26 July 2006

Israel-Lebanon: Mission Accomplished?

These are images lifted from The New York Times this morning. They accompany a story - "Israel Finding a Difficult Foe in Hezbollah" by Steven Erlanger & Thom Shanker - that basically concedes that the Israaeli ccampaign against Hezbollah has accomplished very, very little in military terms. Here is what I think is the important paragraph:

"Hezbollah is still launching 100 rockets a day at Israel, nearly as many as it did at the start of the war. Soldiers return from forays into Lebanon saying the network of bunkers and tunnels is more sophisticated than expected. And Iranian-made long-range missiles apparently capable of hitting Tel Aviv remain in the Hezbollah arsenal."

The first image (© Kevork Djanseziaan/AP) shows: "The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, announced the first shipment of humanitarian assistance to Lebanon."

And here is the second image (© Adam Haji/Reuters) taken at roughly the same time and captioned as follows: "Beirut was rocked by at least four powerful explosions that reverberated throughout the city, and huge plumes of smoke, dust and debris billowed over the capital’s southern suburbs."

So it is hardly credible to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" here either. But the announcement of humanitarian aid is a cruel joke when the bombs are still falling on Beirut. What the Ambassador should hope to announce is that the US has done something tangible to stop the conflagration. Fat chance. Here is why - as The Times correspondents explain:

"At the Pentagon, senior military planners cast the conflict as a localized example of America’s broader campaign against global terrorism and said any faltering by Israel could harm the American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed, if that is an appropriate thing to say, this post. I think your assesment is accurate. It is more troubling too that these inconsistencies occured on the same day the press reported that Bush was sending more toops to Iraq to "put down" sectarian violence. What are the odds of that succeeding? I wonder if there are any historical examples of "terrorism" or "sectarian violence" being defeated, and long term peace being establised, by the use of force?

26 July, 2006 20:55  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

The answers to your closing quesitons are all the same - the odds are slender!

26 July, 2006 21:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I wonder if there are any historical examples of "terrorism" or "sectarian violence" being defeated, and long term peace being establised, by the use of force?"

Yes. The British defeated the insurgents of Malaya. And US special ops quite easily defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan; albiet small skirmishes persist.

Centralized armed forces have never technically "lost" any war against terrorist entities, they abandon them. The civilian leadership, and political culture, from which the centralized armed forces emerge, do not have the resolve for a long war with high casualties, nor are they in favor of employing tactics outside of international law, which may be necessary to yield results in a war with an elusive enemy. Plainly put, a democratic political culture, with a low tolerance for casualties, and which wages war with a slow, large bureaucratic military, is no match for compact, decentralized, guerrilla fighters, that easily adapt to new conditions, fight using any cruel methods, are elusive, and emerge from cultures which have an incredibly high tolerance for causlties. Moreover, the guerrillas generally win the hearts and minds of the people while the invading army is seen as an occupier-intelligence is rendered impotent.

I believe the Bush people have understood the asymetrical nature of the wars they are fighting, and have correctly concluded what needs to be done. But, again, the democratic political culture will not allow the US to fight these wars properly, as has been recommended by military experts. What concerns me with this war is that if we lose our resolve to finish it, as we have lost our resolve in the past, it will result in a serious national security threat: Walking away from South Vietnam posed no domestic threat, but allowing the shiite crescent to be, is a disaster.

27 July, 2006 01:02  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon: A couple of "quibbles."

(1) I don't know about the British case you cite but the Taliban seem to be back.

(2) "Never technially 'lost' ...." that is simply word games. Vietnam for the US and Afganistan for the USSR and the French in Algeria (and Vietnam) all are clear examples of conflists that the 'irregular' side "won" - which I dfine basically as driving your adversary out of the contested territory.

(3) It is disingenuous to say BushCo have the right plan when they are being criticized more by their own military - quitely by those still in the service, vigorously and openly by many retired officers. Much of the difficulty is that the administraiton is driven by neo-conservative iideology rather thaan a firm grasp of military strategy.

And, before you say I am simply part of the troublesome democcratic culture (which is not such a terrible entity, by the way) I think invading Afganistan was a defensible thing to do even if I think the Iraq adventure is wholly ill advised. The democratic political culture is neither paifist nor isolaitonsnist. DOmestic constituencies simply are less likely to support (usuaully) poorly formulated policies once they actually know the truth.

27 July, 2006 08:13  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: Anon - I forgot to mention a couple of things but recalled them while I was making coffee.

(1) The USSR in Afghanistan suggests that a "democratic political culture" is hardly a necessary condition for a powerful country to have its butt kicked by insurgents.

(2) A "democratic politicaal culture" in my mind simply means civilian control of the military where the relevant covilians are accountable (however tenuously) to an electorate. Do you find that problematic?

27 July, 2006 08:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for replying. Let me offer a few points that might clarify my position.

First, let me explain my distinction between "losing" a war against insurgents, and abandoning a war against insurgents. Let's begin with noting the fact that wars against insurgents are fought by centralized armed forces on foreign soil, and consequently, do not present a national security threat to state of the occupying force. Moreover, military adventures against insurgency groups are either 1) optional. e.g.,US-Vietnam, USSR-Afghanistan or 2) a by-product of a post-conflict, military occupation of the losing state. e.g., US-Iraq, Israel-Lebanon or 3) secessionist driven. e.g., Abu Sayyef-Philippines, Chechnen rebels-Russia.

Because of the asymetrical nature of these conflicts, insurgents rely on the "1000 pin pricks approach" (my own term) as developed by Mao Tse Tung in the seminal work "On Guerrilla Warefare." His techniques were adopted by the combatants of the FLN, the Cuban Marxists, IRA, and other "resistance-movements" across the globe.

The designation of "1000 pin pricks" is fairly self-explanatory but I'll elborate a bit. The theory starts with the basic premise that guerrilla movement cannot win the war against the armed forces. Therefore, they must find other means to rid themselves of the occyping forces: I break down their advantages into the following factors:

1) The inherent weakness of democratic political cultures.

2) The momentum insurgency movements gain when heavy collateral damage is inflicted on their populations. (some military scholars will argue insurgents sacrifice civilians as a policy.)

3) The willingness of the insurgency movements to bear heavy casualties, and the unwillingness of the occupying forces to bear even minimal casuaslties.

4) The elusive nature of guerrilla fighters:

a.no uniforms
b.urban or jungle warefare
c.the ability to blend in with the sympathetic civilian population.

5) The swift adaptability to the volatile nature of war.

There are other factors but I see these as their main advantages, and historically, these factors have led to the "defeat" of centralized armies.

The idea underlying all these factors is that the war guerrillas "win" is not against the armed forces, and the damage they inflict is nugatory to the state. They pose no existential threat, to the state, whatsoever, but a severe existential threat is posed unto them.

The war they win is against the culture of the occupying army. Democratic cultures, led by elected officials, are not willing to pay the price of war unless the threat is immediate, the cost is minimal, and the occupation period is short.

The Algerian war was not "lost" because the french experienced a military defeat, nor did the Americans experience a military defeat in Vietnam. What these nations experienced was the rejection of their policies by their own populations, which made it untenable to continue to pursue the military campaign. Elected officials, prisoners of public opinion, and their constituencies, were forced to abandon the war in order to save their own position. But, in reality, if the public support was there, and the "moral restrictions" were lifted, to equalize the playing field, no guerrilla movement stands a chance.

The USSR, while not a dejure democratic culture, has a similar psychological makeup. That is, the Russian people refused to extend the military campaign, and suffer the heavy losses, for an optional war, and so, they abandoned it-I fear we are headed down the same road in Iraq.

28 July, 2006 09:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(2) A "democratic politicaal culture" in my mind simply means civilian control of the military where the relevant covilians are accountable (however tenuously) to an electorate. Do you find that problematic?"

I interpret it along similar lines, but I also add the weakness of such cultures to wage war with resolve. Democratic political cultures cower at the first sign of bloodshed, and moreover, DPC's are unwilling to use a measure of force that is beyond international "law" norms. This is a huge advantage to the insurgents.

28 July, 2006 09:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another point I'd like to add regarding this current Israel/Hizbollah "crisis," is that Hizbollah is playing their political cards flawlessly, while Israel is doing a terrible job.

Hizbollah's strategy, which is working so well, was to provoke a conflict with Israel and suck them in. Obviously, Israel needs to respond: but how to fight this elusive force without paying the PR price of heavy collateral damage? Impossible.

In turn, the "Arab street" and many westerners included, see Israel's response as a "disproportanate use of force" and immediately sympathize with the Hizbollah guerrillas. Now Isreal faces a dillema: do we stick it out, and finish the job or do we bend to popular world opinion, as short-sighted as it may be?

No matter which way the wind blows, Hizbollah already generated the kind of momentum, international sympathy, and legitimacy that they desired. Once again, the terrorists are applauded as heros in the international arena.

28 July, 2006 12:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a very interesting and unexpected comment from a UN official:

UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland says the tactic of hiding behind civilians amounts to cowardice.

"My message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending ... I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men," Egeland says.


Sounds about right!

28 July, 2006 15:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know your post is a week old, but I'd like to answer this, especially since you refer to Thom Shanker's article. I wrote him this letter:

"Why do people insist that Hezbollah's military capability has not been degraded since they can still fire a consistent number of rockets each day? If the Israeli military says they've destroyed 50% of the 12,000 rockets, that leaves 6,000 left. They can fire rockets for 60 days at the current rate of 100 rockets fired per day. We're only on day 20. So, why persist with this premature conclusion about Hezbollah's military capability?"

His response was, "I am not on the ground there, and so base my story on the best insights from military and diplomatic officers, both here and there."

Well, that makes me wonder. I mean, if I can do the math, why can't those officers do the same? Or did he really talk to them? Sometimes I think it just makes great news to jump to conclusions like these. After all, I responded to him...

02 August, 2006 19:35  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I appreciate the comment. Thanks!

Well, a couple of things. First, if we assume that the Israelis are making an accurate assessment and reporting it truthfully and that they have destroyed half of Hezbollah's rockets, our calculations regarding how long the current rate of attack can continue depends on when the rockets actually were destroyed, right. That makes it difficult to say how long H can continue its current rate of shelling. (The news today seems to indicate that they are using longer range missles from their arsenal.) I am not on the ground there either, so it is hard to tell. But lets say there are still another 40 days left .... that is a hell of a long time. And the Israelis are then in trouble in the court of world opnion if for instance we assume (plausibly) that there will be further instances of "collateral" deaths among civilians. I guess my view is that they have not achieved as rapid a victory as they might have hoped and planned for. The mess is now that they are engaged in a land war and there is scant relief in sight.

03 August, 2006 00:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I guess my view is that they have not achieved as rapid a victory as they might have hoped and planned for. The mess is now that they are engaged in a land war and there is scant relief in sight."

I think you're wrong. Israeli intelligence is the best in the world. They knew what they were getting into, and frankly, this is not a big deal for Israel. There is no serious existential threat to the Israeli state. As Simon Peres has said "We won a war in 1948 against 7 armies, and we barely had weapons. Hizbollah doesn't keep me up at night."

I think the real danger in this war is to the Americans. If this creates a serious sunni/shia rift in the Middle East, it plunge Iraq into a full blow civil war. The last thing you Americans need!

04 August, 2006 20:53  

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