Questions of War

The United States is back in the aerial war business again. We did manage to precipitate the fall of Muammar Gaddafi using aerial bombardment and the developing events afterwards have been nothing less than bloodthirsty and heedlessly violent. Now we have threat of Sunni extremists in the region of Syria/Iraq who go by the name of The Islamic State and we have been bombing them for weeks.

Our military learned in Afghanistan that an aerial war is far too indiscriminate to be effective. To see men digging next to a road at 30,000 feet is not the same as forward observers with binoculars. Afghani farmers share the scarce resource of water on a rigid timetable of shared irrigation. One digs up his valve and releases the water only to close the valve and bury it again on a fifteen or twenty minute schedule. The same farmer looks like a terrorist planting an I.E.D. from far above.

Does the new coalition have forward observers on the ground in Iraq and Syria? I doubt it. Then who are we bombing? Are we hitting the correct targets? Who is going to go out into this vast battlefield to identify targets and confirm misses and strikes?

The United States is not sending soldiers onto this battlefield. Who will?

Why is no one asking the hard questions?

The Terrible Calculus of ISIS

The drumbeat of war sounds loudly as the world turns its focus on to Iraq and maybe even Syria. The Islamic State, or ISIS according to its previous name, has taken terrorism, regime change, and war to new heights of violent gore. They have executed hundreds or thousands of captured soldiers. They have murdered, kidnapped, raped and sold into slavery persecuted minorities. They have beheaded prized foreign prisoners on digital media.

They oppose Bashar Al-Asad of Syria but that is not good although he is a mass murderer as well. The Islamic State opposes Iran and Hezbollah, enemies of the United States and Israel but this is not good either. What we have is a fanatical group of violent, well-armed men who butcher and maim at will with few strong enough to oppose them.

The permutations and complications are vast enough to fill a dozen books. Consider the list of those directly involved: Syria, Turkey, Kurds, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Hezbollah, Sunni tribes, Shiite tribes and Syrian militias. Add those who are just a half-step removed and list grows to contain the Druze, the Alawities, Israel, Hamas, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Kuwait, Western Europe and the United States. While confined to a specific geographic area, the implications are global.

Even without listing the specifics of every group, tribe and country given above, the idea of a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS seems remote. There are too many players with too many justifiable agendas for an elegant answer. Whatever the arising coalition chooses to do, the instruments will be blunt and create will many terrible consequences that will highlight the shortcomings of the decisions being made now. A lot of innocent people are going die.

Then again, if the nations of world do nothing, then a lot of innocent people are going to die. What a terrible calculus.