Monday, August 07, 2006

Middle East: 3

Today is Monday, 7 August 2006.

It has become glaringly obvious that the current Israeli government, like the governments of so many nations before it, has been suckered by its own Air Force. Before the current war in Lebanon began, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force had advised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that bombing would be sufficient, along with a smattering of infantry, to drive Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

Hermann Goering once told Hitler that, if the Luftwaffe failed in an assigned task, “You can call me Muller”. Before long, the German public was derisively referring to Goering as … “Muller”.

The British and American air forces in World War II assured their respective political leaders that strategic bombing would single-handedly bring Germany to its knees. (Strategic bombing attacks the economic underpinnings of a war machine (factories, transport nets, etc.), as opposed to tactical bombing, which is direct battlefield support.)

The findings of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after World War II: strategic bombing often caused the Germans to become more efficient in protecting their physical plant, and often led to increases in productivity.

The failure of American strategic bombing to pound the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”) into submission is well known.

During the American conquest of Afghanistan, a three-part strategy was adopted: massive American smart-bombing, sparing use of American ground forces, and wide-spread employment of Afghan mujahadeen mercenaries. The continued resistance by the Taliban indicates how effective this approach was.

In the years after World War One, such theorists of airpower such as General Billy Mitchell of the United States and General Giulio Douhet of Italy made extravagant claims for the virtues of strategic bombing, both as a means of destroying economies and an instrument for terrorizing civilian populations. (They also claimed airpower made ground troops the icing, not the cake.) Their ideas did not begin to be put to the test until World War II.

While the sight of dozens of German and Japanese cities bombed into smoking rubble was photogenic and dramatic, strategic bombing, as noted above, did not decide the war.

Prior to World War One, French military doctrine held that “the artillery conquers, the infantry occupies”. (One can guess which branch of the army coined that slogan!) But this was never true: even after the opposing artillery batteries had mown down swathes of the enemy, the infantry still had to decide the day. And what good would it do to destroy the enemy armed forces, and not take over the land?

This is also the great strategic error made in Iraq. (The great grand strategic error was attempting to conquer Iraq at all.) Von Rumsfeld and minions believed in a relatively meager infantry force (an early draft of the war-plan was for 10,000 soldiers!); the heavy lifting would be done by the flying artillery --- B-52s, Stealth bombers, etc. (Wolfowitz couldn’t grasp why one would need more troops to occupy a country than to defeat its military.) The result: with insufficient infantry to occupy all of Iraq and to seal the borders, you get multiple insurgencies partially supported by supplies from Iran and Syria.

A more correct maxim would be: Even if the artillery and airpower can conquer, the infantry must still occupy.

The head of the Israeli military believed the latest war in Lebanon would be short and sweet: airpower would flatten the physical infrastructure of Hezbollah, and a small number of infantry would sweep up the dazed survivors. Partly this was an intelligence failure: they just didn’t realize that Hezbollah had dug in as deeply as it had. But it was also, and probably more so, the result of hubris: our first-rate technology can defeat any tenth-rate rag-tag guerilla force.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, indeed.


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