When you do something again and again, placing great faith in it, investing enormous amounts of money in it, only to see indifferent or even negative results, you wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a neutral observer questioned your sanity or asked you if you were part of some cult. Yet few Americans question the sanity or cult-like behavior of American presidents as they continue to seek solutions to complex issues by bombing Iraq (as well as numerous other countries across the globe).
Poor Iraq. From Operation Desert Shield/Storm under George H.W. Bush to enforcing no-fly zones under Bill Clinton to Operation Iraqi Freedom under George W. Bush to the latest “humanitarian” bombing under Barack Obama, the one constant is American bombs bursting in Iraqi desert air. Yet despite this bombing—or rather in part because of it—Iraq is a devastated and destabilized country, slowly falling apart at seams that have been unraveling under almost a quarter-century of steady, at times relentless, pounding. “Shock and awe,” anyone?
Well, I confess to being shocked: that US airpower assets, including strategic bombers like B-52s and B-1s, built during the Cold War to deter and, if necessary, attack that second planetary superpower, the Soviet Union, have routinely been used to attack countries that are essentially helpless to defend themselves from bombing.
In 1985, when I entered active duty as an Air Force lieutenant, if you had asked me which country the United States would “have” to bomb in four sustained aerial campaigns spanning three decades, among the last countries I would have suggested was Iraq. Heck, back then we were still helping Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, sharing intelligence that aided his military in pinpointing (and using his chemical weapons against) Iranian troop concentrations. The Reagan administration had sent future Bush secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld there to shake Saddam’s hand for a photo op. We even overlooked Iraq’s “accidental” bombing in 1987 of a American naval vessel, the USS Stark, that resulted in the death of thirty-seven American sailors, all in the name of containing Iran (and Shia revolutionary fervor).
It’s said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but Saddam didn’t remain a friend for long. Emboldened by US support in his war with Iran, he took Kuwait, only to initiate the first round of devastating US air raids against his military during Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991. As these and subsequent bombing campaigns damaged and debilitated Iraq, contributing to Saddam’s overthrow in 2003, the Shia majority in that country found common cause with Iran, strengthening one branch of militant Islam. At the same time, the general destabilization of Iraq from a generation of air war and invasion has led to a Sunni revolt, the strengthening of an Al Qaeda–style movement and the establishment of a “caliphate” across significant parts of Iraq (and Syria).