The Corner

National Security & Defense

You Can’t ‘Carpet Bomb’ ISIS into Oblivion

Speaking Saturday in Iowa, Ted Cruz said this:

“If I am elected president, we will utterly destroy ISIS,” the Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate told reporters. “We won’t weaken them. We won’t degrade them. We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. We will arm the Kurds. We will do everything necessary so that every militant on the face of the earth will know if you go and join ISIS, if you wage jihad and declare war on America, you are signing your death warrant.”

While I appreciate Cruz’s resolve — particularly his pledge to do “everything necessary” to defeat ISIS (which by necessity excludes Obama-style limitations on ground combat) — “carpet bombing” is a bad idea. First, our problem in our air war against ISIS isn’t a lack of carpet bombing but rather an unwillingness to hit known ISIS targets so long as there is a risk of civilian casualties. We can destroy with one bomb targets that in World War II would have taken hundreds of bombs to hit, but we often won’t even deploy the one bomb. In fact, according to some reports, our rules of engagement are blocking pilots from dropping up to 75 percent of their ordnance. This policy grants ISIS safe havens, prolongs the war, and ultimately costs far more civilian lives than it purports to save. Let’s bomb where ISIS is, not where it is not.

Second, not even indiscriminate aerial warfare can forestall the need for ground troops. History teaches that warriors are more likely to survive carpet bombing than civilians, and the survivors can often use the resulting rubble for cover and concealment. Time and again, even the most destroyed cities have only been secured after hard fighting — from Berlin in 1945 to Grozny in 1999. Indeed, American troops cleared Fallujah and Tal Afar far more efficiently than Russia cleared Grozny, and while Americans used plenty of lethal force, it was Grozny that was rendered the “most destroyed city on earth.” Not even the American nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sufficient, by themselves, to bring victory over Japan. They were the capstone to a multi-year campaign on land, sea, and air that stripped Japan of much of its empire, gutted the Japanese Navy, defeated its army, and left its economy in ruins.

For the first time, a majority of Americans support sending ground troops to fight ISIS. In other words, the people are now more serious than most politicians. Air strikes are necessary to defeat ISIS, but not even the most draconian application of air power is sufficient to accomplish the task. There are no shortcuts to victory — not through carpet bombing, not even through adequately arming our stalwart Kurdish allies. To guarantee victory, we need boots on the ground.

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