Bombing Iraq, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William Astore indicates this week in “The American Cult of Bombing,” has become a national pastime. (These days, you can’t be president without sending in the bombers and drones.) So let’s try to get our heads around the latest U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the new “caliphate.” It's a campaign that President Obama has already indicated is likely to go on for months and may soon enough spread south to the Baghdad area. It looks like Washington has finally created the perfect machine for the weapons industry.
Think of it this way: first Washington provides the Iraqi military with training and massive infusions of military equipment to the tune of $25 billion. Next that military, faced with its first serious opposition, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), numbering in the thousands against security forces in the hundreds of thousands, collapses. In June, two full divisions, 30,000 Iraqi troops, flee the city of Mosul, abandoning their posts in the face of the advance of ISIS fighters. In all, four divisions of the country’s 14-division army disintegrate throughout the north. Left behind is a massive trove of U.S.-supplied weaponry, including 1,500 Humvees, 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers, tanks, trucks, rifles, and ammunition.
ISIS militants, who seem remarkably capable of operating such equipment without an American trainer or adviser in sight, then turn some of that weaponry (as well as weapons captured from the Syrian military) on U.S.-backed forces, including, in the north, Kurdish pesh merga militias. (They have evidently even brought tanks into play near the Turkish border.) To save its Kurdish allies from disaster, the Obama administration then sends in the U.S. Air Force (both fighter-bombers and Predator drones) in close support of the beleaguered Kurdish forces. Doing what air power seems most capable of, the planes begin destroying the armored vehicles and artillery pieces ISIS has brought to bear in Kurdish areas. In other words, U.S. air power is called in to take out U.S. military equipment (and anyone manning it).
To complete the circle, both the Iraqis defending Baghdad and the Kurds now desperately need new weaponry, and Washington is already starting to supply it in the north and soon undoubtedly in the south as well. Can there be any question that this is a win-win situation for the American arms industry and the military-industrial complex? It gives new meaning to American bombing campaigns that, since 1991, have proven to be disastrous regional destabilizers. Think of this as an innovative profit center for American industry and a jobs-creation exercise of the first order: we provide the weapons, we destroy them, then we provide more.
Given Astore’s “cult” of bombing and its remarkable futility in policy terms, this is a significant development. And don’t for a second think that it’s a one-of-a-kind situation. After all, Washington has put at least $50 billion in weaponry and training into Afghanistan’s security forces. So the future is bright.