Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Conceptual Collapse"

There's an interesting read in last week's Defense News (subscription required), a Gannett publication that covers international military and weaponry issues. Like its sister publications (Air Force Times, et al.), Defense News has somewhat liberal editorial slant; the 30 October edition had op-eds describing the "Tattered Bush Doctrine," and "Rumsfeld's Pentagon Mismanagement." Both are similar in tone (and content) to the more recent "Rummy Must Go" editorial that appeared in the military Times papers on Monday --just hours before the midterm elections.

But if you skip the editorial page, you can find some worthwhile material in Defense News, notably Barbara Opall-Rome's report from Tel Aviv in the 30 October edition. Ms. Opall-Rome has a summary of an Israeli think tank study, assessing the performance of the IDF during the recent conflict in Lebanon. The study (which was released on 23 October) was conducted by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, and was authored by Major General Giora Romm, a retired Israeli Air Force (IAF) officer.

It would be an understatement to describe the report as a scathing indictment of Israeli political and military ledership during the war. While the study focuses on the IDF's military strategty and its execution, there are more than a few veiled barbs directed at Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, and IDF Chief, Lt Gen Dan Halutz.

According to the report, Israel suffered from "conceptual collapse" during the conflict with Hizballah, hobbled by a failure to keep pace with the enemy's evolving strategy, which pivoted on the persistent and continued launching for short-range rockets into the Israeli homeland.

Additionally, the study faults Israel's so-called "leveraging strategy," that guided the IDF's air centric military campaign. The approach was adopted after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, and was based on the notion that miitary force could create conditions for diplomatic victory.

In his assessment, General Romm notes that Israeli leadership grossly underestimated the Hizballah rocket threat, and its potential impact on the conflict:

"One of the amazing phenomena of this war was the very low important that the political and military echelon gave to Katyusha deployments...it was only toward the last week of the war that both the IDF and the government truly understood that this Katyusha story would determine the whole issue of who won the war."

General Romm also found flawed assumptions in Israel's "leveraging strategy," which viewed enemy targets as a series of levers, when pressured effectively, create conditions for achieving strategic results.

"But despite some 14,000 combat air sorties and 180,000 artillery rounds, neither the government of Lebanon nor Hizaballah were sufficiently pressured to halt the Katyusha deployments. Romm also noted that the IAF ran out of high value targets in the first 48 hours of the conflict, while the ground war was essentially conducted on Hizballah's terms.

Among the other findings in the Romm report:

--Israeli Leaders Failed to Fully Define and Clearly Articulate Strategic Objectives. As a result, goals for the operation continually changed; what was intially described as a cross-border, counter-terror operation quickly evolved into a full-scale war. However, military objectives remained muddled, thanks in part poor to articulation of war aims by political leaders. In an early briefing for members of the diplomatic corps in Israel, a senior IDF officer described his nation's goal as "achieving limited strategic victory," leaving the audience wondering exactly what that meant.

--Perception that Time "Was Not a Factor." According to General Romm, "there was a general feeling that time was not a factor, since Israel for the most part, enjoyed widespread support from the United States, the international community, and a good part of the Arab world. But this was a curse for the military, since a basic tenet of war is that missions are constrained by time. (Indeed, as the war dragged on, there were clear perceptions that Israel was not achieving its goals, and conversely, that Hizballah was defeating the vaunted IDF).

--Lack of an Exit Strategy. Romm notes that the Israeli government never outlined a clear strategy for ending the conflict. And, when that subject was broached, it was often defined in terms of maximum achievements, rather than optimum, obtainable goals.

Perhaps the most succinct assessment of Israel's conceptual collapse came from an active duty IDF general, who observes:

"We all blundered when it came to defining and communicating the goals of this war...what does it mean 'to punish,' or 'extract a price?' Warfighters need to speak in terms of destroying, conquering and killing. If you screw up at the beginning with the words you use, how can you expect to be decisive in battle?"

The lessons from the Israeli study are clear. The question is: have IDF leaders--and Israeli politicians--learned from their mistakes, to avoid a repeat in future conflicts. Some analysts believe the countdown is already underway for a renewed conflict between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon. Cleary, Israel cannot afford a second war where its strategic aims are murky, and its operational strategy is equally confused.


I began working on this post on Tuesday afternoon--before the results of the mid-term elections were known. In hindsight, it's clear that the White House and the GOP suffered their own form of "conceptual collapse" in the run-up to yesterday's vote. Somewhere along the line, President Bush's stated goals about winning the war on terror, cutting taxes and reducing the size of government became muddled; over the past three years, Mr. Bush has squandered precious time and political capital on programs/issues that did little to advance his overall obejctives, and failed to energize and expand the conservative majority. Lest we forget, he signed the bill to put up a border fence only after a rebellion by House Republicans; his steller choice of Sam Alito for the Supreme Court came only after the failed Harriet Miers nomination. Instead of getting behind the revolutionary Fair Tax, he appointed another "blue ribbon" commission that recommended continuation of our current, confiscatory tax system. See a pattern here?

Put another way, the legions of Republican and conservative voters who turned out on Tuesday did so in spite of Mr. Bush's lack of fiscal restraint, his massive expansion of entitlement programs, and his support for an illegal alien "guest worker" program. Without those voters who went to the polls and held their noses in pulling the GOP lever, the Democratic victory might have reached historic proportions.

In other words, President Bush and the GOP lost (in part) because they strayed from positions on the social, economic, and immigration issues that helped carry them to victory in 2000 and 2004. And sadly, they appear to be on the verge of doing the same thing in Iraq. More than a few Republican insiders expect Mr. Bush to follow the expected recommendations of the Baker Commission, and adopt some sort of early exit strategy from Iraq--which will be hailed as another Democratic victory, despite its disastrous, long-term consequences for the Middle East and our own national security.

Both on the battlefield and in politics, the failure to (a) articulate a coherent strategy, (b) develop corresponding objectives, and (c) execute your game plan--all in a timely manner--has devastating consequences. And, unfortunately for the GOP, the window for recovering from this year's political collapse isn't much longer than the IDF's timeline for absorbing (and correcting) its mistakes in Lebanon.

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