Media are condemning Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's proposal to carpet-bomb ISIS, which they explain could lead to “death and injury inflicted on innocents” and could also be classified as “a war crime.”
Ted Cruz Doubles Down On “Carpet-Bomb[ing]” ISIS In GOP Debate
Ted Cruz Says He “Would Carpet-Bomb Where ISIS Is.” During the December 15 Republican presidential debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer questioned Ted Cruz about his previous statements that he would “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” even though it would lead to “hundreds and thousands” of civilian casualties. When pressed, Cruz stood by his proposal, downplaying the probable casualties, saying, “the object isn't to level a city” and that the airpower would be “directed”:
WOLF BLITZER (MODERATOR): Senator Cruz, you have said you would, “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” testing whether, “sand can glow in the dark.” Does that mean leveling the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria where there are hundreds of thousands of civilians?
TED CRUZ: What it means is using overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS.
BLITZER: Thank you. To be clear, Senator Cruz, would you carpet-bomb Raqqa, the ISIS capital where there are a lot of civilians? Yes or no?
CRUZ: You would carpet-bomb where ISIS is. Not a city, but the location of the troops. You use airpower directed, and you have embedded special forces to direct the airpower. But the object isn't to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists. [CNN, Republican Debate, 12/15/15]
Media Call Out Cruz's Potentially Illegal Plan As Likely Harmful To Thousands Of Civilians
New York Times: Cruz's Proposal To Carpet-Bomb ISIS “Could Be Considered Unrealistic And Counterproductive.” A December 16 post on The New York Times' blog The Upshot explained that Ted Cruz's proposal to carpet-bomb ISIS typically “would mean leveling a place without regard for collateral damage,” including civilian casualties. The article points out that military experts dismissed Cruz's assertion that one could carpet-bomb “with precision ... as paradoxical” and that carpet-bombing “has largely been phased out” due to concern for civilian populations. The post also noted that the aftermath of unrestrained bombing could “serve as propaganda material that terrorists can use to gain new recruits”:
Some have called for loosening the “rules of engagement” when it comes to fighting Islamic State militants, and during Tuesday night's debate Senator Ted Cruz renewed his call to “carpet-bomb” ISIS.
Historically, that would mean leveling a place without regard for collateral damage. But the senator from Texas seemed to suggest that a Cruz administration would be able wipe out militants without harming civilians.
Military experts argue about the ethics and legality of carpet-bombing, but the notion of doing so with precision, as Mr. Cruz suggests, is widely seen as paradoxical.
So-called carpet-bombing was employed in some instances during the 1991 gulf war, but since then it has largely been phased out as nimble terrorist targets seek safety in civilian populations.
“The use of large numbers of gravity bombs against large areas of military value -- a k a 'carpet-bombing' -- is fully legal and allowable,” General [David A.] Deptula said. “However, our adversaries know that, understand the results, and therefore minimize their assembling in the kind of mass that would make carpet-bombing of value.”
For that reason, Mr. Cruz's proposal that the United States carpet-bomb ISIS without hitting cities could be considered unrealistic and counterproductive. The group avoids operating in the open desert and is known to use civilians as shields. Moreover, images of ruined hospitals, schools and dead children often serve as propaganda material that terrorists can use to gain new recruits. [The New York Times, 12/16/15]
The Daily Beast: “There's No Such Thing As A Precise, Narrowly Targeted Carpet-Bombing Campaign.” A December 15 article from The Daily Beast explained that carpet-bombing means “drop[ping] thousands of munitions on a single area -- and flatten[ing]” it. The article also noted that “there's no such thing as a precise, narrowly targeted carpet-bombing campaign,” and that the tactics would “involve war crimes”:
Cruz has often said that he wants to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” joking that we'll find out if “sand can glow in the dark” in the process.
Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, “Does that mean leveling the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria, where there are hundreds of thousands of civilians?”
Cruz replied, “What it means is using overwhelming airpower to utterly and completely destroy ISIS.”
By way of example, he pointed to the first Gulf War, when “we carpet-bombed them for 37 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half, mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.”
The architects of that Gulf War effort, which featured the first major use of precision-guided bombs, would probably disagree that it was was “saturation” or “carpet” bombing. And according to the International Criminal Court, war crimes include “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.” Cruz said the objective would be to kill members of ISIS, not civilians, but there's no such thing as a precise, narrowly targeted carpet-bombing campaign. The tactic, which began in the Spanish Civil War and flowered fully in World War II, is to drop thousands of munitions on a single area--and flatten in. It is the opposite of precise. [The Daily Beast, 12/15/15]
Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman: Consequences Of Carpet-Bombing Would Be “Death And Injury Inflicted On Innocents.” In a December 17 column Chicago Tribune editorial board member Steve Chapman explained that Cruz's plan could “multiply our enemies and magnify the dangers we face” and would ignore “the death and injury inflicted on innocents” in Syria. Chapman added that if Cruz “would obliterate civilian areas if fighters are present there,” as he stated, it would have “risks beyond being a likely war crime”:
But it's a solution that won't solve. The first flaw is that even the most ferocious use of airpower can't “completely destroy ISIS” as Cruz imagines. The second is that it stands to multiply our enemies and magnify the dangers we face. And that's leaving out the matter that Trump and Cruz ignore, which is the death and injury inflicted on innocents.
In Tuesday's debate, Cruz was asked whether he would carpet-bomb Raqqa, the Syrian city of 220,000 people that is the de facto capital of the Islamic State. He replied, “You would carpet-bomb where ISIS is, not a city but the location of the troops.”
It was a non-answer. Does Cruz mean the enemy may lodge itself with impunity in urban neighborhoods? Or does he mean he would obliterate civilian areas if fighters are present there?
The latter has risks beyond being a likely war crime. [The Chicago Tribune, 12/17/15]
Politifact: Carpet-Bombing Is “Indiscriminate” And “Arguably Outlawed” By The Geneva Conventions. In a December 16 fact-check Politifact pointed out that carpet-bombing refers to “indiscriminate” and “not targeted” bombing, according to experts. The piece explained that carpet-bombing has downsides including “large civilian casualties” and could be considered “outlawed by the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention.” Politifact also noted that “The only advantage might be psychological,” but “it also risks alienating millions and making more enemies for ourselves”:
We'll start by noting that the term “carpet bombing” is an informal one -- “a non-military euphemism,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College.
Still, it has a generally understood definition, experts say. The defining characteristic of carpet bombing is that it's indiscriminate -- not targeted.
"'Carpet bombing' typically refers to bombing a defined area without discriminating between targets," said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University.
Given the downsides of carpet bombing -- especially large civilian casualties, which don't reflect well on the bombing nation in a media-interconnected world -- it's not a military tactic used often today. For one thing, it's arguably outlawed by the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. But the more important factor is that today's precision-guided “smart” bombs and delivery systems provide better targeting without any loss in explosive power.
By contrast, today, “we can do more damage with a single strike than we could with hundreds of aircraft in World War II,” Janda said. “The only advantage might be psychological. But again, while scaring millions may have an emotional appeal, it also risks alienating millions and making more enemies for ourselves. There's also the argument that we're supposed to be the good guys.”
So when Cruz describes bombing troops specifically rather than cities, and potentially using “embedded special forces” to select discrete targets, he's not talking about carpet bombing -- he's “describing what we are already doing,” Janda said. “Now, he might launch more airstrikes, and if ISIS suddenly gathered 10,000 guys out in the open, I suppose you could forget targeting and just bomb everything in that area. But they aren't going to do that.”[Politifact.com, 12/16/15]
Vox: Cruz's Proposal To Carpet-Bomb ISIS “Is Totally Incoherent” And “Pure Tough-Guy Positioning.” In a December 15 article Vox called Ted Cruz's proposal to beat ISIS by carpet-bombing the terrorist organization “totally incoherent” and “pure tough-guy positioning,” pointing out that “ISIS has adapted to the US military campaign in a way that forces us to limit strikes if we don't want civilian casualties”:
To be clear -- this is totally incoherent. The term “carpet bombing” means mass unguided bombing in populated areas; that is not what happened in the Gulf War. Moreover, in the Gulf War the United States was fighting an actual military as opposed to a terrorist group pretending to be a government. ISIS has adapted to the US military campaign in a way that forces us to limit strikes if we don't want significant civilian casualties.
Basically, he's saying “we should bomb ISIS troops” which 1) isn't what carpet bombing is and 2) is what Obama is already doing. There's a legitimate argument among experts as to whether the Obama administration should loosen the rules of engagement governing whether to strike if there's a risk of civilian casualties. But Cruz isn't engaging in that debate; he's just calling for “carpet bombing” and bombing “the ISIS terrorists.” It's pure tough-guy positioning. [Vox, 12/15/15]
Esquire: Carpet-Bombing Is “A Measure Of Last Resort” And “Effectively Illegal.” In a December 16 article Esquire's Robert Bateman wrote that carpet bombing is “a measure of last resort,” “now widely understood to be effectively illegal,” and could be classified as “a war crime.” Bateman went on to call Cruz “apparently ... ignorant of not only the law, but also the definitions of simple military terminology and history”:
I don't know if you caught that. Senator Ted Cruz proposed that as President of the United States, he would use nuclear weapons to bomb, indiscriminately, civilian population centers where ISIS holds people hostage.
Carpet bombing is a tactic, and a measure of last resort. It is also now widely understood to be effectively illegal under the Law of Armed Conflict, which would make the United States' use of this tactic a war crime. It is different from precision bombing, guided by Special Operations Forces, the standard tactic for our armed forces today.
OK, again, this is only a sort of disclaimer. So what is carpet bombing in practical, non-military-speak? Put simply, it's the act of laying down a carpet of bombs. Usually in a rectangular pattern. Completely saturating an area with high-explosives. Everything inside the area where the “carpet” is “laid” is expected to die. Everything.
That a man who is running to be the President of the United States of America, a lawyer who has submitted briefs and argued before the Supreme Court, is apparently so ignorant of not only the law, but also the definitions of simple military terminology and history, is more than interesting. [Esquire, 12/16/15]