Does it make us safer to shoot random strangers from the sky?

To my mind, if you’re going to kill someone in military action, some things should be true:

  • You should know who you are killing
  • Killing this person should lead to a clearly defined military victory
  • This clearly defined military victory should lead to a state of affairs which is such that
    • Your homeland is safer
    • Your quality of life is improved

We left behind a lot of unexploded bombs in Vietnam, and lost the war there.  Now they are such good friends that we will sell weapons to them, at least when the South China Sea comes into play.  Did our expense in exploded and unexploded weapons delivered from the air make us safer, and did it make our current friendship better than it would have been had we not dropped those bombs?

More to the point, did dropping bombs on Cambodia and Laos make us safer then and now?

These are old questions, but now we have a newer, more “precise” story to read, from the Washington Post on June 9th (details extracted from the larger story to describe just the attack and the victims):

On small video screens inside their cockpits, the U.S. pilots spotted their target, an Islamic State checkpoint just south of the Iraqi city of Mosul.  In grainy black and white, they could see the enemy manning the barricades and a guard shack. As they prepared to launch their attack, two cars approached the checkpoint and stopped. The drivers appeared to be talking with Islamic State fighters.  The pilots concluded that the people in the cars were allied with the militants and asked for permission to strike. After a brief discussion with their headquarters in Qatar, they got their reply: “You’re cleared to execute.”  The pilots made their first pass, blasting the checkpoint, the Kia  and the GMC with machine gun fire.

Six seconds before the pilots made their final machine gun pass, three people rushed out of the burning GMC and one person fleeing the Kia. It was hard to tell whether they were men, women or children.

Inside the Kia, along with the driver, were three women and two children. The car was traveling with a GMC Suburban when the bombs and bullets hit, causing both vehicles and the people inside them to burn entirely.

The family of a lieutenant colonel with the Iraqi police had been burned alive in the GMC Suburban.  “What happened to me, you can’t even imagine,” the colonel said last month in an interview with The Washington Post. He said his 9-year-old daughter; two sons, ages 10 and 16; his wife; and the driver were killed in the attack.

Let me pause here for a rhetorical question:

Q. In what parallel universe do cars which get stopped for a lengthy period of time at an enemy checkpoint become, by virtue of being stopped and the passengers being questioned by the guards, and the guards obviously not being satisfied by their responses, friends of the guards who have interdicted them?  What does this say about the deductive and analytical powers of the pilots and of the intelligence team they communicated with which approved their attack?  What does it say about their respect for the passengers, if it can’t be concluded that the analysts truly believed that these people were friends of the guards?

Does air power projected thusly make us safer, improve our quality of life, and help us achieve a military objective?  Obviously, I don’t think so.   I think that when you’re too uncommitted to the outcome to go there in person, air power is an illusion of offense that makes enemies and introduces more disorder into an already disorderly situation.

Consider the similar situation in Yemen, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, loath to put boots on the ground, is bombing schools and hospitals indiscriminately in Yemen.  Will this make Saudi Arabia safer, and will it allow Saudi Arabia, by remote control, to defeat our former ally Saleh and his militias?  I don’t think so, but time will tell.

The Obama Administration, now finishing its second term, took office on a platform of ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and closing the warrantless prison at Guantanamo Bay.  (Not to mention ending officially sanctioned torture and black site prisons.)  Once in office though, President Obama ramped up drone warfare and has avoided reporting statistics on civilian casualties due to application of air power (whether the pilot of the vehicle was in the air or piloting remotely on the ground).   There has been a promise to release statistics for remotely piloted vehicles in some but not all conflict areas.  This leaves me rather confused:  When is an idealistic left-leaning liberal President anything but?  When does he start sharing the ethos and tactics of Henry Kissinger?

I won’t go so far as to say I’m as disillusioned with Barack Obama’s war machine as I was with George W. Bush’s.  At least Obama hasn’t nominated someone like Paul Bremer to be Viceroy of Mosul, or someone like Michael Brown to bail out New Orleans.  But still, Obama came into office promising a higher standard of openness and a smarter, more precise military force.  Instead we get our openness from runaway sysops and our military force is shooting up convoys of women and children as they are stopped at enemy checkpoints, generating statistics that Obama is unenthusiastic about publishing.  And if you want to read about it in the emails of his subordinates through some kind of FOIA request, you can forget about that, because his subordinates don’t use Government email to talk about this sort of thing.  (If you’re curious though Julian Assange has a few of them.)

Don’t get me started here.  I voted for Bernie, obviously.  I’m not voting for Trump, not even as a kind of protest.  I’m an independent.  Now and then though I find myself on the side of Republican politicians on random issues, not by choice, but that’s just how it seems to play out.  So don’t read the above and think I’m either a flaming liberal or a Republican.  I’m not either.  I draw the evidence where it comes from and try to make sane conclusions.  My sane conclusion in this case is that we are not applying air power in cases that make sense.


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