds the decision of President Obama to authorise the bombing, by drones and manned aircraft, of ISIS artillery and other positions.

But a question nags at my mind [or what passes for such. Ed.] Can the air strikes be anything but a prelude to an invasion by ground forces? Air power first, tanks and troops next. That's what happened in Iraq the first time. And in Afghanistan. And in Vietnam. That's because air power, awesome though it may be -- remember those scenes in Apocalypse Now? -- is never, by itself, sufficient to enable a foreign power to defeat an army or guerrilla force of locals. Take Gaza as today's example. Hamas isn't beaten yet, and the Israelis know it.

If the Gaza argument isn't persuasive enough, consider the thoughts of Matthew Bunker Ridgway. General Ridgway held several major commands in the United States Army and was most famous for resurrecting the United Nations war effort during the Korean War. Several historians have given him the credit for turning the war around in favour of the UN side.

To quote from The Fifties, by David Halberstam (Villard Books, New York, 1993): In World War II and Korea, and in Korea particularly, [Gen. Ridgway] had seen what the Air Force had promised to do with strategic bombing and how limited, in fact, strategic bombing was as an instrument of policy. If we bombed, he argued, we would end up inevitably using ground troops. Ridgway saw air power as as a sort of high-tech aspirin; it gave some immediate relief, but it did not cure the underlying problem.

In Walt's view, we can no longer refer to the ISIS forces as just terrorists. They are a large, well-trained, well-equipped, battle-hardened army. They are in control of large chunks of Syria and Iraq. How they can be defeated without yet another Western invasion of those countries is our dilemma for today. If anyone has a solution, please don't write to me. Send it to the Prez, because neither he nor his advisors seem at all sure of what to do next.

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