Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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What Would Air Strikes in Iraq Achieve?

by Micah Zenko
June 13, 2014

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


Demands by current policymakers to use military force are rarely accompanied by a specific objective of what it is intended to achieve. In the binary debate about what to do in Iraq, several policymakers have called for air strikes with some assertion of why and what they would accomplish. See below for an early collection and judge for yourself the validity of their claims.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I think American airpower is the only hope to change the battlefield equation in Iraq.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American air power.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV): “[Airstrikes] might be the only way we can give some support so they can regroup, so the Iraqi Army can get itself together.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV): “They’ve suggested maybe air strikes. That’s something I think would be more receptive if we think that we can get the rest of the United Nations involved with us to try to help them defend themselves.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL): “U.S. should consider use of drones with hellfire missiles if Iraq nears collapse.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL): “We’ve got to get involved with airstrikes, stiffening the spines of the Iraqis.”

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA): “If we don’t want to see an Iraq with large swaths of territory under militant control, and we shouldn’t, we should answer Iraqi requests to target these al-Qaeda terrorists with drone strikes.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “We should explore all the options in air power, get a team over there to advise them.” However, McCain later countered this statement, saying, “I am not calling for air strikes.”

(3PA: Interestingly, McCain is not calling for air strikes even while he describes Iraq as an “existential threat to the security of the United States of America.”)

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD): “I think we ought to use the same formula that we used when we took out Moammar Gadhafi in Libya…We have unique resources that no other country has, especially in the air. Intelligence and the ability to find where things are. I think the governments need to get together, because this is getting very serious.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI): “I would not be opposed to strikes—if it’s part of a holistic plan.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): “We will be weighing all options. I’m not ruling anything in or out at this point.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “We are going to have to take some sort of action against this radical group. That is not the choice before us. The choice before us will be whether we take action now, or we take action later.”

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Joshua Simeon Narins

    Hypothetically ISIL will get their hands on, and (at least briefly) be able to use certain armored equipment, like APCs or tanks.

    Since these targets require almost no intelligence to identify, and simply need to be classified as rebel or government controlled, I believe I could get behind attacking them with US air power, as long as they were in motion on, or approaching, government forces.

    If they are not moving, they might have anyone inside, including unwilling maintenance staff, engineering personnel, or human shields.

  • Posted by Conrad Muller

    Right now the best thing that can happen is letting Iraq divide into Sunni, Shia, and Kurd states. The other option is to finish the destruction of the country that we started to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. This breakdown is a direct result of the American occupation. More US attacks will only cement the divisions.

  • Posted by Phillip Bolster

    Can 5000 fighters really take over Iraq? Where’s their funding coming from? S.A.?
    I think no matter which way you cut it.. IF these guys move on Baghdad and can possibly take it or turn it into a protracted quagmyre then of course the US should hit their equipment when they’re en route if it’s as easy as find the hummers and hit them with drone missiles IF drones are positioned close enough. As John Stewart said .. those Hummers were never up-armoured anyway badam tssh

  • Posted by Kelsey Ness

    One really begins to wonder if the protruding jawline of John McCain was a result of talking out of both sides of his mouth for many years. ‘Mr. Grandstander’ is at it again. Last week on a briefing on Bowe Bergdahl, he left a few minutes after it started to hold a press conference on “Why haven’t we been told the facts about Bergdahl.?” Now he claims “existential threat to the US” while saying “I’m not calling for airstrikes.”

    No single person in US politics has ridden a lie longer than John McCain. When The Rolling Stone article about ‘Songbird McCain’ was coming out, the same Dallas Swift Boat architects, got some major GOP donors to explain that McCain was a hero…when in fact, he told them everything, resulting in heavy American losses shortly after he gave them everything they wanted to know.
    If there’s anyone who would know if someone could ‘play ball’ it was Richard Nixon, who immediately helped McCain into a position working with the brass at The Pentagon aka the Co conspirators with The Military Industrial Complex.

    McCain still champions that cause. Whether it’s a statement one day followed by a denial of that statement four days later, or like this article, a failure to fully commit himself on a postion, John McCain remains what he was in The Naval Academy: One of the lowest in his class, an undisciplined hot dog in an airplane and a coward and a liar under heat.

    Some things never change.

    Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “We should explore all the options in air power, get a team over there to advise them.” However, McCain later countered this statement, saying, “I am not calling for air strikes.”

    (3PA: Interestingly, McCain is not calling for air strikes even while he describes Iraq as an “existential threat to the security of the United States of America.”

  • Posted by Judith Barney

    Does anyone besides me remember how we got into the only war we ever lost? – Vietnam started with our sending a few “military ad-visers” to help a corrupt government we really despised. Next time we looked, 60,000 American lives were lost!

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