Terror On A Wing And A Prayer



From top: A B-52 at Barksdale Airforce Base, Louisiana; Dr Julien Mercille

US Air Force commanders are now calling on the Pentagon to bomb Syria with an old war machine classic, the B-52.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

The B-52 bomber is the US Air Force’s largest aircraft. And this year is its 60th year anniversary of active service.

The extraordinary thing about it, according to this New York Times profile, is that it is still flying, and will be in service until at least 2040.

It first flew in the early 1950s. There has never been any other bomber able to replace it. All the new models that engineers designed and built since then proved to be unable to outcompete it.

In the 1980s, the B-1B Lancer boasted a hi-tech radar-jamming system, but it jammed its own radar. In the 1990s, the B-2 Spirit’s stealth technology was so delicate that the plane could not go into the rain.

According to a pilot, flying the B-52 “is like driving your grandfather’s Cadillac”.

It dropped the first hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Islands in 1956. Then it went on to carpet bomb Vietnam, in a war that left between 2 to 4 million dead (we don’t know the exact number).

In more recent years, “it has pummeled armored divisions in Iraq, and has laid thunderous walls of destruction over Taliban positions in Afghanistan”. It has also flown “assurance and deterrence” missions near Russia and North Korea, which are statements to enemies that the US will not be intimidated.

Air Force commanders are now calling on the Pentagon to bomb Syria with B-52s. “We’re ready, we’re hungry, we’re eager to be in the fight”, said Col. Kristin Goodwin, who is in charge of the Second Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where half of the bombers are located.

And that’s the history of one plane only. Imagine if we added that of the whole military striking around the world, in particular the Middle East.

It’s no wonder that terrorists emerge out of those interventions. Yet, many intellectuals, including left-leaning ones, are still at a loss in explaining why the West is sometimes hit by terror.

“It’s lack of education”, say some. (As if a bachelor’s degree made you more peaceful). “It’s poverty”, say others. (As if those who are not well off were a violent herd). Other academics agonise on defining “terrorism”, as if it was all very complicated and requiring years of study.

Some are not deluded, however. For example, Robert Pape, a political scientist at the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, studied every single act of suicide terrorism in the world since 1980—that’s over 4,600 in total.

He says that “religious fervor is not a motive unto itself. Rather, it serves as a tool for recruitment and a potent means of getting people to overcome their fear of death and natural aversion to killing innocents”.

The fact is that terrorism is strategic. Pape is worth quoting at length as he summarises his research’s essential points:

“What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else”.

Similar conclusions have been reached by those who interviewed ISIS fighters . The conclusion is clear: as long as the West meddles in other countries’ affairs violently, it will remain a magnet for counter-attacks.

That’s why you shouldn’t believe David Cameron or Francois Hollande or Barack Obama when they say that bombing Syria and Iraq will bring peace and security. It won’t.

If anything, it’s jeopardising our safety even more than it already is, thanks to the 8,125 air strikes unleashed so far in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State (the UK carried out about 500 of those in Iraq).

The strikes also show that austerity is a very selective principle. David Cameron has imposed a harsh austerity regime on the UK, but there always seems to be some cash available for the Royal Air Force.

Britain began military strikes in Iraq in September 2014 at a cost of €280 million. It costs €48,000 per hour to fly a Tornado or Typhoon jet. The US has spent $5 billion on operations. These are a few more reasons to oppose the bombing of Syria.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow Julien on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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50 thoughts on “Terror On A Wing And A Prayer

  1. Declan

    I don’t think anyone deny’s it’s a factor but the Sunni – Shia divide, economics (Sunni’s loosing power in Iraq), demography (Lebanon hasn’t had a census since independence I believe as otherwise the Shia will be shown to be the largest population and get the most seats in parliament consequently), are also other factors and I’m sure there are many I don’t know about.

    To say it’s completely the West’s fault is too easy and too western centric an answer. In a better world the west wouldn’t have invaded Iraq and may then have had an appetite for helping the people in the Arab Spring, unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world but it doesn’t abrogate our responsibilities

    1. :-Joe

      You’re deluded if you think the west is not the main part of the problem and saying things like it’s too easy to blame the west makes you sound like you’re already singing from the script.

      In 200 years of “interventions”, “operations” and what is always just interference for selfish gain by the west, not one single military action has led to anything positive for the middle east or the west as a result, both always lose and innocent civilians take the most punishment.

      If you have a large military complex in multiple countries and numerous private arms dealers manufacturing weapons and ammunition for sale internationally to the highest bidder’s you will always get repeated wars and conflicts that are not necessary other than the necessity to keep funding the cause of the problem at it’s source in order to grow or remain fully self sustainable.

      A 5 year old could figure this out if shown the basic facts and details about military spending and wars that have resulted by time and date.


      1. Declan

        I’m not deluded but I like to think that the world isn’t black and white. Try reading Robert Fisk or even early medieval Irish history. Many of the “Irish” Gaels where happy to do business with the Normans in order to get one up on their rivals.

        To think it’s one over arching reason means you’ve come to this as with blinkers on.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          I think what he’s saying the west is to ‘blame’ for, is the attacks on the west. Economics might suggest why a guy might join the terrorists to begin with, but it doesn’t explain why he’d target the west after he’s joined.

        2. :-Joe

          Eh.. what has an intentional economic plan of austerity and mass arms dealing by the west’s military complex to create and fund war in the middle east, plus the consequences internationally, got to do with deals brokered by the Gaels and the Normans…

          I’ll tell you.. The exact opposite and the solution we need. It’s called diplomacy!
          Something the west is incapable of doing under the leadership of the US, who don’t have a single iota of what is going on in the culture of the Middle east or what they are doing to them, apart from bombing brown people to keep up the demand for arms.

          Sometimes the “over arching” solutions are staring you right in the face but you over complicate the problem with irrelevant factors that distract you from taking action in dealing with the problem based on first principles. Another way to put it is, there are many people who want you to believe their narrative so they can continue to do what they want for their own benefit and all at your expense.


          It’s all bs and it’s bad for ya…


        3. :-Joe

          Robert Fisk is a war correspondent and although he has softened up a little and become more realistic with age, he spent a long time not speaking up about anything the British were responsible for over many years.

          Another flag waving intellectual at heart and the last person I would quote or refer to for an accurate understanding on anything.


          1. Bobby

            Another writer who finds it difficult to differentiate between their ideas and reality. Go read Fisk’s books, including the two he wrote about Northern Ireland, then read the rest of his books. But read them, not just the back co ver..

        4. Bobby

          Robert Fisk says the main reason for growth of Jihadists is intervention and occupation. He aludes to it in pity the nation, the great war for civilisation and in most interviews he takes – in an RT or Al Jazeera discussion he says exactly those words. Maybe you should try listening harder to Fisk, and read a bit of Chomsky while you’re at it…

          1. Declan

            No I agree but Joe above says it’s the arms industry. It’s a collection of reasons. Life isn’t simple

  2. :-Joe

    I fully agree but I had thought that all this information was blatantly obvious…

    Is there anyone who can disagree without looking completely daft?
    If there is, I’d love to hear that argument..

    I could do with a good laugh this morning.


    1. mauriac

      wouldn’t that be a start?we’ll never know how Iraq or Libya would have evolved without western chaos being unleashed on them or how Syria would be faring if France /Uk etc. hadn’t fomented civil war but its hard to imagine worse than what happened.

    2. :-Joe

      Yes, withdraw and mind yer own fuppin business in future.

      Maybe not selling arms to everyone and creating these problems to begin with would be a another shrewd move.


  3. mauriac

    I’m sure Dr.Mohamed Atta ( PhD thesis on how high rises were destroying middle eastern cityscapes ) would agree that more education isn’t always the answer.
    If Dr.Mercille is looking for corroborating evidence of his theory I would refer him to the highly entertaining case study of geopolitics known as Starship Troopers.

    1. Dekkard

      Heinlein’s novel is on the essential reading list for the US Marines & Navy so there’s something in what you are saying.

      1. dan

        With the major difference that the film satirises a viewpoint that the book actually appears to favour.

        1. Deluded

          That film was the perfect interpretation of that book.
          I will say, though, that “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a great read.

  4. Supercrazyprices

    This is going to a tough one for the Young Fine Gaelers (whose party secretly plan to bring Ireland into NATO if re-elected).

    They can’t be seen to support the bombing of Syria as it’s unpopular yet they are preprogrammed to be critical of Mercille as he is one of their official targets.

    So they’ll respond with the ever stupid retort, “What’s your solution Mercille?”

    – Yeah, what’s a UCD academic going to do to solve the decades old complex Middle East / Western military meddling problem. Hmm, so there.

    1. :-Joe

      NATO is just a sub-branch department office of US foreign policy along with the UN.

      If either side of the Fianna Fup business party is trying to get Ireland involved in a military mess it’s just another good reason to point and laugh at people directly to their face in public for voting or supporting them, ever.


  5. J

    “they are preprogrammed to be critical of Mercille as he is one of their official targets” .Super crazy.

    Mercille is more voodoo doll than “official target”…

  6. Owen

    Ok… tin hat time….

    We should NEVER believe David Cameron or Francois Hollande or Barack Obama cause its noting to do with terrorist or liberation…. it has to do with OIL.

    1. Russia hold the monopoly for oil in Europe;
    2. US want that market;
    3. Assad is mates with Russia so blocked the pipeline from Middle East though Syria to Europe to keep Russia in oil power (about 10 years ago now id say);
    4. KSA and Qatar funded ISIS years back to over through Assad and open the doors to Europe (also note Qatar is where UK/US/French bombing runs start);
    5. The overseas ISIS attacks were a god send to allow UK / France / US start bombing ‘ISIS’;
    6. Everybody knows that bombing ISIS is impossible, they are a mentality, not a location. (Davo, Brarak and Franky know that too);
    7. Russia are also in on bombing ISIS, but they are the only ones that actually want ISIS gone to keep their oil markets;
    8. US / UK / France will soon ‘put boots on the ground’ to liberate the Syrians etc, but will Russia?
    9. Its a modern version of a cold war in Syria.
    10. Short term will see more refugees, long term might prevent that, which is a good long term side effect.

    1. Owen

      While Im at it….

      The Crimea war. Where did that go? I’ll tell ya. Russia were losing oil money, and fast, due to the flux in the global market through fracking. So Russia decided they wanted the oil in the Black sea… which Shell had signed a contract for with Ukraine. Anyhow, long and short of it…. US dropped market prices to stop the war. A very passive and smart approach. Shell pulled out of the contract. Russia pulled out of the game with no conflict.

      Which now has me confused. Given the flux in the global oil market why are US/UK/France going near Syria? Unless it’s too late, they have gone to far and now how to finish in order to stop ISIS and get a return on their investment over the last 10 / 15 odd years.

      And to think, they were all at COP21 last week harping on about the green good.

      Its all about money and oil either way, I’m sure of it.

    2. :-Joe

      I’ve just put my tin hat on too…

      Ye there was a muslim man on Vincent Brown a couple of weeks ago talking about how it was funny that nobody in the mainstream newsDERP cycle reported on the fact that the security guard who prevented the bomber from getting into the Paris stadium was a muslim.

      He went on to say that many muslims are dumbfounded how convoys of daesh, ISIS or whatever you want to call them are frequently spotted and recorded on video driving on open roads with US military aircraft flying over head and nothing happens to them. It looks obvious to many people seeing this that the only explanation is that these aircraft must be allowing them to carry on or are supporting them in some way.

      You need to add the IMF, WB and WTO into the mix of your tin-hat manifesto. Bleeding the people dry through austerity and controlling sovereign countries in how they vote in the UN etc. on resolutions and their plans for warmongering through intentional debt slavery.

      The new way of war through globalist economic corporate imperialism.

      #FuppTheBegrudgers&NeverLetTheBasturdsGrindYouDown :D


      1. rotide

        Ye there was a muslim man on Vincent Brown a couple of weeks ago talking about how it was funny that nobody in the mainstream newsDERP cycle reported on the fact that the security guard who prevented the bomber from getting into the Paris stadium was a muslim.

        That might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a muslim. The muslim man that was touted all over social media wasn’t actually the guy who stopped the jihadist entering, He was one tunnel over and related the story to the press.

        This is what happens when you get your ‘news’ from d’internet exclusively, but carry on with the derp.

  7. ahjayzis

    I listened to a talk by Noam Chompsky a while ago where he laid out how when secular Arab nationalism (imagine!) was the cause du jour of the region, the West stamped it out as a threat to it’s dominance, by supporting jihadists against the secularists. We reap what we sow.

    The US and UK overthrew a secular democracy in Iran in defence of their own oil monopolies and commercial interests and replaced it with a puppet absolute monarchy, you can’t really blame them for falling back on the Islamic fundamentalists. Iranians don’t hate the west ‘coz we’re free’ – they hate the west for the same reasons the revolutionary generation Irish hated the Brits.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “they hate the west for the same reasons the revolutionary generation Irish hated the Brits.”

      Precisely. Catholics in NI weren’t targeted because they say confession or eat wafers and Westerners are not targeted because we wear shorts.

    2. :-Joe

      Ye, they imposed 17 years of a military dictator who got his jolly’s from mass torture, murder and oppression.

      All for strategic influence and access in the region with a good deal on cheap oil and the rest of Iran’s resources.


  8. rotide

    He’s wrong about one thing and thats poverty.

    If the west spent all the money they are spending on war and invested in the area, the threat of ISIS would diminish logarithmically. Call me an old cynic but I’m pretty sure the call of the qu’ran would be far quieter if the population had a better standard of living. This could be hopelessly naive but it would be better than bombing them back into the stone age.

    1. ahjayzis


      It’s *not* a slur on the poor to state the fact that poverty, deprivation and social exclusion contribute to an atmosphere conducive to radicalisation. Anything that leads to a ‘nothing left to lose’ situation is a contributory factor. That’s a left-wing argument, not poor-hating.

    2. :-Joe

      You old cynic,

      I’m not sure that a higher standard of living in general would make as big a difference as you might think.

      Strangely enough, the US already tried and failed recently having pumped billions of cash into the hands of the people in Afghanistan, thinking that it would be the beginning of a consumer economy that they could flood with US led products and exports.

      The problem was that all the money was smuggled out of the country and ended up paying for a small few people to live a life of new luxury in spanking fine homes in Dubai. I can’t see them being that generous again unless that was part of some plan too, maybe to help get rid of the higher social tiers of society from the country.

      Anyway, where it’s not intentional, the US never fails to ignore even the most basic facts about the culture of the middle east that they should already understand just from from their own recent involvement and never mind the rest of the knowledge from the recorded history of the world. If it’s not intentional it’s just more and more absolutely clueless stuff….


    3. dan

      He’s not saying poverty doesn’t contribute to the state of those countries, he’s saying it’s not why they target the west.
      It definitely does contribute to sectarianism and social problems, but you don’t decide to kill people in Paris because you’re broke in Syria.

      1. rotide

        So why do you decide to kill people in Paris? Why not kill them in the US which is far more culpable in the war and the bombs. Lets not forget France was the most visible western country opposed to the invasion of Iraq.

        It also doesn’t explain why IS have murdered a hell of a lot more muslims in Iraq and Syria than french, british and americans. IS kill’s 10,000 muslims because ‘the west’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          “So why do you decide to kill people in Paris?”

          Weren’t most of the Paris gunmen from France? Perhaps that’s why.

          “It also doesn’t explain why IS have murdered a hell of a lot more muslims in Iraq and Syria than french, british and americans.”

          When you are broke, things like whether or not your neighbour is Sunni are important.

  9. Disasata

    The West made a mess of most of the world. For profit.

    The U.S. didn’t have a clue about the culture and reasons for the Vietnamese fighting and the same applies now in the Middle East.

  10. rotide

    There’s something thats verging on patronising about where this sort of dialogue always goes.

    It’s all the West’s fault, as if greed and evil are exclusive to the west. Absolutely the west has meddled in the affairs of the middle east since the crusades but when people point to underhand destabilising of the region, its like the joyfully willing participants in the resulting mayhem get a free pass.

    Is the answer to bomb them all over again ? Probably not. Should we blame America and the UK exclusively for IS? Probably not.

    1. dan

      It’s not a case of “it’s all the west’s fault” it’s an answer to the question “what can we do about this?” A good start is stop causing it/contributing to it.
      We can make accusations that group or person X, indigenous to the region is also a cause/contributing factor, but it’s hollow, we have no power over them, we, nominally at least have some power over western forces which are involved, so if we actually want to reduce conflict that’s the starting point.
      Add that by reducing our complicity we’d also reduce the reasons for people to sign up to the like of IS and Al Queda, and the objections become ridiculous.
      They’re also a tu quoque, when your reasoning is so fallacious as to have a name it’s probably time to reconsider.

  11. scottser

    Got to say, the b52 is one impressive aircraft – if you got bombed by that fupper, you’d know you’ve been bombed. Imagine all the good it could do instead though..

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