Thursday, August 03, 2006

The best choice from a list of bad ones

Babble on.

Much as the slanted coverage raises my blood pressure, I find CBC Radio's newscasts superior to anything else I receive on my anemic AM/FM car radio. So I listen, and occasionally talk back to the voices on the radio that can't actually hear me, and even more occasionally yell back at them.

A couple of mornings ago I yelled.

Dr. Michael Byers was on the line, dutifully deploring the Israeli destruction of Lebanese civil infrastructure. There was no excuse, in his mind, for bombing the Beirut Airport, for taking out Lebanese ports, or for cratering roads across the country.

Had I been the show's host, the question I would have asked - was positively burning to ask - was this: Which military airfield does Hezbollah use for international travel? Which naval base flies the flag of Hezbollah proudly? Which military roads do they use for resupply? Show me their dedicated military logistics and support infrastructure, please, so that I may join with you, Dr. Byers, in condemning the Israeli choice to bomb exclusively civilian apparatus.

This kind of simplistic thinking - from an academic, no less! - drives me batty.

Fighting paramilitary irregulars, or guerillas, or insurgents, or terrorists on their own turf is more than tricky: it's damned near impossible given the constraints faced by a Western military.

The easiest and most effective way to eliminate the the threat to Israel's northern border would be to level Lebanon. Total warfare. Kill everything that moves, take every structure and implement of modern life and destroy it, bomb everything in sight until the rubble bounces, and then salt the earth like the Romans did in Carthage so that Hezbollah can't creep back in when Israel leaves.

For Israel to engage in a Holocaust of its own would be unthinkable, however.

Another option would be for Israel to turn the other cheek, to stop fighting back against those who would destroy them. An acceptance that they live among mortal enemies, and that they cannot defeat those enemies without giving up their own humanity, would satisfy the extreme pacifist crowd, but would also seal Israel's defeat. And when mortal enemies defeat you, that's it: you're dead.

For obvious reasons, this course of action is also unthinkable to Israelis.

The answer, then, lies somewhere between these two extremes. Israel must defend itself and defeat its enemies without engaging in total warfare. What level of compromise between war and civilization this should entail is the subject of deep and passionate debate. But that painful debate should at least be informed by the trade-offs necessary to such a compromise.

Although written in terms of the U.S. military's struggle within Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the information in Military Doctrine, Guerrilla Warfare and Counter-Insurgency is relevant to today's Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

This points to the essential problem of guerrilla war. At its lowest level -- before it evolves into a stage where it has complex logistical requirements supplied from secure areas in and out of the country -- guerrilla war is political rather than military in nature. The paradox of guerrilla war is that it is easier to defeat militarily once the guerrilla force has matured into a more advanced, and therefore more vulnerable, entity. However, by the time it has evolved, the likelihood is that the political situation has deteriorated sufficiently that even heavy attrition will be overcome through massive recruitment within the disaffected population.

A decisive military solution to guerilla warfare requires elements that the Israelis don't enjoy - near-perfect intelligence, the support of moderate elements within the general population, and an ability to cripple regeneration of the guerilla force going forward.

The obvious solution, then, is to achieve a political resolution before a guerilla movement gains any momentum. In the case of Israel and Lebanon, that's like saying the obvious solution is to close the barn door before the horses get out. Yes, yes, but what the hell should we do now that they're already gone, is the equally obvious rejoinder. From Hezbollah's perspective, the only acceptable final political solution to the conflict is the annihilation of Israel, and the establishment of an Iranian-style theocracy in Lebanon. At least the PLO eventually came to the conclusion that a two-state solution was the only way forward - Nasrallah and his sponsors in Damascus and Tehran have yet to experience that epiphany.

With a political solution out of reach, and a decisive military victory equally improbable, what was Israel to do? Especially since disengagement from south Lebanon was regarded by Hezbollah as a strategic pause, and opportunity to rearm, regroup, and retrench, and since Hezbollah's main ideological and material backer is actively pursuing nuclear weapons?

Well, what Israel has chosen to do is deal with its short-term security issues, while deferring the long-term ones.

Knowing it has a limited window of opportunity, and an equally limited surgical counter-insurgency capability, Israel is using as blunt a military instrument as its national conscience can stomach to degrade Hezbollah's paramilitary capabilities to an acceptable level, in the full understanding that this will cause political problems for it in the future, as formerly moderate Lebanese find in this war personal justification to support Hezbollah. If all this campaign does is buy Israel another six years to let other trends in the region develop, it will be counted as a success.

That's the short answer to why the IDF is currently bombing roads and airports and docks and homes: they don't have a better option. If an amateur like me can do it rudimentary justice in a web-post, one would think that CBC Radio could do a bit better.

Babble off.


At 6:06 p.m., Blogger Tim said...

Nightingale couldn't set up a blogger account, Damian, so she put a response to this post up over at Pogge. You might want to drop by and have a look.

At 6:21 p.m., Blogger lance said...

"If an amateur like me can do it rudimentary justice in a web-post, one would think that CBC Radio could do a bit better."

Umm, no, actually I don't think that.


At 1:05 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

It appears now that Israel has made a very dangerous decision and to what end I have no idea:

At 3:24 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said... what end I have no idea...

Isn't it clear from the article? The IDF believes the roads it severed were being used by Syria to resupply Hezbollah.

Boiled down to simplest terms, if you cut off the other guy's supply lines while yours remain open, eventually he runs out of stuff to fight with, while you don't. You then win (at least the battle, if not the bigger war in this case).

Whether the IDF can execute it well enough to succeed remains to be seen, but it's clear to me that that's what they're trying to do.

At 3:31 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Yes, I appreciate the supply line thing and that is certainly one of the clearest exaples of why infrastructure would be hit. But I was more referring to the Christian suburbs as to the "why" - yet even if the road was the target, why hit the bit of the road with the veggiemen? It is all I suspect a lesson in the limited transfer of the best US air missile technology - we have gotten used to the missiles that apparently hover until only the guilty are chosen. Also, I fear it is a display of less careful ROE that may have a geopolitical purpose. That fear may be groundless or naive on my behalf(see - I am now showing the psychological underpinnings of my incessent questioning).

At 3:46 p.m., Blogger Nightingale said...

Although I can now comment here :)
I posted one more response for you at Pogge before I knew of my newfound abilities.

At 4:07 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Also, I fear it is a display of less careful ROE that may have a geopolitical purpose.

I suspect that the tighter the enemy is to your borders, the looser the ROE become. Or at least the looser enforcement of the ROE becomes. You could well be right, Alan - the Israelis are walking a very thin moral line here, and although I know they will cross it from time to time, I worry that they might lose track of it altogether.

That would result in a bigger tragedy than anything we've seen to date.


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