By Ralph Peters
September 6, 2006
Under the right battlefield conditions, sophisticated military technologies give Western powers remarkable advantages. Under the wrong conditions and employed with unreasonable expectations, high-tech weapons inflict more damage on our own political leaders and national purpose than they do on the enemy.
Precision-targeting systems and other superweapons are dangerously seductive to civilian leaders looking for military wins on the cheap. Exaggerated promises about capabilities - made by contractors, lobbyists and bedazzled generals - delude presidents and prime ministers into believing that war can be swift and immaculate, with minimal friendly or even enemy casualties.
It's a lethal myth. The siren song oftechno-wars fought at standoff range makes military solutions more attractive to political leaders than would be the case were they warned about war's costs at the outset. Inevitably, the "easy" wars don't work out as planned. Requiring boots on the ground after all, they prove exorbitant in blood, treasure, time and moral capital.A lesson in Israel's name
In recent weeks, Israel lost a campaign for the first time after a government and its senior generals convinced themselves that a new form of terrorist army - Hezbollah - could be destroyed with airpower alone. The Israelis had become so confident in their technological advantage that they neglected the readiness of their ground forces. Technology failed to accomplish the mission - as it always will in the Cain-and-Abel conflicts of our time. The army had to go in on the ground. But Israel's army, too, relied heavily on technology. Most units lacked the range of infantry skills necessary to defeat a well-prepared enemy - as I saw for myself on the Lebanese border.
Israel had ignored the lessons of America's recent military experiences. In the prelude to the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior advisers deluded themselves that an air effort employing precision weapons - "shock and awe" - would convince the Iraqi regime to surrender. Ignoring the enemy's psychology, the techno-war zealots failed. We were more fortunate than the Israelis were, though. The United States had a professional Army and Marine Corps capable of redeeming the mistakes of the Pentagon leadership. But in violence-torn Iraq today, we continue to pay for the prewar fantasy that technology would solve human problems.
A paradox of this era of dazzling technologies is that the conflicts we face are born of ethnic bigotry and faith gone haywire - atavistic challenges that cannot be resolved with guided bombs or satellite imagery.
Employed incisively, technologies certainly help our troops, but they aren't a substitute for troops. And they won't be. Yet, the false promises will continue.
We've been through this before. In the 1950s, large ground forces were supposed to be obsolete, superseded by missiles. Then came Vietnam, followed by a succession of brutally human conflicts, from Lebanon through Somalia to the Balkans. For the 78 days of the Kosovo campaign, NATO aircraft attempted to force Serbia - a weak, miniature state - to agree to treaty terms. In the end, it took the threat of ground troops to achieve the international community's goals. After the firing stopped, we found that our expensive, sophisticated technologies had been fooled by cheap Serb mock-ups of military vehicles.
Why are defense contractors and partisan generals nonetheless able to convince Congress and one presidential administration after another that technology has all the answers? Because Congress and the White House want to believe machines will get them off the hook when it comes to sending our forces into battle. And there are huge practical incentives to buy big-ticket weapons systems from politically supportive defense contractors.
The defense industry silences military leaders who know better by employing them on generous terms after their retirement from service. The system is legal, but it's morally corrupt and ethically repulsive.
Meanwhile, the impressive-in-theory capabilities of the latest weapons cloud the vision of military planners, leading them to focus on what the systems can do instead of concentrating on what needs to be done. Rather than buying the weapons we really need, we twist the conflicts we face to conform to the weapons we want to buy. The results are flawed war plans based on unrealistic expectations - in short, Iraq.Adapting to real-world missions
None of this means that we shouldn't pursue advanced military technologies. But they must be relevant to real-world missions. We should continue to develop unmanned aerial vehicles, which are effective, versatile and affordable, as well as a new generation of tools for urban warfare, now the dominant form of combat.
Yet we continue to buy breathtakingly expensive systems designed to fight a Soviet Union that no longer exists, such as the $360-million-each F-22 fighter. We're buying Ferraris when we need pickups.
We have to break the habit. We must stop pretending that technology will be decisive in the flesh-and-blood conflicts our troops will continue to face.
There will be no "bloodless wars" in our lifetimes. In the words of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a brilliant Civil War soldier and wicked man, "War means fighting, and fighting means killing." In an age of fanaticism and terror, confronted by enemies who see death as a promotion, we will not be able to find easy, sterile solutions to our security problems.
The promises made for advanced military technologies are all too seductive to political leaders with no experience in uniform. Hype kills. Until we abandon the myth of immaculate wars, our conflicts will continue to prove far more costly than the technology advocates promise.Ralph Peters is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors and the author of the new book Never Quit The Fight.
Memo to Doomsayers:
Israel Won, Get Over It
The Jewish Press
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
The Arab leader stood on the rubble and declared victory. He'd won, praise Allah, he'd won! The infidels had shocked and awed with their finest weapons. But not only had he survived, his missiles – his glorious missiles – were hitting the Zionist entity right up to the last moment. Could anyone question that he'd won?
The leader was Saddam Hussein. The year was 1991.
The missiles in those days were SCUDs, not Katyushas. The point, of course, is that once the bar is not so much lowered as dropped into a bomb crater anything becomes a victory. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah recently declared just such a "victory." Perhaps one day he too will stand on the rubble firing a gun into the air. In the meantime, he won't step out in public because he's afraid for his life.
Did Hizbullah really win?
Let's start from the beginning. When Nasrallah attacked Israel on July 12, he did so on the basis of two fundamental assumptions. First, Israel would never launch a full scale reprisal out of fear of Hizbullah's missiles; and second, even if it did, the United States and the international community would force Jerusalem to back down after just a few days of fighting.
Wrong and wrong again. For years, Nasrallah mocked Israeli society as a "spider's web," intricate, elaborate, but weak and easily swept away. Now it was Nasrallah's turn to be swept away. The Israeli public united in a way unseen since 1973. In summer heat, people sat in bomb shelters, sweltering but defiant. At last – a war even Peace Now could support.
As for Hizbullah's much vaunted missiles, they too were swept away. As reported by Ben Caspit in Maariv, on the first night of the war Hizbullah rolled out 54 heavy missile launchers. The Israeli Air Force wiped out every one in exactly 39 minutes. It was an astonishing feat that shocked Hizbullah and its Iranian backers and drew comparisons to the opening hours of the '67 war.
Yes, the smaller Katyushas were still intact. But the heavy missiles that could cause hundreds of casualties (and reach Tel Aviv) were gone. These were the weapons that Nasrallah counted on to deter Israel.
But the real shock came days later. In the opening hours of the war, the oft-repeated question on everyone's mind was "how much time does Israel have?" How long would the United States let Israel fight before imposing a cease-fire? In 1996 during the Grapes of Wrath operation, that period proved exceedingly short. Surely, Nasrallah reasoned, the international community would ride to the rescue once again.
Maybe it's because of who sits in the White House. Or maybe it's because the Sunni Arab World is concerned with the rise of Shiite terrorism. Whatever the reason, the pendulum of world opinion swung in Israel's favor in ways no one could have imagined.
Washington made it clear that it wouldn't intervene. For the first time since 1947, the United Nations supported Israel. And for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia supported Israel. We've all heard the old Arab saying about "me and my cousin against my neighbor." This time Isaac and Ishmael united against Nasrallah. Nothing like this happened before.
Freed from what columnist Charles Krauthammer called its "Orellian moral universe," Israel struck back with unprecedented ferocity. More bombs were dropped on Lebanon, a nation about the size of Connecticut, than were dropped in 1973 on Egypt and Syria combined. And almost all of the fire was directed at the Shiite sections of the country.
Think of it as Fairfield County and Hartford absorbing 165,000 artillery shells, 2,500 naval shells and 7,000 strikes from the air. Almost a quarter of Lebanon's population became refugees, over 20,000 homes were destroyed, and a generation of economic progress was obliterated in less than a month.
Before Nasrallah's foolish attack, even ten percent of those figures would've caused the roof of world opinion to collapse on Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the darling of the West, the symbol of Lebanon's fledgling democracy, pleaded for a cease-fire. His cries fell on deaf ears.
Hizbullah was in an impossible position. It couldn't come out and fight without facing annihilation. But hiding behind civilians wasn't working either. The thing about human shields is that the strategy only makes sense if it spurs the international community to step in and impose a cease-fire. If it doesn't, the whole thing backfires because not only do you lose your army, you lose your civilian infrastructure as well.
Nasrallah, the boy wonder of terrorism, appeared on television glassy-eyed and pale. The wonder was gone. The only thing left was the boy.
And what of the Katyushas? They were shown to be little more than a psychological weapon. Of the 3,790 rockets fired into Israel, over three quarters landed harmlessly in open fields. Nine hundred and one landed in communities, but they only claimed the lives of 39 civilians – barely one a day.
Put another way, Hizbullah had to fire 100 rockets to kill one Israeli. And this is when you begin to understand just how ineffective the Katyushas were. Those firing the rockets were struck by the Israeli Air Force almost the moment they launched a shot. In other words, Hizbullah lost much of its army killing as many Israelis as die in two suicide bombings.
The economic damage caused by the rockets wasn't much greater. The Finance Ministry put the entire figure at about $900 million – less than one percent of Israel's GNP. To put that in perspective, the Yom Kippur War cost 100 percent of Israel's GNP, or an entire year of economic production. In World War II, Britain lost 25 percent of its entire net worth.
The cost of the war to the IDF – ammunition, lost equipment, etc. – adds another $2.3 billion to the total bill. How much is that in Israel's big picture? Barely a dent.
During the war, Hewlett-Packard bought an Israeli company for $4.5 billion, while Warren Buffett bought Iscar for $4 billion earlier in the year. Take the tax revenue from those two sales, plus the revenue from the sale of a government-owned refinery in Ashdod, and you've practically paid for the whole conflict (incidentally, the refinery was also sold during the war; investors know a bargain when they see one).
True, the war caused a slowdown in Israel's economy. But only to the extent that growth this year is expected to be four percent instead of five. To paraphrase Tevya the Milkman, this should only be Israel's biggest problem.
Certainly Lebanon would trade places. I'll leave it to the Treasury Department to determine whether Hizbullah is handing out counterfeit U.S. currency, as some bloggers have claimed. Even if all those hundreds are real, the only way this ends is with ordinary Lebanese holding the bag.
No one knows for sure what Nasrallah's War cost. What we do know is that Iran simply doesn't have the dollars to pay for it. The math is actually simple. Lebanon's damage has been conservatively estimated at $10 billion. Iran earns about $60 billion a year from oil, and that's at $70 a barrel without sanctions for its nuclear program (another column for another day).
Of course, the mullahs could give up a sixth of their income, but you don't get the 72 virgins by committing political suicide. That kind of suicide you live to regret.
So why all the long faces in Israel? Certainly, tactical mistakes were made, as they are in all wars. Some forces got ahead of supply lines and had to make do with little food and water. An oft-repeated criticism is that troops shouldn't have been sent into Bint Jbail. And there was confusion in the closing hours of the war when forces were ordered to attack, then ordered to halt, then ordered once again to attack (perhaps needlessly).
Nevertheless, the kill ratio among combatants was about seven to one in favor of Israel – only slightly lower than that of the Yom Kippur War. Nasrallah himself said in a recent interview that had he known what would happen, he never would have kidnapped the two soldiers. In most countries, such an outcome would earn a general a medal and a fat book deal.
And yet, in Israel's ferociously self-critical culture, there is a gnawing sense that something went wrong. The country bet heavily on air power, and air power alone couldn't make the bad guys stop shooting the Katyushas. Not since 1948 have Israeli citizens been forced into bomb shelters for so long.
There's a strong measure of hindsight in all this. Everyone knows that air power alone can't win a war, except that in 1999 NATO air power alone defeated the Serbs. And don't believe the idea floating around that Israel fought as it did because the chief of staff is a career pilot. As reported by Ronen Bregman of Yediot Aharonot, the air strategy was decided upon three years ago by a national security committee headed by former justice minister Dan Meridor. The findings were supported by then-Chief of Staff (and career paratrooper) Moshe Ya'alon.
What happened was not mistakes, but choices. And what really needs to take place is a fundamental debate about those choices. The question is very simply this: are the lives of civilians more important than the lives of soldiers? Put bluntly, do you take more military casualties in order to take fewer civilian casualties?
Israel could have sent a massive land force into Lebanon and flushed out every last Katyusha from every last basement. But that would have cost the lives of 500 Israeli soldiers. The Katyushas only claimed a fraction of those lives. Do you opt for the strategy that claims the fewest lives? Or do you send in the soldiers because that's their job, because civilians come first and because it's intolerable to have people sitting in bomb shelters for weeks on end?
I don't envy the person who has to make that decision. That's why I believe the people who make the hard choices are entitled to every benefit of the doubt.
Everyone in Israel is clamoring for a commission of inquiry. If past experience is any guide, I can write the report now. It will read "Everyone should have known what was going to happen, so everyone has to resign." Sacking a general, or a politician, is a drastic result that should only be taken under the most extreme conditions. These people have dedicated their lives – and in many cases shed their blood – for the State of Israel. They shouldn't be ruined because we all wish the war had turned out better.
This is all the more true when an analysis of the facts leads to the conclusion that the right decision was made. Suppose Israel had gone into Lebanon on the first day and pushed the terrorists all the way to Tehran. Would the situation be better today? Yes – but not by much.
Hizbullah would, with time, have reconstituted itself. What was needed was a Lebanese solution and an international solution. Some new force to step in, take responsibility for security south of the Litani River, and put Hizbullah out of business once and for all.
With certain caveats, this was accomplished from the air. No, Israel didn't get the two kidnapped soldiers back. But that aside, the glass is almost full. Under the cease-fire agreement, Hizbullah is no longer sitting on the fence where it can kidnap soldiers or fire into Israel. An international force is policing the border etween Lebanon and Syria with the mission of preventing weapons from reaching Hizbullah (and further loosening Damascus's grip on the country).
Of course it remains to be seen how effective this force will be. But even if it fails completely, it will set the stage for a considerably harsher Israeli response down the road. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist traditionally hostile to Israel, remarked recently that if Hizbullah fighters don't disarm "they will find themselves not only in conflict with Israel they will find themselves in conflict with the entire world."
Beirut will have none of this. Flatten my country once, shame on you; flatten it twice, shame on me. The Lebanese army has finally taken responsibility for security in the south. No, they aren't actively disarming Hizbullah. But the compromise taking shape allows Hizbullah to hold its weapons only if it doesn't use them.
Should Nasrallah choose to attack Israel, he will spark a civil war. The Lebanese defense minister has said as much. So has Walid Jumblatt, the head of Lebanon's Druze community.
Imagine Hizbullah, backed by Iran and Syria, lined up against Sunnis, Druze and probably Christians backed by Israel and the U.S. In geostrategic terms, that's three-of-a-kind against a full house.
Israel killed eleven Hizbullah terrorists in the first two weeks following the cease-fire. Hizbullah did not respond. Before the war, eleven dead fighters would have brought rockets raining down on Israel. Hizbullah needs the cease-fire. Don't expect the border to heat up anytime soon. The rules have changed.
And this, more than anything else, is why the war will be remembered as a watershed event. The world is finally identifying with Israel. People are beginning to understand that it's Arab violence that causes occupation, not the other way around. This is the first war in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in which the UN actually played a positive role. When even France supports Israel, something has clearly happened.
Some day, Nasrallah might choose to ignore the UN. But then, Saddam Hussein chose to ignore UN resolutions after his "victory." We all know what happened after that.
Uri Kaufman is a real estate developer, freelance writer, and member of the Lawrence, N.Y. School Board.