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Iraqi Air Strikes: Who is President Obama Kidding?

I read today that we (United States) had started up airstrikes against the so-called Caliphate of ISIS in northern Iraq. President Obama claims these strikes are to prevent genocide. While there is a religious minority in definite peril in the region, the President is kidding himself if he believes that a pure air campaign will prevent genocide. As the Rwanda Genocide showed, genocides don’t have to be carried out with artillery. They can be be carried out with machetes or many other weapons at hand that cannot be destroyed from the sky.

There are other limits to air power, particularly when deployed against insurgent groups. For more about this, I refer you to this book review of The limits of air power by Mark Clodfelter.

IF this is really about preventing a genocide, we’d need to arrange for a contiguous, defenseable safe area and ring it with troops. But I really don’t have confidence that would work either because some of the worst ethnic killing in Iraq happened in 2006-2007 when we were in occupation of the country.  We’d also need the cooperation of the Baghdad government and Turkey to insert a large enough body of troops to protect the Yazidis, something they’ve been unwilling to do in the past.

But if ISIS is really determined to exterminate the Yazidis and we stick to airstrikes, they will die. End of story.

Relying on air strikes alone isn’t the only place where the President is trying to fool someone. According to a 8/8/2014 story in the UK Guardian:

He also, repeatedly, said the Iraqi government needed to take ultimate responsibility for security within the country. “We can conduct air strikes,” he said, “but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to the problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries support.”

This is a peculiar hope given that:

  • As a group Shia muslims (the majority partner in the Baghdad government) hate Yazidis almost as much as Sunnis do, as most Muslims believe they are devil worshippers.
  • We trained a new Iraqi army from 2005-2010 with little improvement in combat readiness.
  • As recently as June 2014, the Iraqi army was described at being at the point of collapse and a sectarian force, which was months away at best from being able to take territory back from ISIS. This is way, way too long to stop a genocide if that is ISIS’s intention.
  • Iraq’s Baghdad’s based government has been divided for months and as of a few days ago, still could not name a new prime minister. This is NOT a government capable of taking effective action.

For all of my problems with President Obama, I do respect him as an intelligent man. So I think he knows all these facts that I’ve cited above. So I find it hard believe that he’s kidding himself when he says an airstrikes only policy is a way to prevent genocide. Of course, that makes the alternative that he’s trying to fool us and I don’t like having my intelligence insulted. I didn’t like under George W. Bush and I don’t like it now.

The Guardian article cited above had another listed purpose – to protect US personnel in Northern Iraq, particularly in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Ibril. But here too, airstrikes are of limited utility – if our aim was to protect US personnel, we ought to be airlifting them now. For more speculation on why President Obama may be bombing Northern Iraq, see Why is Obama bombing Iraq, Really? by Juan Cole at Informed Comment. I’m not necessarily endorsing his post, but the reasons the President has given for what he says will be an extended bombing campaign just don’t make sense to me. It can’t really do what he says it is supposed to do.

Finally, a quick word to the folks who say “We should have never left Iraq.” First, we had to under the Status of Forces Agreement signed on behalf of President George W. Bush in November 2008, which stipulated:

1. All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
2. All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

Efforts were made to extend this deadline, but Iraq was dead set on us leaving. Staying would have required starting a brand new war and guaranteeing resistance from the Shia majority of the Iraq. At the time, even President George W. Bush recognized such a move would be both bloody and futile.


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