Ed Brayton Schools Ted Cruz on Military. And Gets It Wrong.

braytonEd Brayton is a prolific and progressive atheistic blogger who is also a longtime ally of Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and his research assistant, Chris Rodda. Unlike Rodda, Brayton occasionally shows a rare streak of principle and holds his own ideologues to the same standards he demands of the “right wing fundamentalists” he so often mocks.  Still, like Rodda and Weinstein, he is often blind to the traits he shares with those he ridicules.

On Monday, Brayton wrote a blog at the pay-per-click Patheos entitled “Cruz Shows He Has No Clue About the Military” in which he mocks presidential candidate and US Senator Ted Cruz for his statement saying of ISIS “we will carpet bomb them into oblivion.” Speaking to Cruz, Brayton says:

Do you or do you not know what carpet bombing is? He makes clear that he does not.

Brayton quotes Cruz waxing political in pivoting to Operation Desert Storm and the military draw down that has occurred since then: 

We were launching 1,100 air attacks a day. We were carpet bombing them. And after 37 days of 1,100 air attacks a day, our troops went in in a day and a half and mopped up the remnants of the Iraqi Army because that’s the effect of carpet bombing.

[Fox News host Chris] Wallace, however, noted that the U.S. military leaders insist that carpet bombing was never used in the first Gulf War…

Brayton brayed his agreement with Wallace [emphasis added]:

No, we did not carpet bomb Iraq, in either war…We haven’t used it since Vietnam, primarily because we have weapons that have far more precision now. If you’re using guided munitions, you almost certainly are not carpet bombing.

Brayton cited the same evidence upon which Rodda and Weinstein so often rely: absolutely nothing. That may be why he didn’t realize it was he, not Cruz, who was wrong.

It is true some in the US military objected to the use of the phrase “carpet bombing” with respect to the use of B-52s during Operation Desert Storm. But the objection was the connotation, not the actual employment, as quoted in a contemporary LA Times article:

Pentagon officials even object to the very term “carpet bombing.” They say precise targeting and delivery of B-52 bombs has made “saturation” or “strategic” bombing more accurate.

“Carpet bombing implies that we’re indiscriminately releasing a large number of weapons without regard for accuracy,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Dick Cole said. “…B-52s are very accurate.”

The B-52s were accurate — but the bombs and the method of delivery weren’t that much different than had been used for decades. In fact, in February of 1991 then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Merrill McPeak said1

The targets we are going after are widespread. They are brigades, and divisions and battalions on the battlefield. It’s a rather low density target. So to spread the bombs – carpet bombing is not my favorite expression – is proportionate to the target. Now is it a terrible thing? Yes. Does it kill people? Yes.

Contrary to Brayton’s firm assertion, the US military Air Force did use what average people would say (and still do say) was “carpet bombing”. That’s even the term the Air Force Chief of Staff used, if reluctantly.

Contrary to Brayton’s implication, the B-52 didn’t have precision weapons in 1991. (It would be more than 5 years before the B-52 would drop the now-ubiquitous JDAM.) GPS was in its fledgling stages, and B-52s didn’t carry targeting pods. When not launching cruise missiles, B-52s dropped dozens of 500 to 750 pound “dumb” bombs over a wide area.  Whether you call it “saturation” or “carpet” bombing, the effect is the same, and it was an effect unachievable by single bombs of any precision.

The conventional strikes…dropped up to 153 750-pound bombs over an area of 1.5 by 1 mile. The bombings demoralized the defending Iraqi troops, many of whom surrendered in the wake of the strikes.2

That’s not dropping one bomb down an elevator shaft.  What would you call filling square miles with hundreds of bombs, Ed?

The US Air Force did do “area bombing” of square miles of desert, intentionally “saturating” the area with bombs almost like rolling out a “carpet” across the entire landscape, without necessarily making reference to individual targets within the area.  That’s “carpet bombing.”

Senator Cruz is right.

Mikey Weinstein was in the military, though he spent almost his entire service either in school or briefing units about AT&T, and his comments on the military are still often wrong (reference his “laser-guided nuclear weapons“). Even Chris Rodda was in the military for a little while, though long before DADT repeal. There’s no indication Ed Brayton was ever in the US military, so it is unclear where he got his information, or why he tried to unilaterally speak as an expert on the topic.

On one hand, it is understandable he wouldn’t understand some nuances about the military.  It would be forgivable if his position was based on an otherwise plain reading of a military statement. (To that point, Brayton claims the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees “equal protection,” contrary to statements made here. A plain reading of the US Constitution would say otherwise, though there are significant legal discussions and interpretations that would say he is right.)

It might even have been fair to say there was disagreement about the terms describing military weapons employment, but such nuance would have made it difficult to mock Cruz on that point.

Brayton didn’t imply nuance or discussion. He didn’t even cite a source. Brayton simply declared Cruz “simpleminded” for making declarative statements about the military — while Brayton himself was willing to make equally declarative, and seemingly more uninformed, statements.

No political leader or candidate can be perfect, especially when it comes to the military or any other governmental function in which they have no direct personal experience. (President Obama still hasn’t lived down his mispronunciation of a Navy “corpse-man”.) But Ed Brayton seems to be joining a chorus of people who are making an intentional effort to portray Senator Ted Cruz as particularly inept — or, at least more so than some other candidate.

And Brayton is the one that ended up looking inept in the process.

Now apply this same understanding to Mikey Weinstein, Chris Rodda, or Ed Brayton pontificating about religion in the US military, and you can see they have no more credibility in telling the US military how to govern its culture of religious freedom than they do telling the Air Force about its ordnance and employment.

Fortunately, the US military is beginning to recognize that, too.

1. Capaccio, Tony. “McPeak: Unclear If Air War has Sapped Iraqi Will,” Defense Week, February 4, 1991.
2. Dick, Ron and Dan Patterson. Aviation Century: War & Peace In The Air. Eden Prairie, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 2006. p225.