Concrete Bombs: Symbol of a Policy Made of Sand

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Used to be that U.S. policy toward Saddam Hussein was described as "grinding him down with sandpaper"; now Uncle Sam is using an emery board. The New York Times reported Thursday that instead of explosives, the laser-guided bombs dropped on Iraqi air defense sites in the no-fly zone have recently been filled with concrete to avoid causing civilian casualties. While military spokesmen insist a lump of concrete from on high can still take out an anti-aircraft weapon, the unusual ordnance suggests the bombing is more symbolic than tactical. "This shows what a goofy thing we’ve got going on there — the use of military force for something less than victory," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "And that’s always dangerous. We’re delivering a slap rather than a punch, in keeping with this dubious military mission."

The announcement comes at a time of mounting diplomatic pressure on Washington to review its Iraq policy. "France is pushing hard for the reopening of negotiations with Baghdad," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "They point out that the U.S. policy is going nowhere, and that although Iraq is no danger right now, it will become a danger in the future if we don’t restore some form of monitoring for signs of weapons of mass destruction." (U.N. monitoring ended last December when the U.S. and Britain took a decision to bomb Iraq for non-compliance.) And it threatens to degenerate into a farce when the world’s most sophisticated air force uses state-of-the-art laser technology to throw stones.