Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hoist With One's Own Petard

As the world waits for events to answer the question: will the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah escalate to a regional or even global conflict, it is useful to recall two things. First, Israel though legally "at war" with the nation-state of Lebanon is actually at war with a subnational group called Hezbollah. Recently, the US Supreme Court ruled that the War on Terror, at least with respect to al-Qaeda, "is not of an international character". In a world where subnational groups like Hezbollah have demonstrated possession of anti-ship missiles, UAVs, and ballistic rockets how valid is such a distinction any longer? The second thing to remember is that we are now seeing in Lebanon and in the Global War on Terror in general, a replay of the old argument between precision strikes and morale bombing. Israel the advocate of the precision strike, Hezbollah the advocate of morale bombing; recalling that for most of history it is the morale bombers who have won. It's worth pondering how technology changes the rules of war.

Roger Alford writing in Opinio Juris says: 

... historically, Common Article Three was intended to cover civil wars and internal armed conflicts, wars within the territory of a state, not international wars, and to provide a minimum - note minimum - level of humanity in how they were conducted. The characterization of the US invasion of Afghanistan, even somehow limited to the Al Qaeda part, as a war not of an international character is analytically questionable, even taking into account the fact that an important party in the conflict, Al Qaeda, is a non-state actor. ... Analytically questionable or not, the Hamdan decision has applied Common Article Three on the basis of a finding about the nature of the armed conflict. But that finding - that it is a war "not of an international character" - has other consequences that perhaps the Court considered, perhaps not. Certainly the press commentary does not seem to have considered it. Viz., if we are dealing with an armed conflict "not of an international character," then it is not an international armed conflict.

The irony is that the US invasion of Afghanistan to topple the governing Taliban is not an international conflict, while efforts by Israel -- not to topple the Lebanese government -- but to destroy a subnational group called Hezbollah is an international conflict suggests that our notions of warfare are seriously out of date. Very few countries in the world today possess sophisticated antiship missiles, military drones or ballistic rockets. Certainly Kofi Annan's Ghana does not. Yet nonstate Hezbollah does. And in a while, though it is pooh-poohed, nonstate entities like al-Qaeda, LET, or the Hezbollah itself could acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The other thing to note is that while Israel has been striking purely military targets in the sense that it is not aiming at civilians (though that has not spared it from international opprobrium), Hezbollah has been firing exclusively at civilians. Indeed, they can do nothing else because their weapons are presently so crude that they can only hit the vast sprawls of which modern urban life is made. The excellent Airpower by Stephen Budiansky, recalls how the US air forces in World War 2 eventually abandoned, in practice, their commitment to precision bombing until it became the very basis of stability we now look nostalgically back upon: Mutually Assured Destruction.

In 1938, a Gallup Poll had found 91% of Americans agreeing with the statement "all nations should agree not to bomb civilian cities in wartime." Three days after Pearl Harbor, 67% said they favored unqualified and indiscriminate bombing of enemy cities, with only 10% expressing unqualified opposition. ... In September 1942, Time called for destroying 31 German cities to shorten the war. An article in Harper's in January 1943 advocated burning the Japanese out of their homes with aerial attacks. In early 1944, three quarters of Americans surveyed expressed approval of bombing even historic buildings and religious shrines if military leaders believed such attacks were necessary. When the New York Times reported on its front page of March 11, 1944 that 28 noted clergymen, educators, and professional people had signed a protest against the American bombing of German civilians ... the story provoked a storm of letters that ran 50 to 1 against ... But the moral certainties became less absolute as the British firebombing raids intensified. Churchill began to question his own earlier enthusiasm for unrestricted city bombing. "Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?" he exclaimed, jumping up from his chair during a showing of a film of British bombing in July 1943.

At the first the USAAF looked with horror upon the British practice of leveling cities, ironically termed "morale bombing" since it was intended to destroy the enemy morale. The USAAF would never deliberately target cities.

In August 1944 Spaatz had written Arnold that he was being "subjected to some pressure" from the British Air Ministry to "join with them in morale bombing." He urged that the United States keep its hand clean, at least as far as its declared policy went: "I personally believe that any deviation from our present policy, even for an exceptional case, will be unfortunate." ... Eaker also counseled against joining in explicit targeting of cities, writing Spaatz on January 1, 1945: "We should never allow the history of this war to convict us of throwing the strategic bomber at the man in the street."

Targeting cities of course, was exactly what happened. Technological limitations and German defenses meant that in practice US bomber formations proved capable of hitting only area targets, whatever their intention. Muddled doctrine which believed in widely separated nodes of enemy strength within a city when this was still technologically possible meant that to all intents and purposes the city was bombed. Efforts to destroy Nazi submarine pens on the French coast produced no effect on the pens themselves; however the bombs "dehoused" workers in the communities behind them. It is often overlooked, but little appreciated, that guillotines also a permanent cure for pimples. By the end of the war virtue was made of necessity and 600,000 German  civiliians were killed by the Allied bombing campaign. It undeniably helped win the war and topple Hitler. Lost in this vast footprint of death was that the fact that the USAAF had accidentally succeeded in smashing the Nazi war effort by a simple change in targeting strategy, though this was realized only in retrospect. Concentrating attacks on oil refineries had surprisingly powerful effects; they so crippled the enemy war machine that by the Battle of the Bulge it was reduced to scrounging for fuel. But this was unappreciated at the time.

When Curtis LeMay replaced the precision-targeting oriented Haywood Hansell to direct the strategic bombing campaign against Japan, he knew from European experience just what to do. In one single night raid on Tokyo, LeMay's B-29s burned out nearly 16 square miles of the Japanese capital and killed 100,000 civilians, as many as died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. This, from a nation in which 91% disapproved, seven years before, of bombing cities in wartime. As a school in brutality, war in unsurpassed. The outlook of the Good War is captured by a rarely cited meeting between J. Robert Oppenheimer and Harry Truman.

Truman was the man who had unflinchingly ordered the use of the Bomb against the Japanese and who had been appalled when Robert Oppenheimer later came to his office in a state of mawkish anguish, declaring that as a scientist he had blood on his hands. "The blood is on my hands," Truman snapped back. "Let me worry abut that." He told his aides he never wanted to see that "cry-baby" again. Now the President replaced the toy cannot on his desk with a toy plow, ordered the Presidential Seal redesigned with the eagle's head facing the olive branch of peace and away from the arrows of war, and turned his attention, like everyone else, resolutely homeward.

The devil though paid always cheats. And within short order the toy plow on Truman's desk was replaced by a map of Korea. But years later, technology changed the rules again. By the early 1970s reliable and accurate laser guided bombs became available. It was not until Desert Storm in 1990 that the public became widely aware that the USAF, once the world's premier leveler of cities, had now become capable of putting a 2,000 lb bomb through a hangar door. Then, as Budiansky notes, the devil cheated again. The advent of precision munitions created the public expectation that in future American wars, all targeting would be perfect. The press would be there to film every errant missile, bomb or shell. Ironically, the very existence of precision weapons implied to the Press, that all observed hits on nonmilitary targets were therefore deliberate. War Crimes. The possibility of error, even in an era of precision weapons, was not accepted. Ironically, the moral justification shifted from the precision bomber to the area bomber. Terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, lacking sophisticated weapons, were now forgiven, even romanticized by the press for firing on civilian targets. 'What other weapon do poor men have?', they rhetorically asked, as if organizations funded by petro-dollars were somehow indigent, and men, having nothing to eat somehow found the spare change to buy billions in antiship missiles, drones, explosives and rockets. Nongovernment entitites with powers exceeding nations now attack women and children and we sing them sweetly on.


Blogger wretchardthecat said...

This is a blogger issue. I think Habu should just create a Habu_3 account or something to indicate it's him.

7/16/2006 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

It would seem to me that because Hezbollah has acquired a monopoly on the use of military violence in and from Lebanon, then, it is the de facto government.

Should Lebanese citizens lay aside their hatred of Israel and take to the streets in mass, asking for release from the grip of Hezbollah’s tyranny, then, Israel should cease and desist, anticipating immediate international intervention.

As to the Court, it has a long history of making embarrassingly inept, immoral, and/or irrational decisions. Of course, had the Administration acted against the captured terrorists with urgency, there would have been no case.

7/16/2006 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Oengus said...

The Perspicacious Wretchard: "Terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, lacking sophisticated weapons, were now forgiven, even romanticized by the press for firing on civilian targets"

Wretchard, your analysis is precisely on target. It is another example why The Belmont Club is a outstanding example of blogging at its best.

My only question is: when will Dubya recognize what the "press" has finally devolved into, and when will he see what it now truely is?

It is a treacherous and dangerous Fifth Column.

7/16/2006 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Deuce ☂ said...


Assuming the formation of as many as one thousand non-precision bombers was the only practical technology of the time. The decison was made that it was appropriate and just. Do you imply that advances in new technology foreclose past technology and their use? Is war technology driven or do the change in values advance new technology?

7/16/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Again, even here, the idea that the US Federal Government is not in an International War goes almost unnoticed.

Talk of technology reigns supreme.
Bomb targeting devices rather than the bombs targets.

There is no Global War on Terro, the Supremes have so ordered.
That is the reality.
Ought to be a Law, and there is.

A Republican Congress could do it's job.

7/16/2006 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Simple enough. Either non-state actors sign onto the Geneva Conventions or they are not covered under it. In the United States, the Senate has authority over treaties (not SCOTUS!).

For practical purposes, if Hezbollah wants to be covered under the Geneva Conventions, all it needs to do is publicly declare that it will be bound by the Geneva Conventions.

I think the real question that has western pedants tied all up in knots is how to fight people who are flatly contemptuous of the Geneva Conventions.

It is not as though Islamic law doesn't have a corpus of laws in how to conduct war. It does. To quote Bernard Lewis's The Political Language of Islam, "In the law books, elaborate rules are laid down governing the initiation, the conduct, and the termination of hostilities, and dealing with specific questions as the treatment of prisoners and conquered populations, the punishment of spies, the disposal of enemy assets, and the acquisition and distribution of booty. While the regulations show a clear concern for moral values and standards, if it difficult to accomodate them in a moral and spiritual interpretation of jihad as such." Put another way, the question is whether even the Islamic laws of war apply to this war.

One problem for us is that, traditionally, the Islamic rules of war only apply to Muslims, with the effect that non-Muslims aren't accorded the mercy Muslims come to expect from one another (and from us). However, the Ottoman Empire did sign various diplomatic protocols concerning the laws of war, so it would seem that any faction claiming to be a successor faction let alone a successor state to the old Caliphate would need to consider whether it would honor the historical precedent of the Ottoman Empire (or for that matter, the Mughal Empire....).

This gets back to the "sacred double standard" of this war. Western states are supposed to be held to a higher standard because they have the "white man's burden". In effect, liberal activists have turned into the nastiest racists imaginable, as they are encouraging non-whites to act as savages to save "white honor". On the other hand, our enemy also embraces the "sacred double standard" for his own reasons. Islamists rather like the idea that they can get away with murder while "kaffirs" cannot. And they are very happy to use our society's defeatist racism as a weapon against us.

Steve Biko once said in reference to South African apartheid, "Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked." Well, Islamists and their allies on the far left are doing exactly the same thing to us.

7/16/2006 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

> My only question is: when will Dubya
> recognize what the "press" has
> finally devolved into, and when will
> he see what it now truely is?
> It is a treacherous and dangerous
>Fifth Column.

It's nothing more than a Fifth Squad now. The people who vote get their news from the web. The people who don't vote see their news as entertainment. The incredible shrinking MSM is having one last hurrah to rekindle the nostalgia of the Vietnam War days, and then they'll go off into their sunset golden years and done.

7/16/2006 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

If Noam Chomsky is warm with praise (to the point of shaking Mr. Nasrallah's hand in a photo op) for the man commanding the direct targeting of Israeli civilians, what does that make Noam Chomsky -- a war criminal himself for inciting genocide...?

7/16/2006 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

Humans have an emotional, moral intelligence -- really an instinct -- that is in many ways resistant to rational analysis. The way a person feels at any given time can drastically affect their responses to moral dilemma, allowing moral judgments to become unmoored from rational introspection. I think the majority in Hamdan started from the first (moral judgment) and turned to the second (rationality) for support. That is why the decision seems so tortured.

It is, however, a fact that safety leads to moralism (and in many times to the fetishized moralism we see today), while danger leads to amoralism. And we live in a dangerous world.

The supreme virtue is survival. Nobody forgets it for long.

7/16/2006 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

That makes Chomsky what he's aleady been for too long a time - a bleeding heart liberal idiot. Not to be confused with other liberals who are merely bleeding hearts.

7/16/2006 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

aristides; 4:32 PM

I enjoy a good study as well as the next guy. Sometimes, however, I prefer to surrender to the feeling of the moment, as with Hamdan, and just apply the Forrest Gump approach to jurisprudential interpretation: "Stupid is as stupid does."

Please, do not be offended, the link was well worth the read.

7/16/2006 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

The prime imperative for any war is to win. If we can win by precision strikes we should. If we need to use morale bombing to win, then we must use them. This is the point behind the third conjecture, no?

As you point out W, in a conflict between a modern army and a jihadi army the expectation is that one side will fight with precision strikes and the other side will use the morale strikes because that it all they are capable of. There is certainly an expectation of almost supernatural abilities with the US and Israeli armies, such that when they do kill civilians they are accused of deliberately targeting them. The constant harping on and exaggerating of the civilian casualties in Iraq is a clear example.

The total lack of any mention in the press that HBs missile attacks are almost solely aimed at civilians, and therefore breach International Law and constitute war crimes is remarkable.

I noticed that Nasralla claimed that his missile attacks were only aimed at military targets. Hearing that one can only wonder at the jihadi mind.

7/16/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


If the Islamo's ever set off a Nuke in an "American" City we will no longer have to worry about these particular debates.

To broach the subject will be to invite glassy-eyed, uncomprehending looks of puzzlement.

I flatly disagree. That is precisely when the "human rights" chorus will be the most insistent on maintaining a moral double standard. The leftist media (and possibly some allies in the mainstream media) would go into overdrive to push ram defeatism down our throats, and claim that Islamists nuking our cities would be our fault, not the Islamists. They will claim it's more "blowback" all over again, while our intelligence agencies will put out scores of books detailing why it was some other government bureaucracy that failed and not their own.

If we were nuked, I think the Left would be more interested in playing out the Shattered Union scenario than doing anything to defeat the terrorists because they really do believe that the real terrorists are in our government and not the Islamists. So long as our enemies give even the flimsiest of pretexts, these guys will believe Islamist lies hook line and sinker. I think that leftists have become so hysterically anti-Bush that they can't even begin to see the world clearly and not even the nuclear destruction of our cities will change their minds. If anything, such an attack will embolden them.

Facts really don't matter to people who have already made up their minds.

7/16/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

There may be a misconception at play here. Why is it assumed that if Hezbollah possessed precision weaponry it would use it in the manner specified, deviating from its modus operandi?

Our use of such weaponry is rational and based upon a number of factors going to efficiency, economy, and safety of personnel. Hezbollah is not so motivated.

7/16/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger buck smith said...

I guess the real value of modern precision weapons is decapitaton strikes, as in the bombs that killed Zarqawi. I am sure Israel has agents in lebanon trying to track Nasrallah.

If hezbollah had precision weapons that could target Israeli leaders, that would probably be how they would use them.

7/16/2006 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

The Mongols and the US Cavalry used civilian strikes along with targeted military action.

We don't see targeted military action here. The Islamists do not have offensive capability.

But nukes and missiles would change that.

But then we have a proportionate response.

I'd like to know what occurred in January this year that altered French perceptions. That seems to have been shared with the leaders of the ME.

7/16/2006 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Grey said...

I think Lebanon should surrender.

Let Israel clean up Hezbollah

7/16/2006 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Not worthless, whit, the Law.

Like it or not.

Of course the Congress could Declare War in a public fashion.
They could define the conflict, as is their duty, but they demur.

Instead they leave War, as with most important contemporary issues, to the Robes.
It is the Peoples choice to not have the Congress make decisions, incumbent retention is over 95%.
And most here cheer!
Learn to love it, or leave it.

7/16/2006 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

> I think that leftists
> have become so hysterically
> anti-Bush that they can't
> even begin to see the world
> clearly and not even the
> nuclear destruction of
> our cities will change
> their minds. If anything,
> such an attack will embolden
> them.

Yeah. Well. It's kind of hard to be emboldened when you've got every NASCAR dad out there looking for your ass with a pitchfork in hand. Not every American has a sublimated death wish.

7/16/2006 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

> They think negotiation
> is the answer. As if
> we hadn't tried that
> route for the last thirt
> years.

They must have the self-respect of a bacterium. The only negotiations that should be going on is plea bargaining.

7/16/2006 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger ZHID said...

There are three things that should be clear from the current events in the middle east.

First, there are far too many on the Arab side that only seek the destruction of Israel, so until the underlying hate is eliminated, there can be no peace.

Second, the idea that military responses to terror must be proportional is idiotic. That is where asymetrical warfare gets its strength, so proportionately is really just fertilizer for future terror.

Third, and most important, there is no such thing as land for peace. What we are seeing today is the effect of land for peace. Israel gave up land (or withdraw from land it was using as a buffer) and the only thing that resulted was the rockets and missiles can strike deeper into Israel and the terrorists can easily sneak across borders to launch attacks. I hope that what is happening now shows that land for peace is one of the worst policies to ever be attempted.

More on this topic at

7/16/2006 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger Greg D said...

It undeniably helped win the war and topple Hitler

Zwergele is right, and you are wrong. Indescriminate bombing in Germany led to an increase in military production, because military targets were rebuilt, and civilian targets weren't, so the bombing campaign helped the Germans direct more of their productive capacity to military production.

What screwed up the Blitz was when the Germans switched from attacking British military infrastructure, to attacking the civilians. Jerry Pournelle has long claimed that post WWII studies showed that the heavy bombing raids slowed down our victory, and we would have done much better to have put that effort into close air support planes (which are much more "precision" attackers).

Yes, we firebombed Japanese cities in WWII. Killed a lot of people. I don't knwo of anyone who claims that we got significant military good out of doing that. The unlimited sub warfare was much more useful.

7/16/2006 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

greg d; 11:02 PM

If the destruction of Japan’s cities had the effect of demoralization, why Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima?

I'm with you. Galbraith's study of the effect of the "strategic bombing" campaign of Germany showed increased war production into 1945. Unfortunately for the Germans, the materiel could not be moved because of the success of Allied tactical air power.

7/17/2006 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Let none doubt any further...

There is cosmic significance in the intellectual barter that goes forward in this comment stream.

If we have learned anything from the Habu-exclusion phenomenon, it will be what the Possumtater Committee Taught us.

7/17/2006 06:49:00 AM  
Blogger Major Mike said...

It is stunning to me that Israel ends up on the wrong side of EU, UN, and public opinion.

It seems that the "enlightened" expectatations are that Israelis are destined to lose three or four civilians a day, at the whim of random and wonton murderers, and that the "poor, dis-infranchised (recently legitimized in both cases), humble, peace-loving" murderers are somehow entitled to the most dicrimainate effort that the Israelis can muster. Horse hockey.

They chose to go to war with Israel. In the process they chose to jeopardize the lives of the civilians they represent (totally for Hamas, and partially for Hezbollah), and therefore, they and their citizenry, are entitled to only what the Israelis decide to deliver upon them.

If their governments are truly representative of the people via election, then the people of those countries MUST get the government to respond...if they can't muster the gumption to face their own governments...governments who are out of control by international standards, then they are entitled to all the bombs the Israel decides to deliver to them.

Sorry, but in the absence of popular discontent with both the Hamas and the Hezbollah incursions, Israel is correct to assume that the people of these countries concur with the policies of their governments, and that they are also culpable.

Spare me the soap on oppression and brutality...they have a choice...change the behavior of their governments, or bear the wrath of those impacted by their barbarism.

Simple solution...return the Israeli kidnap victims and it ends. The H & H commitment to holding the Mideast at war over three hostages, highlights their commitment to war and barbarism. They deserve all they get...with out remorse or regret.

I think Israel has taken enough "collateral damage" over the years via suicide bombers, terror attacks, and border incursions, to more than justify any civilian casualties that the Arabs sustain during this conflict.

Frankly, I am surprised they have shown any restraint.

7/17/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


One of Budiansky's themes is which of the themes of precision bombing or the dream of breaking morale proved justified through the history of airpower. Until 1990, and certainly until the Kosovo air campaign, there simply was no such thing as precision bombing. Everyone resorted to morale bombing.

Those who argue that strategic bombing therefore made no difference, I think, make too large a claim. If you kill 600,000 Europeans you kill 600,000 Europeans. Historical strategic bombing, which because of technological limits was morale bombing, made a difference. But a very ugly one.

After the War, air power theorists created the greatest morale bombing plan of all time. Mutually Assured Destruction. The plan until the 1980s was simply to hold enemy cities hostage, as ours were held hostage. How effective that was in actually preventing a nuclear exchange is for historians to conclude. But it probably had some effect.

Today it is terrorists that hold our populations hostage. But because we now have the tehnological means and because our morality compels us, we no longer hold the enemy's population hostage. The war on terror is one in which the enemy engages in morale attacks and we engage in counterforce attacks.

How do these strategies compare? Madrid, Mumbai, London and 9/11 are all examples of their morale attacks. Hitting Zarqawi or capturing Saddam are more our style. Israel's targeting of Sheik Yassin is more in the same vein. Who is the war criminal. If you believe the newspapers, we are. Does morale bombing work? Sometimes. It didn't work so well in America, but it worked wonders in Madrid and may work well in other European capitals.

7/17/2006 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger The Gipper Lives said...

Justice/Executive/Legislator Stevens claims this is not an international conflict?

So invading Afghanistan after Saudis & Egyptians fly planes into a Manhattan building is a municipal zoning dispute?

7/18/2006 09:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good one, had some connection to mine, so it's in, thanks!

absurd thought -
God of the Universe hates
firecracker journalists...

demonize minorities
who don't tow liberal line

1/08/2007 03:39:00 PM  

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