A Curious Aspect of Air Power

Crash Site
Crash site of Israeli F-16 Fighter Jet

W.J. Astore

Over the past several days, Russia and Israel have lost fighter jets over Syria.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to those countries.  When jets attack people on the ground, those people tend to fire back (if they have weapons at hand), and sometimes they even hit their targets.

What is interesting is the Russian and Israeli reaction, which was in essence identical: immediate escalation.  More air attacks.  More bombs.  All justified as “reprisal” raids that are couched in terms of self-defense.

The mentality goes something like this: How dare you little people on the ground have the temerity to fire back at us and actually hit our planes?  For that you must be punished with more air attacks and more bombs until you stop firing at and hitting our planes.

I think this reaction is linked to the imagery of jet aircraft as a symbol of technological superiority, a marker of power, potency, and prowess.  Losing a jet over Syrian lands isn’t just seen as a mundane loss of military equipment in combat: it’s seen as a loss of potency by the attacker.  This “loss” necessitates a bigger show of force so as to punish the enemy while regaining that sense of inviolate power from the skies that advanced countries like Russia, Israel, and the USA believe they are entitled to, simply by being “advanced” countries, as measured by military hardware like sophisticated jets.

Air power is a tricky thing.  Students of the American involvement in the Vietnam War may recall that in 1965 U.S. Marine units were initially sent in to guard air bases from attack.  Of course, their mission quickly escalated from static defense to “active” defense to “taking the fight to the enemy,” i.e. full-scale, offensive, military operations.

Today, U.S. ground troops are similarly involved in places like the Middle East and Africa, helping to establish and protect air and drone bases.  Yet, as history teaches us, those missions often expand quickly to aggressive military operations on the ground, often in the name of “securing” those very air bases.  Air attacks may lead to ground operations, which lead to more air attacks in support of the ground ops, which lead to air planes being shot down and then reprisal attacks …

Air power, as I’ve written before, is neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive.  It also often creates its own escalatory dynamic, which is what we’re witnessing now in the skies over Syria.  Israeli jets, Russian jets, American jets, all attempting through force to alter the facts on the ground, but all instead creating conditions that are likely to generate more violence, more instability, and more war.

Curious indeed.

7 thoughts on “A Curious Aspect of Air Power

  1. Back when I was a grunt in Vietnam we had some Cobra Gunships that were fired upon by the NVA/VC. The BN Commander called for an airstrike. A little later the planes arrived dropping napalm and some strafing attacks. I heard him say something to effect we have to “teach” them not to shoot at our choppers.


  2. Any people here heard of Antonio Gramsci. Someone recently brought him to my attention. He was imprisoned by Mussolini.
    From WIKI >
    Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. The bourgeoisie in Gramsci’s view develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Hegemonic culture propagates its own values and norms so that they become the “common sense” values of all and thus maintain the status quo. Hegemonic power is therefore used to maintain consent to the capitalist order, rather than coercive power using force to maintain order. This cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure. <> It reminds us of John Dewey’s claim that, ‘As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.’ In the US, the two-party political system has proven extremely effective in this regard. Aside from differences on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, as well as socioeconomic issues like unemployment insurance and public assistance, both parties ultimately embrace capitalist/corporatist interests in that they both serve as facilitators for the dominant classes: The Republican Party in its role as forerunner, pushing the limits of the capitalist model to the brink of fascism; and the Democratic Party in its role as governor, providing intermittent degrees of slack and pull against this inevitable move towards a ‘corporate-fascistic state of being.<<

    Both of these people explain rather well how so many political issues are submerged and drowned. i.e., universal healthcare and raising the minimum wage as just two examples. The Stupor Bowl had the DNA of Militarism on display as a part of our cultural ideology. A neat hand and glove fit, the over the top celebration of the Warrior Cult, sanctioned by the capitalist/corporatist interests.

    It would be unheard for cultural hegemony to be written about or discussed by our McMega-Media.


    1. Thanks for the Vietnam anecdote, ML, which captures my point viscerally. Also, I’ve heard of Gramsci and his idea of cultural hegemony. I encountered him in graduate school, but I must admit I haven’t read his works. He’s one of those theorists identified with “leftist” cultural studies; another one is Michel Foucault, who talks about the disciplinary power of the state, notably the idea of control through constant surveillance (the panopticon idea of Bentham, a prison in which prisoners would have no privacy, where the warden and guards would be “Big Brother,” always and forever watching).

      Hegemony is a loaded word, perhaps, but it’s a useful concept. I think most Americans would reject it out of hand since we believe we are powerful, autonomous, individuals. We don’t believe that any “hegemony” is telling us what to buy or to think — even when it is. 🙂


  3. From Wikipedia:

    The Chimera was, according to Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, composed of the parts of more than one animal. It is usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake’s head …

    The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling.

    The seeing of a Chimera was an omen for disaster.

    I suggest that the term chimera properly applies to the United States (US), the Zionist Occupation of Palestine (ZOP), and Turkish military forces — especially their air forces (or farces) — operating illegally in the sovereign nation of Syria.

    So much for the mythological symbolism. Now, to the “facts on the ground,” so to speak.

    Point #1: Russian aerospace forces operate in Syria at the express invitation — and in defense — of the legitimate elected government, a member state of the United Nations. On the other hand, Air (and proxy mercenary) military forces of the US, ZOP, and Turkey have no business whatsoever operating in Syria and have in fact violated International Law (the UN Charter) by doing so.

    Furthermore, all three of these invading marauders have openly and arrogantly stated that their policy seeks the violent overthrow of the elected Syrian government and the dismemberment of its territory. Not only that, but all three of these piratical marauders — I hesitate to call them “states” — brazenly support and maintain jihadi terroist “proxies” like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, various Kurdish clans, etc., as expendable “boots on the ground” in Syria, despite hypocritically claiming that they actually seek to combat these same “terrorist” mercenaries.

    So, just to put things in the correct legal perspective: the Russian and Syrian military forces – including but not limited to aircraft – have every right to fire on whomsoever fires upon them in Syria, whereas US, ZOP, and Turkish forces do not.

    In light of the above simple truth, just comparing planes with planes – because all planes shoot at whatever shoots at them – makes for a rather superficial and unrevealing analysis in my opinion.

    Point #2: Not just the Russian aerospace and naval forces, but Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah ground forces have worked systematically and co-operatively – and, therefore, quite effectively – with the Syrian Arab Army to clear several key cities and a great deal of Syrian territory from the marauding US, ZOP, and Turkish invaders who now find themselves, once again, the losers in a “game” that they started in someone else’s country.

    Yes, all planes shoot at whomever shoots at them – especially if the US and ZOP regimes can call them “Iranian” – but some planes can (1) hit whom they aim at and (2) gradually reduce towards elimination those whom they should eliminate. This contrasts significantly from US and ZOP air forces who have attacked Syrian government positions over a hundred times spanning many years and have managed all-too-often to (1) miss whom they claim to aim at and (2) produce even more of those whom they claim they wish to eliminate. Highly ineffective, to say the least. I can remember a few years ago when the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, attended an international gathering and helpfully provided the US representative with aerial photographs of kilometers-long convoys of ISIS oil-tankers and brand-new Toyota pick-up trucks impudently crossing the open Iraqi and Syrian deserts, saying: “Here. We found ISIS for you. Now you can bomb them.” Or words to that effect. The US and ZOP airplanes still couldn’t manage to bomb ISIS instead of Syrian government positions, so the Russian Aerospace forces intervened and actually started hitting ISIS. ISIS hardly exists in Syria any longer.

    Again, it makes for a highly effective policy when you (1) operate at the invitation of the legitimate government, (2) know which allies you can trust to work co-operatively with you, (3) know precisely whom and what you want to shoot at, (4) can actually hit whom and what you want to shoot at, and (5) offer diplomatic alternatives to violence in the form of cease-fires, locale-specific negotiated settlements, and support for the return of refugees to their homes. This sane and logical policy of the Syrian and Syrian-allied forces in Syria contrasts sharply with the US and ZOP policies, best enunciated by US war criminal Henry Kissinger during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War: “Let them kill each other off.”

    Yes, the military use of airplanes can form part of a policy if legitimately and correctly conceived, but cannot have much of an effect — other than sheer destruction for its own sake — absent any legitimate reason for fighting in someone else’s country. You can’t do a wrong thing the right way, even with airplane “power.” It does not appear that the US and ZOP regimes understand this or, even if they do, give a shit because they simply want chaos and division in any and all Muslim countries neigboring the ZOP. Some military airplanes deserve getting shot out of the air, which wouldn’t happen to them if they stayed out of other countries’ legitimate airspaces.

    Finally, to paraphrase one of George Orwell’s Animal Farm principles: “All planes are ‘power,’ but some planes are more powerful than othes.” Real power, in the final analysis, doesn’t come from armaments or ordnance, but from political, moral, and legal legitimacy. Without these necessary attributes, the US/ZOP/Turkey Chimera — the goat, the lion, and the snake — constitute nothing but a powerless and implausible illusion. Destructive? Yes. Effective? No.


    1. Sorry for screwing up the HTML tag for italics. The italicised quotation from Wikipedia should have ended after the the word “disaster.”

      Still, upon further reflection, I really like the idea of a Chimera as a gargoyle sculpture, only one featuring a large goat (the US) with a little lion growing out of its back roaring in the goat’s ear and chewing on its neck (the ZOP), with a snake for a tail (Turkey). Looks like I may have to get out the polymer clay and start to work on a prototype. Then, too, a poem might help to alleviate the cause of those recurrent “WTF” symptoms I experience every time I hear a Pentagram or White House spokesperson start blabbering about yet another “American-led” this or “American-led” that with all those “stalwart” allies of ours. I know, how about a …

      Chimera Coalition

      Have you heard of the “coalition”?
      “American-led,” so we’re told
      which only has one timeless mission:
      To start a fight, fuck up, and fold.

      A giant goat helplessly bleating
      As out of its back grows a lion
      Insisting the goat take a beating
      For someplace the bible calls Zion:

      A fabulous story implanted
      About an old Jew, dumb as brick,
      To whom the land’s title was granted
      for slicing some skin off his dick.

      If you’ll believe that, then consider
      A goat with a snake for a tail:
      Chimera, a sale with no bidder;
      “American-led,” doomed to fail.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

      Now, back to that ever-growing backlog of gargoyle sculptures …


  4. I expect at some point drones will start being brought down. Compared to a fighter, they are slow and limited in the ability to put up a defense or engage in evasive aerobatics. Against an enemy not limited to small arms, they’d be out of action quickly.

    As for Israel’s downed plane, Uncle Sam likely has a replacement on the way, probably free of charge if Congress has any say about it.


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