Courtesy Reuters


For more than a decade, advocates of precision air weapons have argued that wars can be won by selectively taking out an enemy's leaders, its communication systems, and the economic infrastructure of its major cities. Before the Persian Gulf War, Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Dugan promised to end the war in days by targeting Saddam Hussein directly. Later, in Kosovo, General Michael Short, commander of allied air forces in Europe, ordered air power to "go for the head of the snake." And last year, in the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sponsored a "shock and awe" air campaign against the Iraqi leadership. Whether it helps kill enemy leaders, isolate them from their troops, or make them vulnerable to overthrow by local groups, precision air power is advertised as a force that can win wars on its own.

Decapitating the enemy has a

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  • Robert A. Pape is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War.
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