America’s air campaign against ISIS has been front-page news for weeks, but how much “there” is there? Not much, by historical standards. Since the campaign started on August 8, the U.S. has launched about 300 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. By comparison, during the Libya campaign, U.S.-dominated NATO forces were launching over 100 offensive strikes per day, ultimately culminating in over 26,000 raids. And Libya was a limited effort—during the start of the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. launched over 116,000 airstrikes in a few weeks.So we’ve had more sound than fury. What is it accomplishing? Early results seem to show that, when boots on the ground are absent, air power is of limited utility against ISIS. In fact, ISIS has recently managed to push forward around Kobane in the face of an air attack; only Turkish tanks might turn the tide there now.Meanwhile, one thing our airstrikes have been able to do, it seems, is unite our enemies against us. The strikes have built ISIS’s credit among its fellow jihadists, giving credence to their claim to be foremost in fighting the United States. As a result, according to the Financial Times, feuding jihadists may be patching up old differences in Syria to fight the Great Satan:
Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and other Islamist groups say they are trying to negotiate a truce with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), whose lightning advance across a third of both Iraq and Syria was the casus belli for foreign air strikes in the region.Before the strikes, the two jihadi forces had been at war for nearly a year over divergent strategies and competition for resources… [But w]hen the US air strikes last week targeted not only Isis but Nusra, the group’s fighters and some radical Islamist scholars began to push for improved relations in the face of what they call a “war on Islam”.
All in all, such results make the Administration’s critics seem like they’re on to something when they worry that the U.S. is now speaking loudly, but carrying a little stick. Increasingly, President Obama seems to be not Hamlet, but King Lear, raging impotently that:
I will do such things —
What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.