Famed blogger Steven den Beste asked me if I would mind posting a few of his thoughts. Not at all! And here they are.
During the recent war in southern Lebanon, one of the many complaints leveled at Israel was that its response was “disproportionate”. Care to hear the reason why the complainers wanted Israel to limit itself to “proportionate” responses?
Once upon a time war was pretty simple: a couple of mobs of armed men met on a field somewhere more or less by appointment, and after some yelling and singing to get their courage up, they swarmed towards each other, with each individual man doing his best to try to harm men from the other side without getting hurt himself. Later you started getting different units of men armed in different ways, who fought with different weapons, but it remained the case that when a particular unit got involved in combat, it was as an undisciplined mob.
Then the Greeks/Macedonians developed the pike, and for the first time you needed the men of a unit to move and fight as a team. That initiated the era of modern warfare which peaked with Napoleon, where maneuver was important and a great general could win against a more powerful enemy if he was smarter and craftier.
Pre-industrial warfare, as typified by Napoleon, pretty much came to an end during the 19th century, to be replaced by what I refer to as industrial warfare. The American Civil War was the first major industrial war, and what set it apart from previous wars was the overwhelming dominance of logistics in deciding the conflict. The South has the majority of the best generals, but the North still won because of its overwhelming logistical superiority. (Of course, it required Lincoln to understand that he had to fight a long war, and it took a general ruthless enough to sacrifice enough of his own men in order to win.)
By the early 20th century industrial warfare dominated war all over the world. It was only in the last part of the 20th century that a new form appeared: information-age war. But right now the US is the only real practictioner of this way of war, and in the rest of the world industrial war remains the norm.
Industrial war can be summed up this way: God fights on the side which has the biggest pile of ammunition and the fastest rate of replacement of expended ammunition. Like any general principle it’s not absolutely unconditionally true, but that’s the norm.
In response, two new strategic doctrines of war were developed to make it possible for small logistically-poor forces to contend against large logistically-rich forces without getting instantly crushed: guerrilla warfare and terrorist warfare. Both of them seek to nullify the logistical advantage of their richer opponents by maintaining initiative, so as to control the tempo of the war at a level low enough to not exhaust the logistics of the poorer side. For the rest of this discussion I’ll be concentrating on guerrillas.
Guerrillas hide among civilians, and only come out and form up when they choose to fight. The rest of the time they’re invisible, which makes it impossible for their rich opponent to find them.
It’s possible for guerrillas to win directly, but the doctrine doesn’t assume that to be the only way victory can be achieved. The idea is to try to fight a long slow war and to build strength. Guerrillas try to maintain a force-in-being, and concentrate heavily on propaganda. By so doing they try to wear out their opponent, try to rally supporters, and try to find patrons elsewhere to support the fight. When handled ideally all these begin slow but increase in effectiveness as time goes on. As their strength builds, they can make more attacks, and get more headlines. The other side’s war weariness grows. Patrons see the guerrillas winning and are more enthusiastic about providing more and better weapons and supplies to help them. Locals see them winning and are more likely to join or otherwise support them.
Anyone recognize Hezbollah in what I just wrote? That’s what they’ve been trying to do in Lebanon. They haven’t been trying for a single big set-piece battle to defeat Israel; instead they’ve been building their strength slowly over time. In fact, it’s not even clear that Hezbollah is trying to win against Israel; their primary goal at this time may be to try to dominate Lebanon. But for political reasons, making ostentatious attacks against Israel has served them well in propaganda terms, and as a result of their general successes over the course of a few years their strength and prestige has been growing, leading to more support (or at least tacit acceptance) in Lebanon, and more logistical support from Syria and Iran. When there was a bloodless revolt in Lebanon against Syrian domination, Hezbollah emerged as one of the major power brokers and had to be included in the ruling coalition there.
They’re slowing making the transition from hidden guerrilla forces mixed in with the civilian population to more organized and formal units, but hidden forced remained the majority of their force. Then they made the decision to grab a couple of Israeli soldiers.
IMHO Israel botched this war, but that’s not the question I wanted to address in this discussion. The question I began with was, why did so many people demand “proportionate” responses from Israel, and condemn Israel’s bombing campaign as being “disproportionate”?
It’s because Israel refused to play the game. Israel opened up an offensive which ran at a logistically unsustainable rate for Hezbollah, which Hezbollah could not avoid fighting. The code word “proportionate” really meant, “Israel, you have to limit yourself to fighting at a level that Hezbollah can sustain. Otherwise it’s just not fair!”
Of course that’s idiocy; war isn’t about fairness. But that’s what they were really saying. Hezbollah did make a major mistake in that attack, because they had developed to the point where they actually presented a target Israel could fight against at a tempo Israel could sustain but Hezbollah could not. Israel had the opportunity to crush Hezbollah, but Olmert lost his nerve.