January 30, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig

"Ambitious goals were chosen for the war, after which Israel was left with only two main alternatives - the first was a short, severe strike [on Hezbollah], the second was to fundamentally alter the reality in southern Lebanon through a wide-scale ground operation." -- Eliyahu Winograd, 2008

"But is it true that the real shock was military rather than political? To put it in terms of our argument, was the disaster due to the effect of policy on war, or was the policy itself at fault?" -- Carl von Clausewitz, c. 1819

A few days ago, Abu Muqawama re-read Book VIII of Clausewitz's On War -- a section folks sometimes miss. If you have the wretched Penguin Classics version or have otherwise missed Book VIII, read the second half of Chapter 6: War Is an Instrument of Policy. You can find a translation here, but you really should fork out the money for the Howard/Paret edition.

Reading Clausewitz turned out to be good preparation for thinking about the release of the final Winograd Report into Israel's failings following the kidnapping of two soldiers on 12 July 2006 along the Lebanese border. In the past year and a half, Israelis, Lebanese, and everyone else have tried to draw out military lessons from the 2006 War. As well they should -- the IDF and its leadership made countless errors from which any Western army can learn.

But to what degree was the IDF put into an impossible position? To what degree was it impossible, from the moment Ehud Olmert and Israel's strategic leadership outlined unrealistic objectives, for the IDF to emerge from the 2006 conflict with Hizbollah anything but the loser?

Abu Muqawama is not sure that if you gave the entire U.S. Marine Corps the task to "destroy Hizbollah" they could do it. How can you destroy a popular movement rooted in 1.4-million Shia Lebanese, civilians and militants alike? (You can co-opt or undermine it, sure, but that takes time and cannot be done through force alone.) Destroying Hizbollah, however, was exactly the task given to the IDF in 2006 -- along with the "easier" missions of ending all rocket attacks on northern Israel (no problem!) and recovering the two kidnapped soldiers.

The IDF -- and Hizbollah -- made countless tactical errors during the 2006 War. But the real errors were made by the strategic leadership. Nasrallah bet that Israel would respond to the kidnapping in a measured fashion (wrong!) and the Israeli strategic leadership gave the IDF an impossible mission in the days that followed.

"If the policy is right -- that is, successful -- any intentional effect it has on the conduct of the war can only be to the good," the Prussian writes. "If it has the opposite effect the policy is wrong."

One does not need Eliyahu Winograd to tell us the obvious: Poor strategic decision-making on both sides of the Blue Line in July 2006 led to the suffering of the peoples of Lebanon and Israel -- and the embarrassment of the IDF.

(The full text of Winograd's press conference is here.)