Franklin C. Spinney, “Syria in the Crosshairs,” CounterPunch, 27 August 2013
The inestimable Diana Johnstone ably dissected the illegalities and subterfuges of the Kosovo adventure in numerous articles over the years — her latest being “US Uses Past Crimes to Legalize Future Ones” on 26 August in Counterpunch.
Today, I want to address the stupidity of the Kosovo precedent from a somewhat different angle.
Not only was the Kosovo adventure illegal, it was also a case study in the failure of US precision strike doctrine. One would think the Obama White House would be sensitive to this, because the reasons for the failure are again evident in the metastasizing targets lists governing the conduct of the drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. …
In 1999, U.S. military planners and the Clinton Administration predicted that a “precision” bombing campaign would coerce Slobodan Milošević into resolving the Kosovo Crisis by complying with NATO demands after only two to three days of precision bombardment. But the air campaign ground on for seventy-eight grueling days. …
Milošević did not react like a predictable mechanical thermostat, however. He chose instead to escalate rapidly–whereupon the “carefully calibrated” limited bombing campaign aimed at changing one man’s behavior exploded into a general war against the Serbian people. NATO had expanded the target list to include the Serbian power grid, chemical plants, Danube bridges, TV stations, and civilian infrastructure, not to mention military targets in Kosovo. Predictably, the war settled into a grinding siege of attrition, and planners worried about running out of cruise missiles. At war’s end, U.S. forces had flown only 15% as many strike sorties as in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991, but had expended 72% as many precision-guided munitions and 94% as many cruise missiles.
Yet no one knows if these expenditures caused Milošević to cave in on 3 June. We do know the Serbian Army left Kosovo intact, spoiling for a ground fight.
In fact, NATO intelligence determined that only minute quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks—all high-priority targets—were destroyed, in part because the Serbs fooled our complex surveillance and precision guidance technologies with simple decoys1. There are even reports that they used cheap microwave ovens as decoys to attract our enormously expensive radar homing missiles. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, with their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment and crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with. …
Most importantly, the miscalculations at the beginning of the Kosovo War, which as we have seen, were based in large part on a delusional misreading of the Bosnia precedent, proved that the political marriage between coercive diplomacy and limited precision bombardment is a loser.
However, instead of leading to a divorce, subsequent events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia have reinforced Kosovo’s lesson not learned, and the result is what is now a clear psychopathic marriage of two fatally-flawed ideas.
1. Coercive diplomacy assumes that carefully calibrated doses of punishment will persuade any adversary, whether an individual terrorist or a national government, to act in a way that we would define as acceptable.
2. Limited precision bombardment assumes we can administer those doses precisely on selected “high-value” targets using guided weapons, fired from a safe distance, with no friendly casualties, and little unintended damage.
This marriage of pop psychology and bombing lionizes war on the cheap, and it increases our country’s addiction to strategically counterproductive drive-by shootings with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs.
Consider the last twenty years: What has been achieved by
(1)using cruise missiles to bomb a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan and
(2) an obstacle course in Afghanistan, or
(3) the endless attacks on air defense sites in the Iraqi no fly zone in the 1990s, or
(4) the bombing campaigns of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars; and now
(5) Obama’s ever growing drone campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and god knows where else? …
Is this strategy working? Just ask yourself a version of Ronald Reagan’s famous question to President Carter in the 1980 election debate: ‘Is our country better off now than it was before this madness shook itself from the moderating shackles of the Cold War twenty some years ago?’
That the NATO alliance of 780 million people eventually prevailed over Serbia, a country of ten million with a gross domestic product equal to two-thirds that of Fairfax County, Virginia, is hardly a precedent to celebrate, particularly since it proved so spectacularly that the marriage of coercive diplomacy to limited precision bombardment is a colossal failure. …
Read the full article here.