Bombing Alone is Not a Strategy

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

During the Obama Administration, bombing a target was considered "the strategy". However, without a clear understanding of the mission and strategy behind the then "bombing campaign" against ISIS, that failed "strategy" gives us a grave risk of a 30 year war as former Secretary of Defense Panetta warned.

What is different with the launching of cruise missiles against Syria and the M.O.A.B. against a target in Afghanistan, the Trump Administration took the bold step of changing direction and providing clear insight to foreign powers that we have a strategic intent and we will protect that strategic intent and our national interests.

While the Obama administration was clueless as to its strategy and strategic mission in bombing ISIS, it was simultaneously sending mixed messages to ISIS about how seriously President Obama took the ISIS threat. By being engaged in one of the largest reductions in military forces since the end of the Vietnam War while bombing ISIS, the administration was sending the message that ISIS is "JV" which had dire consequences for our nation when we underestimated our enemy.

For the Obama Administration to reduce end strength of military forces and cutting spending on defense while at the same time initiating a new "campaign" of bombing without a strategy is tantamount to dereliction of duty.

The Trump Administration and Secretary of Defense Mattis are aware that an enemy must know that you are serious. The enemy must know you will defend and go on the offensive. The enemy must have no clue what you would be willing to concern to achieve your national interests. The enemy must know that you will rebuild your military and be prepared to operate at the "pointy end of the spear" as we say in the military using the full spectrum of military forces, from psychological operations to M.O.A.B.

US forces use psychological operations as well as part of a coordinated military campaign. The difference between our use of psychological operations before Trump and that of ISIS is that more frequently than not threats of retaliation by our enemy were just that – threats with little military substance to tip the scales to victory for our enemy.

The Arabic language is frequently characterized by cultural influences in which assertions of threats or the threats themselves carry as much meaning as actually carrying out the threat. From 1950 to 2001, one would frequently encounter very blustery Arabic threats with a clear understanding that the threat was more psychological than real. Some of the linguistic differences between Arabic and English are presented in an excellent discourse called "Arabic Rhetoric – a pragmatic analysis"

The major concern relative to any bombing campaign against ISIS is that this enemy of the free world is not following the same pattern as other terrorist organizations or the former Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein.

ISIS threats are real, executable, violent, and apparently coordinated. The enemy has adapted to counter our strengths and exploit our weaknesses and must not be taken for granted.

The ISIS use of psychological operations against Western nations through the use of beheadings when combined with their relatively effective ground operations in seizing territory particularly in Iraq poses a severe threat to stability in the Middle East and the world.

This enemy has demonstrated that it will carry out its threats. The beheadings and the announcement each time of who the next victim will be is intended to strike fear and anxiety. It is working.

ISIS understands that a nation or terrorist organization is at war with an entire people not just its military. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong understood that in order to defeat the United States they needed to defeat the American people. They were successful in that endeavor.

Absent a strategy against ISIS and taking use of ground forces off the table at this stage of the campaign is the same as announcing to the North Vietnamese that we would not invade Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

The ISIS have taken the fight globally with their threats and intent to go beyond the Middle East battlegrounds. If this were Al Qaeda such threats could be minimized due to their rhetoric. Minimizing the ISIS threats as rhetoric is dangerous.

Military actions against ISIS must be a well coordinated air, ground, counterinsurgency, and unconventional warfare approach to include our use of psychological operations against the opposing force. The President has started sending a powerful message to ISIS and the world. That message is that we are engaged and we are in this to win.

Secretary Mattis is well known as a military strategist. He challenges those around him to think like the enemy and then destroy them. Enemy are to be defeated, not coddled.

President Trump and Secretary Mattis have launched the first salvo in restoring US credibility in the region. ISIS will strike back but then again so will Mattis. It is time to put this war to an end. Fight to win not to bomb.

For this Administration, bombing is not a strategy but it is the message. It is the message that we are in this fight to end global terrorism. Be alert, be engaged, be careful.

Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected]