Friday, October 03, 2014

The Coalition

President Obama seems to have organized a reasonable coalition for operations in Syria and Iraq. That said, I have a couple comments.

Turkey will do more than they did in 2003 with Iraq alone. So that's an improvement.

And Australia will put boots on the ground in Iraq, as they did in 2003:

Australian special forces troops will be deployed in Iraq to assist in the fight against Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday, and its aircraft will also join U.S.-led coalition strikes.

Abbott said in a nationally televised news conference the Australian troops would be engaged in an "advise and assist" capacity to support the Iraqi army in their battle against the militant Islamist group.

We have other European and Arab allies willing to be trigger pullers in the air.

I assume that Australia isn't the lone partner putting troops on the ground. I assume that the logic of ground support operations require boots on the ground to call in aircraft, train Iraqis, and advise Iraqi troops in combat. Others are merely silent while we simply deny that whatever we do will count as "boots on the ground."

So I have no complaints about our coalition.

I don't complain that the coalition members aren't sending ground combat brigades. One, we aren't so why should they? And two, we do have Iraqi and Kurdish forces for organized ground units (in time, with our boots on the ground) plus the first signs that Sunni Arabs in Iraq will re-Awaken to fight ISIL.

But this lack of complaint has to include reminding you that President Bush's 2003 coalition for Iraq was no more weak for relying on America for the main power than President Obama's coalition. Whether you want to talk about Desert Storm in 1991, Desert Fox in 1998, Kosovo in 1999, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, or the current campaign just beginning in Iraq and Syria, the dominance of American military power is clear.

But I also wonder about the ratio of allied strikes to American strikes. Much seems to have been made about the tonnage of bombs dropped. Are we holding back our air power which is clearly capable of striking more often in order to make the coalition effort appear larger than past coalitions?

Aside from the fact that the trigger pullers in the air are just the tip of the iceberg of "air power" that we clearly dominate, are we retarding our efforts as trigger pullers to mask our dominance for political reasons?

And remember that we have been using smaller bombs that while not less effective than our coalition partners' bombs used, do make a comparison based on tonnage dropped emphasize our allies' contributions.

The present coalition is as real as any we've had in the past 25 years. I'm willing to admit that. Are those who condemned the pre-Obama coalitions as meaningless willing to admit they were wrong about those coalitions?

UPDATE: Perhaps my worry about optics management in air strikes is misplaced given this Defense Department comment on the effort:

The vast majority of strikes, because that's what we're focused on, I know, the vast majority of strikes continue to be from U.S. aircraft. But the numbers of coalition members participating is growing. And therefore, we expect the numbers of airstrikes that those aircraft would conduct will start to grow as well. Right now, the vast majority are -- are U.S.

DOD isn't worrying about that, anyway.