Failed States And American Air Power

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched a bombing campaign against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. An invasion to "liberate" the country followed. Almost 15 years later, with the Taliban again gaining ground, President Obama has just eased constraints on the U.S. military's use of air power there. To aid Afghan troops, American planes can once again be sent out in "proactive" strikes against the Taliban whenever U.S. commanders believe it useful or necessary. In the decade and a half between those two bombing decisions, American air power has been loosed not just in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Somalia -- seven countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

So how'd that turn out? Of those countries, only Somalia might have been considered a failed state in 2001. Today, it has been joined by Libya, Yemen, and Syria. All are now egregiously failed states. Iraq, a country invaded by the U.S., occupied, and in most of the years between 2001 and 2016 repeatedly battered by air strikes, is now a riven land. Its Sunni areas are partially occupied by the Islamic State, its Kurdish territories independent in all but name, its government a sinkhole of corruption and nearly bankrupt, its army notoriously open to collapse. And as in Afghanistan, so in Iraq all these years later, the skies are again filled with U.S. bombers and drones and just recently another form of air power as well: U.S.-piloted Apache helicopters have been sent back into action to support Iraqi troops in their faltering offensive against the Islamic State (even as U.S. planes help reduce ISIS-controlled cities to rubble). By now, Iraq certainly qualifies as a failing, if not failed, state. Afghanistan (see above) falls into something like the same category. In all of them, terror groups have spread widely. Of the seven countries in question, only Pakistan might have escaped the failing category and yet, from the expansion of terror groups on its territory to its faltering economic state, it is in worse shape today than it was in October 2001.

Of course, air power can't be blamed for the sorry fates of these lands, but let's just say -- retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore does today in "Dominating the Skies -- and Losing the Wars" -- that it has proven remarkably incapable of producing any positive results. And yet, though the evidence of its ineffectiveness should be clear to all by now, U.S. politicians from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton respond to just about any development -- linked however minimally to events in the Greater Middle East (including the recent massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando) -- with calls for loosing yet more air power. A disconnect? No one in Washington seems to notice. Fortunately, William Astore has.