After Senator Ted Cruz suggested that the United States begin carpet bombing Islamic State (IS) forces in Syria, the reaction was swift. Hillary Clinton mocked candidates who use “bluster and bigotry.” Jeb Bush insisted the idea was “foolish.” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, tweeted: “You can’t carpet bomb an insurgency out of existence. This is just silly.”
When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer objected that Cruz’s proposal would lead to lots of civilian casualties, the senator retorted somewhat incoherently: “You would carpet bomb where ISIS is—not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed—and you have embedded special forces to direction the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.” PolitiFact drily noted that Cruz apparently didn’t understand what the process of carpet (or “saturation”) bombing entails. By definition, it means bombing a wide area regardless of the human cost.
By almost any standard, Cruz’s proposal was laughable, and his rivals and the media called him on it. What happened next? By all rights, after such a mixture of inanity and ruthlessness, not to say bloody-mindedness against civilian populations, his poll numbers should have begun to sag. After all, he’d just flunked the commander-in-chief test and what might have seemed like a test of his humanity as well. In fact, his poll numbers actually crept up. The week before the imbroglio, an ABC opinion poll had registered him at 15 percent nationally. By the following week, he was up to 18 percent, and one poll even had him at a resounding 24 percent.
How to explain this? While many factors can affect a candidate’s polling numbers, one uncomfortable conclusion can’t be overlooked when it comes to reactions to Cruz’s comments: by and large, Americans don’t think or care much about the real-world consequences of the unleashing of American air power or that of our allies. The other day, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that, in September and October, a Saudi Arabian coalition backed by the United States “carried out at least six apparently unlawful airstrikes in residential areas of the [Yemeni] capital,” Sana’a. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 60 civilians. Just about no one in the United States took notice, nor was it given significant media coverage. More than likely, this is the first time you’ve heard about the HRW findings.