Don’t Trust the Bombers on Iraq: “Shock and Awe” Never Works

By Juan Cole

In March of 2003, we were treated to an intensive bombardment of Iraq, which the Bush White House propagandists termed “Shock and Awe.” As usual, the US Air Force practically promised us that if only they could throw down all their fancy munitions on the target country from the air, why, you might not even need those impossibly old-fashioned grunts in the US Army. We might be able to “decapitate” the nationalist, secular, state-socialist Baath regime that then ran Iraq, by killing its leader in an air strike.

Breathlessly, we were told that the US suddenly developed intelligence on Saddam’s whereabouts. The war began two days early because of this delicious possibility. The missiles were launched on a restaurant in Baghdad. Dozens of innocent diners were turned into red mist.

Saddam Hussein, of course, was never at the restaurant. Then the massive bombing campaign, 1,300 missiles, hit Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk. US military spokesmen insisted that the bombs were angled so as to reduce civilian casualties. But when you drop a five hundred pound bomb on a building, it creates shrapnel– the cement, the glass in the windows, go flying, into people’s skin and faces and eyes. Baath government and military buildings were targeted, in an attempt to destroy the Baath command and control.

The destruction rained down on Baghdad did nothing to forestall a war. The US and Britain still had to invade. As the troops rushed up to the capital some were surprised to see Iraqi troops discard their uniforms, put on civvies, and become guerrillas.

Lieutenant General William Scott Wallace got into trouble with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because he revealed this development to the public: “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against because of these paramilitary forces.” (The propaganda administration of Rumsfeld did not want any elements of reality escaping onto the tv screens). The US was expecting a conventional tank army. That they did destroy from the air in a great slaughter, film of which has never surfaced. But the quick transformation of elements of the Iraqi army into guerrillas and paramilitary took the US by surprise.

Some of the Iraqi military survived as guerrilla fighters. When it was reported that last week at Mosul ex-Baathists forced allied with ISIS in taking over the city from the Shiite government, what was being said was that the very force the Air Force had promised to pulverize from the air over 11 years ago not only was still there in Sunni areas but managed to participate in a rollback of the American project to install a Shiite-majority government in Iraq. The “paramilitary forces” that the US had failed to war-game against, as it concentrated on “shock and awe” from the air, had over a decade later again provoked a US political firestorm.

In the meantime, the US Air Force intensively bombed Iraq throughout the years of the occupation. We have this article from late December 2004:

“U.S. troops and warplanes killed at least 25 insurgents as they attacked an American outpost in the northern city of Mosul with a car bomb and explosives, the U.S. military said Thursday. One U.S. soldier died in hospital after the firefight.

The clash on Wednesday occurred after rebels detonated a car bomb near a U.S. outpost in the restive city. As reinforcements arrived, they came under fire by guerrillas using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, U.S. Staff Sergeant Don Dees said.

The Americans then called in an airstrike by warplanes, which attacked some 50 insurgents at the Yarmouk traffic circle, Dees said. “

The bombing campaigns targeted the resistance groups opposing the US occupation, some of which were bloodthirsty terrorists but others of whom were just… a resistance. The air strikes inevitably killed many civilians, despite US military denials. A study based on the conservative “Iraq Body Count” found that in Iraq, “46 per cent of the victims of US air strikes whose gender could be determined were female and 39 per cent were children.”

Shock and awe failed to awe the Iraqis, and all those years of air strikes on Mosul did not subdue it.

In Vietnam, the US Air Force engaged in what was called “carpet bombing,” using B-52s for wall to wall rolling strikes on the fields of the Vietnamese peasants. The Viet Cong just dug underground tunnels deep enough to escape the impact of the bombs, and hid out until the raids were over. All that carpet bombing did not prevent the US from being defeated by the Viet Cong.

Air power can be useful if it is employed in lending close air support to an attacking military force on the ground, which is itself made up of good fighters with popular support. American air power saved Kosovo from a Serbian massacre by helping repel Serbian armor and giving support to Kosovar irregulars. In Afghanistan, US air power helped the Northern Alliance win against the Taliban in fall 2001. But the Taliban were unpopular in Mazar, Herat and Kabul, and the Northern Alliance was welcome in those cities. The same tactics did not succeed in Qandahar, which is in some ways still significantly Taliban territory.

US air power alone would be unlikely to dislodge ISIS from Mosul at this point. The Sunni insurgents look more like Viet Cong (local defenders) than they do like outside attackers (Serbs, Taliban in Mazar). Where the enemy has some local support and is defending, air power has a long history of failure.

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Related video:

CNN: “U.S. options in Iraq including possible airstrikes”

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Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

58 Responses

  1. “…all that carpet bombing did not prevent the U.S. from being defeated by the Viet Cong.”

    In reality, heavy losses were sustained by the NVA and VC forces due to U.S. air power. Operation Linebacker II dropped more ordnance on North Vietnam in 2 weeks than had been dropped in the preceding seven years on that country and that operation was considered a major success by the U.S. Air Force and, as a practical manner, brought the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to sign a peace pact in Paris several weeks later.

    In a few weeks in December of 1972, the U.S. Air Force acquired air supremacy over North Vietnam’s skies as the North Vietnamese withdrew their air force into China.

    Arc Light was the program in which the Viet Cong was bombed by B-52s in South Vietnam. It inflicted significant casualties upon the guerrillas – who could neither hear nor see the planes before the bombs struck.

    Over 880,000 NVA and VC were killed in action during the Vietnam War. The war was political between Communist and non-Communist forces – not a hostile invasion by a foreign colonizing power. The U.S. Armed Forces soldiers did their job well but were plagued by an incompetent Pentagon and State Department.

    It is estimated that in 1991, the U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq destroyed about 30% of Iraq’s air force within a few weeks.

    Also, the assertion that Sunni Iraqis will embrace ISIS as “local defenders” is misplaced. ISIS is composed of not only Iraqis – but other foreign nationals from Central Asia and other regions – this distinguished it in Syria from al-Nusra combatants.

      • Well if you want to get technical. Yes we have a record of losing wars.

        While we are on the subject of failed policies here is Erin Burnett practicing a form of journalism I haven’t seen in many years. Erin actually ask the tough questions to a Bush neocon and he has to struggle to use bogus statistics and false premises to defend the Iraq lost cause.
        link to crooksandliars.com

      • Arguably this would have been due to the cessation of such air-strikes.

        If NVA incursions towards saigon were met with a linebacker style campaign or campaigns the nva effort would likely have failed.

    • I remember those days of the Vietnam war. Every night they had the body count on the news. The thinking was that with the enormous bloodshed reported, we would win. Right?

      You might remember the early days of the Iraq war the pentagon would say “we don’t do body counts!” They don’t want any shades of Vietnam here. However over the years you would start to hear impressive body count reports from the Pentagon. At that rate would have to win. Right?

      It seems that in these wars we end up reporting body counts because that is the only statistic that makes it sound like we are winning. So now we hear noises that we can turn the tide of this war by what? Body counts again!

      Mark, we do have the power to create enormous bloodshed, I will grant you that. We do not have the power to win this war, whatever “winning” means.

    • Mark,
      Go back to wwll studies of aerial bombing’s inefficacy in diminishing The People’s Will to defend themselves.

      Wakeup, sir.

      • As I recall, it was aerial bombardment upon Japan which was instrumental in getting them to surrender without infantry invasion and which made Curtis Lemay at 44 years old, the youngest four-star general in the history of the U.S.

        General Carl Spaatz and his strategic bombing of Germany in WWII demoralized the German populace and inflicted heavy damage upon their industrial capacity.

        • The bombing campaigns unquestionably inhibited axis production and made ground movements during day time quite a challenge.

        • Yeah, all that naval action, and the years of GIs landing on islands, and the slow bleeding and constant cutting back of the Japanese empire’s access to resources had nothing to do with how the war finally ended. It was all about burning civilians in Tokyo and Yokohama and finally the Big Bangs that sapped the will of the populace, right? I guess you read a different bunch of history than a lot of other folks, though of course there are true believers in the Seversky/Walt Disney version of how “we” can dominate and destroy, “Victory Through Air Power!”: link to en.wikipedia.org

          Wasn’t it Lemay who got all frustrated with the uncooperative unyielding of the “gooks” and wanted to “nuke ‘em back to the stone age”?

        • After a decision had been made to charge the Germans with crimes committed during WW2 lawyers were told to compile a list of charges. They decided that bombing civilian targets was a crime with which the Luftwaffe should be charged and included that in their list submitted for approval by Washington and London. The list was returned to the lawyers with bombing civilian targets deleted because it was a crime of which the Americans and British were also guilty.

        • >had nothing to do with how the war finally ended.

          No one here claimed that.

          Aerial attacks though certainly did contribute to the defeat of the axis powers.

        • The effects of Allied bombing on the ability of Germany to resist are hotly debated. However, it is instructive to note that German war production increased throughout WWII until late 1944/early 1945, when Germany itself was being overrun by Allied armies. Only that put an end to the German military’s ability to fight.

        • Mark,

          In neither case did strategic bombing end the war.

          Germany didn’t surrender until the Russians spent hundreds of thousands of lives invading and occupying Berlin. And then they fought bitterly until Hitler killed himself.
          In Japan it took two bombs to convince the Emperor to quit. Until then they were suffering nightly raids, usually firebombings, that killed more people than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
          Absent the atomic and nuclear bombs we would have had to invade the home islands at an almost unimaginable cost in American and Japanese lives.

        • >However, it is instructive to note that German war production increased throughout WWII until late 1944/early 1945

          I know, however it would have been greater without allied bombing, thats why i used the word inhibited.

        • For those who want to explore the question of whether detonating the Big Boy and Fat Man over Japanese cities “ended the war and saved millions of lives,” there’s a lot of scholarship that comes to a very different conclusion. Here’s some context, that points away from the Narrative that we Exceptional Americans comfort ourselves with:

          “The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan… Stalin Did: Have 70 years of nuclear policy been based on a lie? ”
          link to foreignpolicy.com Gee, I wonder…

          The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II, A Collection of Primary Sources
          National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 162
          link to www2.gwu.edu

          And this little tidbit:
          The effects of the attack were devastating. The predicted Japanese surrender, which came on 15 August – just six days after the detonation over Nagasaki – ended World War II. Yet the shocking human effects soon led many to cast doubts upon the use of this weapon. The first western scientists, servicemen and journalists to arrive on the scene produced vivid and heartrending reports describing a charred landscape populated by hideously burnt people, coughing up and urinating blood and waiting to die.

          As questions regarding the ethical implications of the attacks grew, the US Air Force and Navy both published reports which claimed (respectively) that the conventional bombing and submarine war against Japan would have soon forced her to surrender. Joseph Grew, America’s last ambassador to Japan before the war started, also publicly alleged that the Truman administration knew about (and ignored) Japanese attempts to open surrender negotiations with the US using the USSR as a mediator. At this time, another interpretation – most famously espoused in 1965 by political economist Gar Alperovitz in his book Atomic Diplomacy – emerged: the atomic bombing of Japan had been motivated by a desire to demonstrate the US’s military might to the Soviet Union, about whom the Americans were increasingly nervous. link to history.co.uk

          But hey, you can’t beat the Narrative, now can you? And besides, so many of us believe in “glassifying” as the way to peace in the Middle East…

        • “In Japan it took two bombs to convince the Emperor to quit.”

          Japan gave signals it was ready to surrender before Nagasaki and Hiroshima – two of the great war crimes of WW2.

    • Mark, you are exaggerating the magnitude of Linebacker II rather seriously. I don’t have a precise figure for the Linebacker II bomb tonnage, but the total bomb tonnage on North Vietnam for the month of December 1972, including a significant amount of other bombing in addition to Linebacker II, was 36,244 tons. The total for the preceding seven years had been more than twenty times as large, 791,656 tons.
      Linebacker II persuaded Hanoi to sign an agreement quite similar to the one Hanoi had been offering to sign before Linebacker II.

      • Linebacker II may have had lesser bomb tonnage, but the laser-guided “smart bombs” and other explosive ordinance was more adept at hitting targets than the Rolling Thunder operation that preceded it.

  2. Right on, Professor.With their tail between their legs. Never a happier moment for me than seeing those scenes from Saigon in ’75.

    As for ISIS there’s so many other groups rebelling, please don’t fall this simplistic terrorist crap!

  3. I’m inclined to agree with you here. I don’t think aerial bombardment (or any immediate unilateral military solution) is going to be particularly effective at this point. With a group like ISIS, the end result tends to be creating more followers for them rather than achieving anything else.

    At this point, Maliki needs to put an end to sectarian politics and begin to take steps for political inclusion of minority opposition. These are groups that (while they do not support ISIS) are at best apathetic towards the current regime. Without their full backing, any military solution to the ISIS threat will be shortlived.

    What alternatives exist?

  4. Mark fundamentally misunderstands the Viet Nam war. The Peace agreement of january 73 was nearly identical to that of October 72- Linebacker II was an exercise in futility and depravity and was primarily a Nixon-temper tantrum. The air force ran out of targets because the North’s economy and industry were nearly non-existent even before the war-attempting to relate this to a WWII air campaign narrative is ignorant and highly disingenuous (and echoes mcnamara/Pentagon liars). Using a trillion dollar military to fight a peasant army is stupid regardless of how many Mcnamara-esqe obfuscating stats you can muster. The air force considered Linebacker II a “major success”?, Mark apparently suffers from the same pathetic myopia/”optimism” that infected the Pentagon at the time. According to the Pentagon Viet Nam was one giant success, because like Mark they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) realize they were fighting the wrong war. Mark should research Laos and Cambodia for some more accurate glories of the Air Force. Jeez it drives me nuts to hear perpetuation of Viet Nam misinformation which hinges on purposed misuse of statistics. Dropping a billion times more ordinance than X-war is a testament to futility and stupidity not a source of pride or benchmark of success.

  5. Responding to Mark: The carpet bombing of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam was not only militarily ineffective, it was a war crime. There were no concentrated military targets, just peasant villages “suspected” of sympathizing with the other side. Three or four million civilians were killed. That is terrorism, and it is a permanent and shameful black mark upon the US in history, along with its massacres in North Korea and Central Asia.

    “Supremacy over the skies” is exactly the kind of concept which does not work in such matters. Vietnam never had an air force or navy.

    Also not true that “The war was political between Communist and non-Communist forces – not a hostile invasion by a foreign colonizing power.” The motive of the Vietnamese in general was nationalist: to get rid of the foreign powers which had dominated them for so long: not only the Japanese invaders of WWII, but the French colonial powers whose place the US foolishly took. Ho Chi Minh said “I was a nationalist first and a communist second” and had unsuccessfully sought rights for his colonized people at the Versailles convention after WWI. Only the USSR and China recognized those rights and provided them a means to secure them. The US as always provided only more of the same benefits to the wealthy (the administrative class under the colonial power).

    What the developing nations needed after WWII was economic development benefits for the poor, not deals for the rich to benefit US companies and favored groups. Johnson told Kennedy that “the problem is SE Asia is not communism, it is poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, and disease” and told the Joint Chiefs “you can have your war if I can have the election” of 1964, which they handed him with the fake Gulf of Tonkin “incident” triggering mass bombings prepared in the preceding six months. The US installed the minority Catholic Diem by its usual faked election, representing the French colonialist minority, and had him assassinated when his brother began negotiating with the North.

    So yes, the military personnel in general were betrayed by a US government that had no interest or ability to provide any benefit to the population there, but only the bogus ideology that a market economy was the only viable path to democracy, although our own democracy has been overthrown by economic concentrations. But the US government and people were betrayed by the military leaders, warmongers, military industry, and militarist citizens, who saw only military solutions where there were none, who spend their lives bullying and glorifying bullying as a lifestyle and highest value and personal necessity, and care not a bit for the US, for democracy, for human rights, or for the peoples they claim to be “defending” and “advancing” but only for themselves. They always have a pretext and it is always wrong unless the US were invaded. That is why the Constitution does not authorize military action on foreign soil.

    • Speaking of the “wealthy administrative class” in Vietnam, a little vignette: I was stationed at Phan Thiet, the “Nuoc Man capital of the world,” in late 1967. A gaggle of odd aircraft circled and landed at our ugly cinder airstrip, escorted by “several” heavily armed South Vietnam Air Force AD-1 Skyraiders, and T-37 “Tweety Birds.” (This link gives a nice flavor of how procurement and deployment are done by our Grand MIC, and the rah-rah sentiments that plague our thinking about “war, the Main Game.:” link to airspacemag.com )

      The gaggle of aircraft was the venerable “French Flying Club,” based at Tan Son Nhut, one of our huge contractor constructions in VN. I have pix of the Cessna 190, Piper 140, and several others including a Messerschmit Bf-108, link to en.wikipedia.org, flown in on a fun outing by a bunch of snotty rich folks who demanded that we clean their windshields, polish their props, and fill ‘em up with high octane US-provided avgas. Lunch was provided at the Officer’s Club. These were regular outings for the privileged Club members, with just a whisper of possible danger from small arms fire, and the fun of seeing the “gooks” who dared shoot at them “suppressed” by cannon fire and bombs from the escorts. These folks, like our ambassadorial and senior contractor and general officer class, lived in the many estates that the French colonial kleptocracy had built. As I recall, rent on these swank places were just a couple of hundred (illegal, you were only supposed to use military scrip that greenbacks a month, and “house girls” and other servants were maybe $10-15 a month. The real nature of “war,” one small part of it…

    • Arthur “Bomber” Harris, chief of the RAF bomber command during WWII and later Air Marshal in 1946 does have a statue erected to him in Britain.

      • …and here at home, so does Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Many of them. And Henry Ford, too, and Henry’s trusted head-busting, labor-crushing, murderous lieutenant, Harry Bennett, the folks who brought us the notion of “welfare capitalism,” pay the mopes just enough that they can afford the cars they built, with a little left over for gasoline and the occasional insane road trip… link to en.wikipedia.org And the birds crap on all of them alike…

      • Mark,

        Sir Arthur Harris’ tenure as head of Bomber Command was more than a little controversial. See Dresden.

        He did not serve into the post war years. He was promoted to Air Marshal and retired within a few months after the end of the war in 1945.

  6. So the bombing campaigns by which our Brave Air Force converted hundreds of billions of future dollars in national wealth into puffs of smoke and screaming shrapnel were the reason that what used to be North Vietnam signed on to the Paris Peace Accords, after Nixon torpedoed earlier settlements, after Wilson refused Ho Chi Minh’s request to assist “French Indochina’s” national aspirations, after Eisenhower/Dulleses started the flow of US wealth and idiocy into Indochina? Arc Light and Linebacker II were what brought the “gooks” to their knees? And are the reason we now can by nicely tailored casual clothes in Walmart labeled “Made in Vietnam”?

    Dare one offer, too, that even constraining awareness and thinking by using the “won the war, lost the war” language, trope or whatever, blinds us to the realities of our 4th generation Battlespace? Of the ebb and flow of history, and how one might avert, in the first place, the development of successful Horde-mongering, and hasten the domestication of the former patriarchal testosterone-poisoned young men and their “fiery leaders?” Sticking “us” to “analysis” that requires applications of Projected or Covert Force as the only way to operate, even where tribal or sectarian or maybe even national aspirations (seemingly not the case in Iraq or Syria or Libya) can trump all the bombing (short of nuclear, or gas, or germ, or the coming nanobomb Curtis LeMay Total War technology) that the attacking and invading powers can buy with their future wealth?

    Here’s a dated version, but likely very current, too, of what the actual bombers actually feel and experience and how effective their efforts are seen to be: link to usafaclasses.org Oh yeah, the Gulf area is different, no trees to speak of…

    I read a long time ago that the Mongols or somebody imposed the “queue” hairstyle on the people they conquered as a symbol of that subjugation, but that within a generation or two, the queue was the adornment of the ruling class. Hamas people start having to “govern” and get more civilized, it seems, as do many other gaggles and hordes in our human story. There are always Lenins and Mayor Daleys (pere) in these bunches. Seems like ISIS, may their name be cursed, has at least managed to turn the public water and electricity supplies back on, and maybe managed, however cynically, to do some food distribution. Between beheadings and bullets-to-the-head “corrections”, of course, and other horrors, a feat that the prior crop of other-sect rulers, even with billions in “US contractor” assistance, had not deigned to manage: “We Meant Well.” Well, not really….

    • >of course, and other horrors, a feat that the prior crop of other-sect rulers, even with billions in “US contractor” assistance, had not deigned to manage:

      Is there evidence to suggest that living standards in places like mosul are better now than they were before?

      • Of course not. And it’s not just “standards of living,” like we privileged Westerners get to talk about. My only reference was to a passing mention that unlike the Maliki rule and Bremer’s before it, the ISIS monsters were doing kind of like the Capone gangsters — getting a certain amount of cred and support by making sure certain community needs like running water and consistent grid electricity were provided, along with the beheadings and summary executions. For a running description of it all, there’s this: link to theguardian.com

  7. When all the chicken hawk draft dodger politicians are in one room yelling at the generals to do something this is what you get. Besides just think how much each bomb cost…hmmm lots of cash there boy!

    I’m with you professor. What we are doing is just flat out wrong. The only problem is, we don’t seem to know any better.

  8. I served in the RVN, ’67-’68, and was in close proximity to several Arc Light-type drops near the Laotian border. I always wondered how the targeted troops could endure the bombing, but endure they did. In the case of a Special Forces outpost called Kham Duc they not only endured the bombing, they used the rubble to build a road…directly toward Kham Duc.

    It’s amazing what a people will endure to defend and maintain their homeland. It’s something the US Air Force apparently doesn’t understand.

    • Arc Light raids at Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive in 1968 saved the Marine Corps base stationed there from being overrun.

      • And “Khe Sanh had to be held at all costs, it was the key to the entire war in South Vietnam,” except that then, after all the death and destruction, what happened again? Oh, “we” withdrew from the battlespace, for some reason or other. Endless words, signifying nothing — endless in-depth, serious, measured analysis, looking for justification for idiotic strategies and policies…. One tiny example:
        Westmoreland made two other key decisions
        on 10 March. He decided to overrule the objections
        of the Marines and implement Momyer’s
        plan for the centralization of air control by designating
        the 7th Air Force as the single management
        authority for air operations.332 It will be
        shown that this decision had little effect on the
        battle because it was not fully implemented for
        several more weeks (by which time the NVA effort
        had declined even further), because the Marines
        figured out ways to circumvent direct Air
        Force control, and because the system that was
        implemented contained key compromises. The
        other decisive action Westmoreland took that daywas to request 206,000 more troops from President
        Johnson to win the war. Putting this request
        in the context of the other decisions indicates
        even more clearly MACV’s viewpoint that victory
        at Khe Sanh had allowed him to “turn a corner”
        in the war. Unfortunately for Westmoreland, the
        request was perceived somewhat differently by
        President Johnson, who eight days later finally
        announced that Westmoreland would finally be
        coming home to the United States.
        link to marines.mil So I guess ol’ Westy was “betrayed” and “undercut” just when he was on the edge of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, eh?

        • Gen. Westmoreland was promoted to U.S. Army Chief of Staff after President Johnson recalled him from his command at MACV. This was not perceived as a demotion but rather an advancement based on his leadership in containing the NVA/VC elements.

          Gen. Creighton Abrams became the new MACV commander and ended “search and destroy” operations implemented by Westmoreland in favor of a more one-on-one approach with the NVA/VC squads.

      • Saved it? I recommend opening Google Earth and searching for Khe Sahn (or Kham Duc, Thuong Duc or any other siege site during the conflict). Enable photos and check out what was saved versus what is there today. Zoom in and marvel at the thousands of bomb craters that are still quite identifiable and try to picture what the the landscape would be like had we never been there. Look at the people in the recent photos and imagine what their parents and grandparents had to go through during our stay. Notice how beautiful the valleys look in the recent pictures and how menacing they appear in the war shots. I now have more respect for these people than any congressman or US General. Sorry if you don’t agree, but that’s how war plays out sometimes.

  9. There is an old proverb: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again.”

    On the other hand, as Einstein noted, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again and you get the same results but want something different, that may be a sign of insanity.

  10. While I agree with your overall argument, your characterization of the Kosovo conflict as one in which airpower supported irregular forces on the ground and repelled Serb armor is not correct. The Kosovo Liberation Army mostly melted away in the face of Serb attacks and never mounted a serious offensive during the NATO air campaign. Meanwhile, post-war damage assessments showed that the bombing had not been all that effective against Serb armor. Milosevic gave up because NATO could bomb Serb infrastructure at will, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Serbia pulled out of Kosovo — it was not forced out.

    • Exactly. Glad someone else pointed this out. Milosevic lost his nerve, the Serbs were not cowed by American might and I read at the time that US analysts were very surprised to see so many Serbian assets emerging after the ceasefire to withdraw, forces the Americans never suspected existed. The Serbs learned very quickly how to conceal and disperse their forces. NATO land units would have walked into a bloodbath had they been ordered to invade before Milosevic folded his hand.

  11. If the US bankrupts itself hurling multi-million dollar missiles, bombs, and planes at cheap pickup trucks and hovels, who really “wins” the conflict? The battlefield is only part of the picture.

  12. Who wins, you ask? Follow the money. Who ends up with all the money? Who’s bankrupt is the ordinary people, who more and more every day are getting to that point of “not having sufficient money to meet their debt obligations as those obligations mature.” Thanks in part to the War Culture, and the New Universal Business Model of “more and more work, from fewer and fewer people, for less and less pay, to buy smaller and smaller portions of stuff.” It ain’t Lockheed “We Always Know Who We Work For, Our Stockholders And C-Suite-ers” Martin, or Halliburton/KBR,, or the Kochs or Adelson or the banksters… or ex-Presidents or Congresscritters…

  13. You write as if you think the aerial and missile bombardment was intended to replace the ground invasion. It was not. It was for the purpose of weakening the ienemy and degrading his ability to resist when the invasion too place, and it worked very well indeed. The invasion was accomplished with incredible swiftness and very few casualties, and the resistance in Baghdad when we got there was essentially zero.

    So the claim that “that shock and awe never works” is untirely incorrect. It worked very well at doing what it was supposed to do.

    • In big combat stuff, “the enemy” is not a “him,” it’s a bunch of people in more or less organized form. As to the effectiveness of S&A at doing what you claim, there’s of course a difference of opinion. As Dr. Cole points out, a lot of the “irregulars” that blew our troops up using munitions that “we” originally gave to Saddam and were too idiotic to police up, those “IED” things made of 155mm artillery shells and 500lb bombs and stuff, and made Fallujah and other places a holy Hell, were some of those troops who were supposed to be so demoralized and lost the will to resist.

      One of many discussions, nearer to the initiation of our slow-march to blowback:

      Shock and awe is a military doctrine similar to the guerrilla terror doctrine that calls for attempting to directly influence your adversary’s will, perception, and understanding of events by inducing a state of shock and awe. It is not intended to replace the traditional military aim of destroying the adversary’s military capability, but instead to integrate that destruction into a larger suite of actions intended to produce the psychological effect of “breaking the enemy’s will to fight”. The term was popularised by the United States in its 2003 invasion of Iraq, although a doctrine similar to shock and awe was employed by the German armies in World War II under the name blitzkrieg. Opinion as to the success of shock and awe in Iraq remains divided as of 2004.

      The expectation that most Iraqi forces would capitulate after the shock and awe campaign appeared to have been validated when, during the third week of the invasion, coalition forces found that initial stiff resistance from irregular infantry units in many cities of southern Iraq melted away into a complete collapse of overt organised Iraqi resistance. However, it seems that the resistance merely re-formed in a decentralised, guerrilla style that exhibited increasing sophistication and coordination as the time went on. A military-historical consensus on the effectiveness of “shock and awe” tactics is thus not likely to be achieved until later, when Iraqi soldiers and officers can be interviewed and the impact of America’s fighting doctrine on their actions be better ascertained. link to en.specwar.info The same article notes that the actual amount of shocking and awe-ing has been kind of grossly overstated. With a sideswipe at weak-kneed rules of engagement that sort of limited the intended amount of “bug splat,” collateral damage, and the cowardly dastardly nature of the Baath Wogs who dared to hide their leadership in among the unfortunate civilians rather than standing and fighting like real men launching missiles and guided bombs from darkened compartments in ships or the hissing cockpits of stealthy jets…

      The Narrative has closed ranks around the “consensus,” of course, the one that supports the MIC’s Global Battlespace model. I wonder when those interviews will be conducted and an honest reporting will be rendered — though it’s kind of meaningless in light of later and current events, no? Did “we” WIN that war, destroy “his” will to fight? “He” turns out to be a whole lot of “they,” what happens when you kick a hornet’s nest, or knock over a beehive…?

  14. Before the A bombs on Japan, the Japanese Government approached the allies through the Swiss Government to discuss surrender. This is widely documented.

    • Not exactly accurate. There were feelers from elements of the government seeking terms but they were not supported by the military, the militarists and, most important, the Emperor.

      On top of that the allies were unwilling to discuss anything but unconditional surrender.

      Add to the two bombings the declaration of war by Russia the day after Nagasaki and the Japanese government finally understood it had no choice but to surrender….unconditionally.

  15. Professor Cole, I agree with your basic points: that air power cannot destroy an irregular force that operates in small groups that are hard to see from the air, and that the use of air power against such a force causes a lot of civilian casualties. But you are mistaken about a number of the historical details.
    The attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by airstrike that caused the war to begin early did not occur at a restaurant. It was in a farming community outside Baghdad. The attempt to kill Saddam in a restaurant was a separate incident the following month.
    The bombing of Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk that followed the first assassination attempt could not reasonably be called “massive.” It was relatively small in scale, not remotely comparable to the bombing the United States had done, for example, in the Vietnam War.
    You even manage to exaggerate American bombing in the Vietnam War, which is not easy to do. This was the biggest bombing campaign in history. It made South Vietnam the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world, and Laos the second most heavily bombed. But “‘carpet bombing,’ using B-52s for wall to wall rolling strikes on the fields of the Vietnamese peasants” is an exaggeration.

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