Grounding the Air Force

| Mar.-Apr. 2008

It’s time for a radical reorganization of the U.S. military—starting with the not-so-friendly skies. In the American Prospect (Nov. 2007), military expert Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky argues that the Air Force’s raison d’être—strategic bombing—is inappropriate for the post-9/11 counterterrorism fight. Though the Air Force won its independence from the Army by trumpeting its World War II bombing campaigns against German and Japanese cities, the prized tactic, which targets infrastructure and industrial capacity, has seen little success in subsequent conflicts. What’s worse, overreliance on airpower hinders war efforts on the ground. A 2002–2006 Lancet study estimated that 13 percent of Iraqi civilian casualties—some 50,000 to 100,000 deaths—were caused by air strikes. Such devastation doesn’t temper counterinsurgency; it fans the flames.

Farley recommends that the Air Force stick to what it does best: supporting the Army by bombing military targets in advance of ground troops. The branch could be dissolved, with its other responsibilities divvied between the Army and Navy. This change would not only cut down on bureaucratic wrangling; it would also disarm warmongers who claim that strategic bombing can win quick, bloodless victories.