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Monday, December 5, 2016

The bombs are dropping, and how can we not watch?

Boom. There goes an Islamic State communications center.

Boom. There goes an Islamic State training camp.

It’s all on TV, the strikes recorded on videos taken by U.S. fighter jets and drones as they pummel jihadist strongholds in Syria.

This is the only kind of war that Americans can stomach right now, a high-altitude, low-risk barrage.

It gives us a sense that we’re doing something to hurt an enemy that’s truly evil, something much safer and saner than launching another ground invasion.

Yet, as a long-range strategy, the bombing campaign is like kicking an ant pile. The surviving Islamic State fighters will scatter, regroup and resume their mission.

These are bad guys, the worst of the worst. They torture. They rape. They massacre. And they behead their hostages and broadcast it proudly to the world.

So when you see aerial footage of a guided bomb smashing a building, you hope a hundred of those creeps were hiding inside when the walls came down.

You hope it wasn’t a block of apartments filled with families, or a school, or a medical clinic.

The air campaign against the Islamic State, isn’t cheap. A Tomahawk cruise missile costs more than $1 million, and Navy warships have been firing scads of them. Then there are the F-15s, F-18s, F-22s, tanker planes for midair refueling, Predator drones and Reaper drones.

As expensive as it is, the bombing blitz in Syria is supported by most Americans. They see it as an alternative, not a preamble, to sending combat troops.

Almost everyone in authority agrees that the Islamic State presents a threat to our homeland security. They also agree that ground forces will be necessary to rout and cripple the terror group.

If history is a guide, then the proposed training and arming of “moderate” Syrian rebels is probably a lost cause, the weapons destined to fall into the wrong hands. (Many of the Islamic State fighters are using American guns, traveling in American military vehicles surrendered by American-trained Iraqi soldiers, who cut and ran.)

Another option would be for Turkey to send troops to Syria. If you asked the American people, the response would be: Any soldiers but ours.

In a speech last week to the UN General Assembly, President Obama said that “the only language these terrorist groups understand is force.”

Force can take many forms, but bombs raining down from the heavens will definitely get one’s attention. What we don’t know yet is whether the air attacks will blunt or inflame the threat of the Islamic State.

It was encouraging that five Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, participated with the United States in the raids, the first time that a group of Sunni governments has agreed to strike out against Sunni extremists.

Americans are well aware of the stupefying complexity and volatility of the Mideast mess — the broken leadership of Iraq, the repugnant regime in Syria, the lurking specter of Iran.

Meanwhile we are despised by so many factions in so many places that it’s hard to keep up.

One of the targets of last week’s raids was a low-profile terror cell called the Khorasan Group, which sounds like a Wall Street hedge fund but is actually an offshoot of al Qaeda. (Remember them?)

Government officials say air strikes were aimed at Khorasan operatives because the group was planning a deadly attack against the West, possibly using sophisticated explosives on a commercial airliner.

At this point, you can’t blame Americans for reacting to that news with a grim shrug. It seems like every group of radical fanatics threatens to bring their bloody holy war here.

The scary thing is that some of them are competent, even clever. We’ve got to pay attention.

Our country remains hung over from the futile, costly war in Iraq. Most people wish we could get out of the Mideast completely. It seems like eons ago when al Qaeda was the only gang of maniacs we worried about.

Perhaps we can be forgiven, then, for taking some satisfaction from watching the massive air assault on the Islamic State in Syria.

There’s no such thing as a surgically flawless war, but we want to believe — need to believe — that every one of those bombs is landing on a bad guy.

Boom.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

AFP Photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel

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