Published Airpower Journal
- Fall 1997
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NOT A SILVER BULLET
In the Spring 1997 issue of Airpower Journal, William Arkin suggests in Baghdad: The Urban Sanctuary in Desert Storm? that the Air Force did not achieve its goal of isolating Saddam and his regime through strategic attacks on Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm. He further states that because the strikes were so precise, the campaign was actually reassuring instead of disconcerting to the civilian populace. We are left to conclude that the effort was a twofold failure.
Ever since Giulio Douhet postulated the dramatic effect of strategic attack on enemy population centers, airmen have looked to bombing as the silver bullet to bring the enemy to his knees. But strategic bombing failed to do so in Germany, interdiction failed to do so in Korea and Vietnam, and Instant Thunder failed to do so in Iraq. Does that mean that any of these efforts were failures? Only for the silver-bullet faithful.
Cant we get past the idea that with just a little more intel, just a little more firepower, and just a little more precision, wars can be dispatched cleanly and quickly? Yes, Arkin is right to conclude that the strategic bombing of Baghdad probably did not have the decisive effect that airmen hoped for. But he is wrong to disparage the ironic side effect of strategic bombings soothing an enemy populace rather than demoralizing it. Im sure that a more classic campaign of annihilating an entire city sector night after night would have been political suicide. Precision bombing did reassure spectators both within and without Iraq that the storms rage was responsive and deliberately measured, which in turn furnished vital political sustenance for the war. That sounds like an extremely successful strategic result to me. So, I take my hat off to the planners and executors of the air storm over Baghdad and Iraq, and count it as a brilliant employment of airpowerjust not the silver bullet we keep fantasizing about.
Lt Col Dale W. Fry, USAF
Fort Lewis, Washington
REGARDING CORE VALUES
I found the piece by Col Charles R. Myers on the core values of the Air Force (Spring 1997) interesting in light of the Kelly Flinn brouhaha. It was especially ironic for me because I was also reading Secretary Sheila Widnalls essay entitled Perspectives on Leadership (AU-24, Concepts for Air Force Leadership, 1996, 42124) as part of my Air War College correspondence studies. Secretary Widnall writes that young people coming into the Air Force often have to shed past habits and think deeply about character in order to meet our standards. More importantly, she avers that we must hold people responsible for their own actions and that inconsistent behavior sends mixed signals to the force, exacerbating uncertainty among subordinates about fairness and the nature of Air Force professionalism.
It appears that the secretary does not practice what she preaches and has therefore surrendered whatever moral authority she might have had in educating Air Force personnel regarding ethics and the responsibilities of leadership. Vice Adm James Stockdale, USN, Retired, a former prisoner of war, once wrote that when the crunch comes, people cling to those they know they can trust. It seems that we can no longer trust Secretary Widnall: Lieutenant Flinn was not held to the high standards the secretary herself articulated as forming the bedrock of our core values as Air Force officers and airmen. The net result is confusion among many young personnel about the azimuth that Secretary Widnall has set, as judged against the moral compass she propounds.
Ironically, only days before her decision to allow Lieutenant Flinn to escape court-martial (as The Washington Times so aptly put it), Col Dave Rauhecker of Hurlburt Field, Florida, was held to a higher standard for his alleged transgressions and now sits in a cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The lesson to me seems clear. Faced with the prospect of a media firestorm, core values are jettisonable, and the Air Force will surrender the moral high ground and promptly retreatregardless of the impact on the force. Conversely, the lesson for future Lieutenant Flinns is to immediately take their case to the media and hire a good lawyer with impeccable public relations credentials. But perhaps there is some hopeGeneral Fogleman stood fast (God bless him), which makes it all the more regrettable that the civilian leadership abdicated its responsibility.
Lt Col Wray R. Johnson, USAF
This retired four star agrees almost completely with Gene Myers (Return of the Antinuclear Warriors, Spring 1997). He is right on track, and I would estimate that most of my colleagues would concur.
Well done. I hope some of our national leaders read, heed, and act on his analysis and wise recommendations.
Gen Robert W. Bazley, USAF, Retired
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
There are dangers in allowing oneself to become mesmerized by technological promise.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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