Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Doolittle Raid, the Syria Missile Strike, and Symbolic Military Action

Seventy-five years ago today, on April 18, 1942, a squadron of 16 Army Air Force led by Colonel James Doolittle took off from an aircraft carrier for a surprising attack on Japan during the darkest moments of World War II.  Little actual damage was done to Japan, but the symbolic importance was huge-it gave the U.S. public a huge boost and it  eliminated the Japanese sense of invulnerability.  The Doolittle Raid is one of the most important stories told in the U.S. Air Force, and I had a painting of the raid prominently displayed in my office.

Which brings me to the Syrian missile strike.  It too did little damage to the Syrian military, but as the Doolittle Raid suggests, even inconsequential military actions can have symbolic importance.  Is that true of the Syrian attack as well?  Michel Paradis makes the persuasive case to the contrary in the Weekly Standard:
he Doolittle Raid was a publicity stunt whose tactical significance was infinitesimal relative to its cost. But it was nevertheless one of the most consequential military actions of the entire war. And if we consider why, the lessons are illuminating. The raid defied expectations about U.S. military capabilities. It left the Japanese uncertain about the U.S. future intentions. And—most crucially—it debunked the governing myth upon which Japan's ruling militarists depended for their own legitimacy: that the Japanese would always be safe inside Japan.

These criteria are helpful in assessing the possible effects of military strikes that may seem purely symbolic, like the one on Shayrat Airbase. On the one hand, the fact that the Trump administration was willing to reverse the president's long-touted intention to cede Syria to Assad and Russia, regardless of the consequences, has undeniably provoked a reassessment of U.S. intentions. Was it a one-off strike for the television cameras? Or does it portend greater U.S. involvement? The uncertainty itself can be unsettling to adversaries.

On the other hand, nothing about the strike exceeded standard expectations of the United States' war-fighting capabilities. More Tomahawk missiles were fired, for example, on the rudimentary training camps in Afghanistan that President Bill Clinton targeted in retaliation for al Qaeda's 1998 Embassy bombings. If anything, the Shayrat strike confirmed the unfair, but widely held, conventional wisdom that the United States is only willing to fight from a safe distance.
More troubling is how the Shayrat strike might bolster, rather than undermine, the governing myth that has been essential to the Assad regime's political legitimacy for nearly half a century. Where Japan's militarists depended upon a perception of invulnerability, the Assad family depends on quite another governing myth.

.  .  .
Assad's governing myth is based on resilience, not invulnerability. He and his family can weather anything; even an attack by the most powerful military on earth. And by launching his squadrons from Shayrat Airbase the very next day, Assad himself sent an unmistakable message.
Read it all here.  You can find more on the Doolittle Raid here.


  1. Thanks for the post , with all due respect , this is really a baseless perception and comparison :

    And first , we need to understand , why at first place Trump has stricken in Syria .Reasons vary as hell !! So , what use at first place ?? Only by understanding the reasons, or rather, the composite of reasons, and the weight given to each one of them, criticism can stand and become really useful.

    One think is evident : The greatness of America , its leading role in the global arena . In this regard , the impact of the strike , is really significant , and has reversed the image of : weak , and reluctant superpower , created or caused by Obama ( See links ) . Also, it is the backup of the Russians mainly (and Iran) which permitted so far , the survival of Assad. He felt recently quite confident ( after military success , and Russian total backup by intervention ) . Such strike , transmits clear message :

    Not so fast !! You can't go wild and spread chemicals upon helpless civilians, not that much !! And who would do that , if not the US ?? Shame on them and the western world, that only now they have done it so clearly and manifestly !!

    Beyond it, one should understand, the term " resilience " attributed to the Assad regime, is not at all accurate. This is because , Assad belongs to the Shiites population . The Shiites population , forms around 10 per cent only from the population . After dozens of years of oppression of the Sunnis (crucial majority) and horrific civil war, the Assad regime knows very well: if they fall , unbelievable massacre is expected, and rendering them, less the negligible minority, and strictly:

    Books shall be balanced !! So , they don't have any other choice , nowhere to run . Means , they still want to believe , that they will have a future in Syria of after that war , As such , certain rationality , is expected in their conduct and discretion .

    Some links :

    Here in " Le monde " ( the French newspaper ) a headline of a researcher ( strategy ) :

    " En frappant la Syrie, Donald Trump est devenu prĂ©sident des Etats-Unis » "

    Let me just translate it :

    By striking in Syria, Trump has finally and really, become the president of the US. here :


    And : Saudi Arabia praises U.S. missile strikes against Syria , here :



    P.S : Just as reminder : The Assad regime , denies any involvement in that attack ( chemical ) . In a way or other , doesn't matter , because , did occur somehow , actually . No matters finally , who's blame is it . Western world , had to intervene .

  2. Just correcting it :

    Assad denies direct order given by him , and denies any intention of course . Yet , doesn't deny the basic facts ( chemical spread on civilians ) but argues , that it was a catch !! warehouses or alike , where chemical were held , and accidently and unwittingly bombed by his troops or air force .