On Thursday, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner openly critiqued the depth of President Obama’s publicly briefed strategy on dealing with ISIS, proclaiming, “An F-16 is not a strategy.”
Nonsense, I say!
The F-16 is a strategy, and it has worked before. The only real question here is whether or not the Viper is the correct strategy to achieve our national security objectives in Iraq for this third round of hostilities.
House Speaker Boehner argues that airpower alone cannot destroy this enemy, and an undetermined amount of occupying (or indigenous) ground force will be necessary to clean this mess up. Okay, sure, of course. Even after very effective strategic bombing campaigns in Germany and Japan, we still had to occupy large swaths of real estate in order to solidify the outcome. However, there was one conflict where airpower alone was indeed the strategy: Operation Allied Force—the NATO bombing of Yugoslav forces in the spring and early summer of 1999.
As a counter example to Speaker Boehner’s statement, Allied Force possessed three key characteristics that allowed for airpower to effectively achieve the desired objective:
1 – Bombing could degrade enemy military capability without causing significant civilian casualties and collateral damage.
2 – The enemy centers of gravity were easily accessible from the air (in this case, government control).
3 – The enemy leadership was susceptible to pressures from the indigenous civilian population.
The combination of these factors allowed NATO airpower to neutralize the fielded enemy forces, dismantle their comprehensive warfighting capability, and eventually push the population to remove their leader.
The problem with ISIS, it seems, would be points 2 and 3. We can crush their military equipment, no problem. But have we identified their centers of gravity? What critical pin can we pull that will lead to this group’s collapse? And as opposed to Slobedan Milosevic, who relied on some level of popular support despite his strict authoritarian approach, ISIS and all of its barbarism couldn’t care less about authentic popular support and will continue to use terror tactics on whomever crosses its path.
Conclusion? I agree with Speaker Boehner. The ISIS problem cannot be solved exclusively from the air. Of course that is not at all what President Obama suggested, so Boehner’s critique still misses the mark.
But even if the F-16 is not the complete strategy, it is still going to carry a majority of the workload. Why? Because no other jet or community of pilots can find and kill a dynamic target like the Viper. Vipers have been the Air Force’s killer scouts for more than 20 years, and if given the chance, they will pick ISIS apart just like they did the Iraqi Army in ’91, Milosevic’s Army in ’99, the Taliban in ’01, and Iraq again in ’03.
ISIS has been described by many as a disease–even a cancer. That’s terrific news, because recent studies have shown snake venom can paralyze cancer cells, effectively separating them from their nutrient supply, causing them to die. I might know an F-16 pilot or two willing to put that to the test in this context.
The venom of this Viper is lethal, and ISIS is sure to find that out.