The View From Olympus: Futility
William S. Lind
The United States is bombing in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most recently a hospital in the latter. Russia is bombing in Syria. Saudi Arabia is bombing in Yemen. What do all these have in common? Futility.
Bombing is now what a state does when it wants to appear to be doing something, but would really rather not. It is governments’ easy out. A faction at court is whispering that our interests are being slighted in Karjackistan? The opposition in parliament is saying we are a “do-nothing” government? But, good sirs, we are doing something. We’re bombing!
Does this mean the people killed and maimed by the bombs, and the airmen who put themselves at risk, are doing so for nothing? Not at all. They are giving their lives to protect politicians’ backsides. What cause could be more noble?
There is a test to determine whether a government is serious or is just playing at war. Is the bombing integrated with actions of a capable ground force? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer is obvious.
An aside: The U.S. Army, which has patches for everything, including digging latrines, designed a patch for the troops now back in Iraq. Regrettably, just before it was issued, some spoilsport noticed it was a virtual duplicate of the symbol for the Muslim Brotherhood. May I suggest an alternative? How about an American soldier desperately trying to rally a mob of fleeing Iraqi or Afghan troops?
In some parts of northern Syria, our bombing, at least some of it, has been in support of an effective army, the Kurds. But the Kurds’ reach is geographically limited, and the Turks are now bombing them. Were we serious, we would tell the Turks to stop, or if necessary give the Kurds some air cover.
The Saudis and their Gulf State allies have put ground forces into Yemen, but they haven’t attempt much, probably because the Houthis can kick their butt. The main effect of their bombing has been the usual one, i.e., make all the locals come together against them. When people are bombed by aircraft immune to any response, they get motivated to strike back in other ways.
That brings us to the Russians in Syria. Diplomatically, Russia’s bombing campaign has given her a seat at the table. The fighters she has deployed are a warning to the Turks and others not to bomb Assad’s forces. But Moscow, unlike Washington, is run by realists. Realists know bombs alone do little to attain any serious objective. That suggests Russia will also send in ground troops the aircraft can support.
As she appears to be doing. At first, the Marines, airborne, and Spetznaz the Russians sent into Syria seemed to be for airfield defense. That is certainly part of their mission. But reports suggest they are now entering into the ground fight. Moscow also announced Russian “volunteers” would be heading for Syria. The word “volunteer” has never had quite the same meaning in Russia as it does elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, Moscow’s realism is beating Washington’s drole de guerre. Iran and Iraq (yes, the Iraq 5000 Americans died to create; thank you George W.) just signed an alliance with Moscow, leaving us out in the cold. Why? Because when Moscow says it will help, the help starts arriving next week. It does not come with absurd “human rights” conditions attached telling the Iraqi government not to employ its most effective forces, the Shiite militias. Russain weapons are simple enough for the locals to use and maintain. Maybe Russians can even provide trainers whose trainees fight instead of running. The Army’s National Training Center discovered long ago that Russian tactics are easier to teach and learn, and more effective, than American tactics.
The story in Washington and in European capitals is the same in everything: rule by an incompetent and disinterested elite that lives in Disneyland, can’t make things work, and isn’t serious about anything but remaining the elite. At some point, drole de guerre will yield to a bottom-up feu do joie.