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Iraq War III
The U.S. is bombing Iraq again, but under Obama it’s a weak effort.

An F/A-18C on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf (U.S. Navy)

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So once again the U.S. is bombing Iraq, as it has done under every U.S. president since George H. W. Bush. It’s worth remembering how thrilled U.S. diplomats were in 1984 when the U.S. finally established full diplomatic relations with Baghdad. The State Department’s Arab experts were overjoyed that the U.S. would have relations with, and a modicum of influence over, one of the largest and most powerful Arab states.

Later, George H. W. Bush was made to pay the political price for supporting a so-called “weapons for Saddam” policy, and the role of the Foreign Service Arabists disappeared down the memory hole. The “weapons” turned out to be things like Chevy Blazers and Apple II computers, but the political damage to Bush helped Clinton in 1992.

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The 1991 “triumph without victory” was followed by twelve years of occasional bombing in Iraq’s no-fly zones as part of Operations Provide Comfort, Northern Watch, and Southern Watch. Occasionally, more intensive bombing campaigns, such as Clinton’s 1998 Desert Fox, took place. The “humanitarian” bombing continued right up until the 2003 invasion and the overthrow of Saddam.

It will be many years before we can have an accurate assessment of what really went wrong after 2003. I suspect that when we eventually get it, the role of the State Department’s lawyers will be shown to have been critical. But in any case, despite the success of the 2007 “surge” strategy, the American public was convinced by 2008 that the war was a failure and that the U.S. should get out. In 2011, under President Obama, we proceeded to do just that.

So now, three years later, we are back to bombing Iraq for humanitarian purposes. As before, we are trying to help the Kurds survive. This time we are also trying to protect Iraq’s Christian and Yazidi minorities. ISIL, which threatens them with extermination, is just as murderous as Saddam’s Baathists ever were. Now, however, the Islamists can broadcast their atrocities and their threats over social media, making them impossible to ignore.

Yet this so-far-unnamed operation that began Friday and may in fact run off and on for years to come, as did the no-fly-zone ops, has all the characteristics of President Obama’s previous military endeavors. First of all, it’s weak: Fewer than 100 Air Force combat aircraft, including drones, are available in the region. These planes have to backstop operations in Afghanistan and deter Iranian attacks against America’s Gulf-state allies. The Navy adds another 50 or so based on the George H. W. Bush. We’ve come a long way since 1991, when the U.S. alone deployed more than 500 F-15s, F16s, and A-10s against Saddam.

It also seems that until we get permission from our friends in the region to use their air bases, all the combat missions will be flown off aircraft carriers. This ensures that, except for a few drone missions, all air strikes will be flown by formations of two or four aircraft. There is also a problem of available cargo aircraft for humanitarian airdrops or Kurdish resupply, because so many of the Air Force’s C-130 and C-17 planes are being used to fly illegal aliens around the country.

Then there is the obvious lack of presidential engagement. One source said that this operation is similar to Clinton’s Bosnia and Kosovo adventures. Back then, the president failed to give any instructions other than to tell the military to do “something.” A possibly apocryphal story goes that the air commander during the 1998 Kosovo operation told his troops, “We are not being paid to provide an air campaign; we are being paid to provide the appearance of an air campaign.”

The tone of President Obama’s statement on August 7 was filled with resentment against a world that refuses to respect his authority. As usual, the president is making clear what he will not do and why the U.S. military cannot “solve” the problem. This represents the flaws not only of the president’s own approach to foreign policy but also of the technocratic mentality that has, sadly, dominated America’s war-fighting policies since the days of Robert McNamara. A military force can accomplish missions; it cannot solve local political problems, and to expect it to do so is a recipe for disaster.

For eight years under Bill Clinton, the U.S. bombed Iraq on a nearly daily or at least weekly basis. Both Saddam and the Kurds survived. With luck, this new campaign will help the Kurds and their friends and allies, including the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians, to survive, but no one should expect that, under this administration, ISIL will be defeated or even seriously inconvenienced.

— Taylor Dinerman is a New Yorkbased writer and author of the satire Subway Lists and Other Writings from the iPhone Era.


USS George H.W. Bush
JUNE, 2014: As the security situation in Iraq continues to degrade, the Pentagon has moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to the Persian Gulf, putting it in a position to intervene if needed. Here’s a look at the firepower aboard George H.W. Bush.
The George H.W. Bush was recently stationed in the North Arabian Sea, and her movement into the Persian Gulf signals the seriousness of the situation on the ground in Iraq. Pictured, an F/A-18 Super Hornet lands on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Joshua Card)
The George H.W. Bush is being joined by the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (pictured) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea. Both ships bring a potent Tomahawk cruise missile strike capability. Pictured, George H.W. Bush with Truxtun (left) and Philippine Sea during a previous deployment.
Ahe amphibious dock ship USS Mesa Verde has recently arrived in the region as well, adding a rapidly deployable Marine Corps contingent to the task force.
THE “AVENGER”: Commissioned in 2009 and first deployed in 2011, the George H.W. Bush is the last of the Nimitz-class super carriers. As the flagship of the Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 2, she commands a flotilla of other surface ships in addition to her air arsenal.
The ship takes her name from the 41st president, who served as a naval aviator during WWII, where he was shot down during a mission in the Pacific theater. Pictured, Bush visits his namesake ship during training exercises.
Powered by two nuclear reactors, George H.W. Bush’s top speed exceeds 30 knots. A typical crew complement consists of around 6,000 officers, sailors and Marines.
Everything about the Bush is super-sized, including the things you can’t see. Beneath the waves, the Bush is propelled by four 21-foot wide propellers, each weighing 30 tons, and two rudders each weighing 50 tons.
George H.W. Bush’s main offensive punch come from the four strike fighter squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Eight, accounting for 40 to 50 combat aircraft on board. Pictured, two F/A-18 Hornets with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) above George H.W. Bush.
Strike fighter squadrons VFA-15 (the “Valions”) and VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) fly the F/A-18C/A Hornet. Pictured, an F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 launches from the flight deck. (Photo: Seaman Kevin J. Steinberg)
Strike fighter squadrons VFA-31 (the “Tomcatters”) and VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) fly the larger F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Pictured, an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 leaps into the air. (Photo: Petty Officer Second Class Gregory N. Juday)
George H.W. Bush also carries four EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes and E-2C Hawkeye early-warning and combat-control aircraft, along with other support and transport squadrons. Pictured, sailors prep an EA-6B Prowler aircraft with Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-129 for launch. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An E-2C Hawkeye with Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120 lands aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Seaman Kevin J. Steinberg)
An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed an autonomous arrested landing on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush in July, 2013, marking a major milestone in the development of the new jet-powered Navy drone. (Photo: Alan Radecki for Northrop Grumman)
FLIGHT OPERATIONS: Officers and crew on the bridge of USS George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An F/A-18E Super Hornet with VFA-31 lands aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens).
An F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 approaches the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush for a landing behind an F/A-18 Hornet with VFA-87 undergoing maintenance. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
An F/18-A Hornet with VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) lands on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Robert Burck)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) approaches for a landing on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 lands on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Captain Daniel Dwyer, deputy commander of Carrier Air Wing 8, makes his 1,000th carrier landing as he lands aboard George H.W. Bush in an F/A-18A+ Hornet with VFA-87 in 2011. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Billy Ho)
Lieutenant Commander Timothy Myers with VFA-31 gives a thumbs-up after landing his F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard George H.W. Bush in 2010. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
ON THE FLIGHT DECK: A shooter signals an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 to launch on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
An air department sailor directs an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to VFA-15 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Brent Thacker)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) launches from the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
A sailor assigned to the air department of George H.W. Bush guides an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 to a catapult. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
Sailors prepare to launch an F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 aboard George H.W. Bush. The painting on this Hornet identifies it as a “CAG bird” flown by the air group’s commanding officer. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Kasey Krall)
An air department sailor directs an F/A-18E Super Hornet with VFA-31 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
Sailors assigned to VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) attach ordnance to an F/A-18A Hornet on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Joshua Card)
Sailors with VFA-31 (the “Tomcatters”) load ordnance onto an F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
Aviation Ordnanceman Airman August Moss inspects training ordnance aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Gregory Wilhelmi)
Sailors move an aircraft fuel tank on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
Sailors direct an EA-6B Prowler with VAQ-134 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Lieutenant Juan Guerra)
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Second Class Steven Lily directs an MH-53E Sea Dragon on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Sailors board an MV-22 Osprey from the Marine Tiltrotor Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron VMX-22 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Sailors transit the flight deck on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
An F/A-18 Super Hornet comes to a stop on the arresting wire on the fligh deck of George H.W. Bush. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released)
Sailors conduct flight operations aboard George H.W. Bush. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released)
Flight deck personnel direct an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
An F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 takes off from the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Lieutenant Juan Guerra)
An F/A-18 Super Hornet with VFA-213 stands ready on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Joshua K. Horton)
Updated: Aug. 15, 2014

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