Hoping Bombs Will Fix Mess That Bombs Created in Iraq and Syria

The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile to conduct strikes against ISIL targets as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (Photo: US Navy / cc / flickr)

Contradictions beset the U.S. war over Iraq and Syria. The principal target ISIS wouldn’t even exist but for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria have benefited from defections of U.S.-backed “moderates.” But now warplanes and missiles are supposed to fix things?

Paul R. Pillar

As the United States embarks on a new air war in Syria, disturbing anomalies abound. Some of them were reflected in the front-page headlines of a couple of major U.S. newspapers Tuesday morning, which probably also reflected slightly different deadlines of the two papers but were substantively telling nonetheless.

The Washington Post’s headline was “U.S. Launches Strikes in Syria.” In the corresponding place in the New York Times, in an edition evidently put to bed before the new offensive in Syria could be reported, we read, “Weeks of U.S. Strikes Fail to Dislodge ISIS in Iraq.”

The question that immediately comes to mind is: why should we expect what has failed to dislodge – much less “destroy” – a group in Iraq to succeed if we simply do more of the same thing in Syria? The question is all the more acute given that the United States is aiding and cooperating with the government in Iraq but barely on speaking terms with the one in Syria.

Another disconcerting dichotomy concerns the organizations that were the targets of the newest strikes. The United States announced that it struck not just ISIS but also an al-Qaeda offshoot that has ambitions to conduct terrorist attacks in the West and possibly the United States.

The carefully worded official announcements used the word “imminent” but leave us to conclude that what was imminent was not the carrying out of an actual attack in the West but only perhaps the planning for one – and that striking the group involved hitting a target of opportunity, made convenient by having these strikes coincide with the strikes against ISIS in Syria.

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