Neal Sheeran

Rants, Raves, and Geekery

Better to Be Thought a Fool...


…then write a blog post and remove all doubt.

A few weeks ago, Tom Engelhardt wrote an article for The Nation about the employment of air power in the war on terrorism. I read it, got seriously pissed and then let it sit. I went back and read it again. Still bent. Engelhardt has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. To wit:

war from the air is, and will remain, a most imprecise and destructive form of battle.

Imprecise compared to what? How imprecise? As for destructive…that’s kind of the point, although Engelhardt has no idea the measures taken to mitigate collateral damage.

Third, in human terms, distance does not enhance accuracy. The farther away you are from a target, the more likely it is that you will have to guess who or what it is, based on spotty, difficult to interpret, or bad information, or even outright misinformation; whatever the theoretical accuracy of your weaponry, you are far more likely to miscalculate, make mistakes, mistarget, or target the misbegotten from the air.

Where to begin…? Lets start of with a fundamental misconception that permeates the above paragraph, as well as the rest of the article. Air missions in Iraq (and Afghanistan) are not executed in a vacuum. The vast majority are Close Air Support missions and it is painfully obvious that Engelhardt has no idea what that means: air power in direct support of the troops on the ground. Which means that the ground commander decides if, when and where bombs get dropped. Those warmongering pilots don’t drop bombs at will - they coordinate closely with the ground troops regarding what the target is, where it is and how to minimize collateral damage. There is no guessing and “distance”, at least in terms of how Engelhardt describes it, has nothing to do with it.

Fourth, if you are conducting war this way and you are doing so in heavily populated urban neighborhoods, as is now the case almost every day in Iraq, then civilians will predictably die “by mistake” almost every day [emphasis mine]

A completely unsupportable “prediction” with no factual basis whatsoever.

You can essentially no longer read an account of a skirmish or battle in one of Iraq’s cities in which air power is not called in. This means (see propositions 1-4) a war of constant “mistakes,”…

Wrong, wrong, wrong. “Proposition” does not equal “fact.” Air power is called for a reason: to protect and save the lives of our forces on the ground. And the targets of these strikes—“terrorist suspects”, “insurgents”, “militants” (always identified with “scare quotes” by Engelhardt)—did something to deserve it, like fire RPGs at friendly troops or plant (or detonate) an IED in front of their convoy. Contrary to the worldview of folks like Engelhardt, the Rules of Engagement do not allow the targeting of “militants” just because they looked at you funny. Are mistakes made? Yes, but not for any of the reasons put forth by Engelhardt.

According to Engelhardt, air power—in and of itself—is inherently bad. Nevermind the fact that is much easier, safer, and more accurate to drop a weapon into a house full of “insurgents” then send in a company of infantrymen when the entire house is rigged to explode the instant one of those troops kicks the door in.

Or in Engelhardt’s case, just ignore all the facts. It makes crap like this so much easier to write.