Monday, August 14, 2006

Absolving The President

There's a fifth theory that plausibly explains why the US promoted the ceasefire - it diagnosed the Israeli leadership as incompetent and bought Israelis time to replace it.

I normally avoid Monday morning quarterbacking, but Israel's political/military failure in this conflict is so enormous I'm making an exception.

The failures start with Olmert and his cabinet, but include the leadership of the IDF, which foolishly obeyed their orders. As Nelson showed at Copenhagen, winning battles sometimes involves ignoring orders from poorly informed superiors. Ariel Sharon provided an excellent Israeli example:

At the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, Sharon was called back to duty and assigned to command a reserve armored division. His forces did not engage the Egyptian Army immediately but it was Sharon who helped locate a breach between the Egyptian forces, which he then exploited by capturing a bridgehead on October 16 and throwing a bridge across the Suez Canal the following day. He violated his orders from the head of Southern Command by exploiting this success to cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army, located to the south of the canal crossing, isolating it from other Egyptian units.
In this Lebanon war, the IDF was reactive and failed to focus on idestroying its real enemy - Syria. While Hizbollah rained Syrian rockets on Northern Israel, the IDF focused on the immediate threat by attacking the rocket launchers while leaving the puppet masters in Damascus untouched.

But the purpose of war is to destroy your enemies, not to interdict their weapons. And the Katyushas were an irritation that could be lived with for a while - by evacuation or living in shelters (as Londoners showed under
much heavier bombardment in WW2).

This was the logic used by Wellington at the
Battle of Waterloo, when he ordered the Brit artillery to ignore the French artillery and concentrate on their infantry (he had the Brit squares lie down when not under immediate threat). This won the battle - the French infantry was annihilated by grapeshot and the Brit squares.

For Israel, Syria is the equivalent of the French infantry, since it provides Hizbollah with Command & Control, weapons, and logistics. So the sensible course was an attack on Syria - with it gone, Hizbollah would soon been easy to clean out.

As mentioned
yesterday, this flanking approach is an IDF specialty. It's also a US specialty - see the Gulf War and Iraqi Freedom.

So I imagine an increasingly exasperated President, backed by his generals, trying to persuade Olmert to grasp the nettle.

After 4 weeks of messing about, he gave up on Olmert and his cabinet and decided to stop throwing good money after bad. He may have embargoed some arms supplies, since they'd have been wasted on nickel and dime raids. And he promoted the UN resolution as the least bad solution to buy the Israeli people time to get themselves decent leadership.

None of this is a criticism of the IDF soldiers, who fought like lions and fell like stones. But you have to have special political and miltary leadership in wartime and Olmert and his team and the IDF generals didn't make the cut.

This theory seems to me wholly credible, so I remain a supporter of the President’s foreign policy.