There is a Latin proverb: "Parturiant montes, nascetur ridiculus mus" - "The mountains are in labour, and a ridiculous mouse will be born". More prosaically put, "Big fuss, small result". No better example of the truth of this can be found than the present controversy over the projected UK bombing of ISIS targets in Syria. Despite argument and counter-argument, the fact remains that UK involvement in this campaign would be very limited; we do not have the aircraft to make more than a token contribution. There also is the fact that such actions are not proving very successful. When France promised retaliation for the hideous Paris atrocities and launched air strikes against ISIS bases, ISIS simply evacuated their bases. They are not going to sit in static positions, waiting for us to bomb them. They have been bombed relentlessly for a long time and still control large swathes of territory. Nor have they been prevented from launching attacks against innocent people in Europe and North Africa.
This is not to say that air strikes have been pointless; they have certainly helped to stop the ISIS advance and supported anti-ISIS offensives, particularly by the gallant Kurds. It does, however, point to the limitations of what can be achieved by air power alone. As a US military adviser said during the Viet-Nam War:
"Trying to win a guerrilla war by aerial bombing is like trying to delouse yourself with a club"
Even in conventional war, it can prove controversial. There is a strange convergence of opinion on the Allied bombing of Germany in WW2. The pacifist Left and neo-Nazi revisionist "historians" howl with condemnation of this offensive, conveniently forgetting the fact that the German Luftwaffe were every bit as merciless wherever their invading forces went. But the ruthlessness of both sides failed in one crucial aim: they did not succeed in destroying the morale of the enemy civilian populations, despite many thousands on both sides being killed. The USA bombed North Viet-Nam for years during the Viet-Nam War, only to fail in the same way. As a North Vietnamese officer said after the war:
“The Americans thought that the more bombs they dropped, the quicker we would fall to our knees and surrender. But the bombs heightened rather than dampened our spirit.”
The fanatics of ISIS are unlikely to be any different, and the killing of innocent non-ISIS civilians could well be counter-productive.
The only way out of this, I think, is to co-ordinate air power with ground offensives. As ISIS has succeeded in alienating all the major nations. It ought to be possible now for united action against ISIS, with or without the deployment of ground troops (special forces are already there). How possible is it? Well, the shooting down of a Russian aircraft by the Turks does not bode well for unity. ISIS must be dancing around in glee.