Reliance on drones alone only guarantees US defeat
The CIA likes what drones do. It likes that they kill bad guys. So the CIA and US President Barack Obama’s administration behind the agency have been ramping up the drone war.
As a tactic in a war, using drones to eliminate prominent figures in the Islamic State (ISIS) or other organisations can be highly effective. The problem comes if US policy planners repeat their mistake of imagining that technological sophistication is a substitute for boots on the ground, old-fashioned soldiers and sensible, competent tactics.
In these areas, the US military is far from the best in the world. At the strategic level, it is childish, complacent and woeful.
The United States cannot defeat ISIS forces without fielding its own reliable army of brave, well-trained ground soldiers to do it. If the US military cannot afford to do this and does not allocate enough troops to do it, then it needs competent allies to do the job.
The Iraqi Army is not such an ally. US military leaders and their think-tank stooges continue to imagine that such forces can be magically created “or trained” by the wave of a magic wand in the space of a few months.
In reality, such forces can only be recruited from established, settled societies that generate trust, faith and goodwill. But US policies in the Middle East over the past 15 years have systematically undermined and destroyed such societies. They created moral and emotional deserts where once stable societies flourished and then US officials are surprised that no new loyalty and commitment emerge to defend the chaos they did so much to make.
Firing 100,000 drones will not win the war against ISIS. Nazi Germany killed 6,000 civilians in London in the last year of World War II, mainly using the famous V-1 flying bomb, in effect the cruise missile or drone bomb of its day.
It did not help: During that same year, the German Army lost more than 2 million soldiers against Soviet and Anglo-American troops as they crushed the infamous Reich from east and west.
The American obsession with wonder weapons that will magically win every war painlessly has been going on a long time. The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, heavily armoured and with machine guns deployed to defend it, was supposed to win World War II invincibly for the United States with almost zero casualties.
Instead 80,000 US airmen lost their lives overwhelmingly in bomber missions against Nazi Germany. Britain’s Royal Air Force lost a similar number — an even more severe human loss since Britain had only one-third the US population at the time.
Where the US B-17 failed and the German V-1 failed, the 21st-century American drone will not succeed. It is no substitute for putting an army on the ground. It is no substitute for supporting real, well-established states in the region. It is no substitute for anything. Drones will not magically win the war against ISIS. Drones used carefully and sparingly can be a useful adjunct in that war. But putting faith in the drones to win the war will be a recipe for defeat. It will ensure that the war is either won by the ISIS or by Iran stepping in and picking up the pieces.