Expose the Airpower/Landpower Kabuki for What It Is. Politics.

Army friends, Land Power advocates, people participating in the jibe-fest of President Obama’s doctrine on ISIS, lend me your ear.

I have heard quite a bit of talk about the proposal of using airpower to disrupt and destroy ISIL and it usually points out how airpower has failed to meet ambitious policy goals in the past. So has landpower. I’ve read articles with people coming out of the woodwork to say what the “limits of airpower” are and I would ask them to consider that they’re really talking about the limits of war. Especially war as we like to think of it.

Show me landpower’s track record of the last 20 years; don’t obfuscate and talk in terms of just what that landpower did in minuet with a pliant enemy, but also what the use of it did at home. Battle is a pleasant thing to look at in a bottle, but war is a net activity wherein you must weigh what you are against what you believe the enemy to be and estimate the cost to achieve a dear level of control against them. I think choosing airpower is a fine way to confine this war’s cost — especially since bringing in landpower tends to set the condition for endless heart-strings appeals for just a little more “x” for the troops (body armor, air conditioning, optics, microelectronics, etc — all fine things at first, until the feather merchants step in).

I’ve heard much made of how “Obama isn’t listening to his Generals” but I’ve watched many Generals play politics with this war from the beginning. The Army has been leaning on this crisis to extract a lot of air-time (pun intended) pushing a landpower agenda that justifies force size in DC. I’m not saying that airpower advocates have been outmaneuvering the Army (trust me we’re too wrapped up in solipsisms of our own to play “airpower advocate”); but the menu of “re-vasion” options brought by the Army is just down right unpalatable right now. The President’s choices are not a reflection of what he believes to be his best military option, but rather a rejection of the landpower military options he been presented by Gen Austin (CENTCOM Commander, US Army) and Gen Dempsey (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, US Army). Let’s put away the ersatz wounded pride of saying the President is ignoring his Generals. He’s simply shopping among them to get to a set of options that suit his political needs rather than just taking the dish he’s being served.

“I only hope for the sake of my children’s America that we can do this cheaply, because any vision of doing it decisively is an illusion — whether by land or by air.”

So what is this war really like and what must we do to win? I’d guess that first you have to define what a win would look like — and you may need to reach into some pretty dark metaphors. A dam “wins” when it holds back the torrent and allows the controlled generation of some useful energy. A radiological crypt “wins” when it locks up the toxic waste made by someone else until it has spent itself and becomes harmless. I only hope for the sake of my children’s America that we can do this cheaply, because any vision of doing it decisively is an illusion — whether by land or by air.

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