Monday, November 3, 2008

Biddle and Friedman on Hezbollah's 2006 Campaign

Steven Biddle of CFR and Jeffrey Friedman of Harvard's Kennedy School put out this great study of Hezbollah's 2006 campaign through the Army's SSI. As noted in the report, a lot of folks have been looking at that campaign for lessons learned about the future of conflict. Non-state actors performing successfully in conflicts in an increasingly conventional (read maneuver and combined arms) manner.

The issue of the future of conflict is relevant to this sight in so far as here we presuppose that many of the threats to U.S. security (terrorism, pandemics, etc.) in the 21st century will emerge out of fragile and failed states, driving the argument for irregular warfare capabilities, and building partner state governance capacity through a variety of foreign assistance programs.

I'm not certain I'm sold by their argument that we should expect this to be a trend. The conventional elements of Hezbollah's tactics and operational art were driven by a logic in many ways unique to the fact their enemy's civilian population was within striking distance of their short and intermediate range rockets. Obviously Hezbollah also has an extraordinary number of characteristics in common with a state, and access to a patron's resources few other groups enjoy. Not at all clear than any other nonstate actors in places the US might contemplate invading would be driven by a similar strategic logic. Here's a good counter to my argument from the Taliban. Exception that proves the rule?

Another interesting research question might be gained by looking at it from the other direction- what state actors might pursue similar tactical and operational techniques in the face of a U.S. intervention?

Thought experiment:
Aside from the much discussed swarming tactics to choke of the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf, if the U.S. were to actually invade would Iran's military pursue fully conventional combined arms set of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs)? Or would they draw lessons from Hezbollah, striking at Israel to create incentives for a ceasefire (implausible w/ US). Perhaps with conventional rockets in order to avoid completely alienating international opinion. Separately they might conduct what Biddle calls the "modern" style of war, as exemplified by Hezbollah's 2006 campaign, intermediate between insurgency and combined arms, as a delaying tactic to maintain political control long enough for international and domestic political pressure to build up to force the US to accept a ceasefire. Again, the US hasn't historically accepted negotiated peace readily, so it's tough to imagine Iran reading the situation in such a way that these "intermediate" TTPs would be very attractive, but it's worth thinking about. I suppose if I were Iran I would have some difficulty imagining an attractive way of dealing with a US invasion.

This is of course in no way advocating an invasion of Iran. On this point I'm a libtard favoring negotiations with Iran "without preconditions" for all the reasons Obama and Kissinger have discussed.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really astute post. You are right, too many analysts have seized on the 2nd Lebanon War as evidence of a trend, when in fact Hizballah is an outlier as non-states go. As you rightly point out, there are many unusual circumstances that have coalesced to produce Hizballah. The likelihood of them coming together in the future for another non-state actor is slim.

    I think the Biddle/Friedman piece is the best thing written on that conflict, but I think they took the argument a bit too far when they suggested that the Hizballah model would readily transfer elsewhere. As though once non-states saw the value of good old-fashioned combined arms warfare they would just adopt it and bedevil us. The truth is, as Biddle and Friedman point out in their monograph, the skills required to do what Hizballah did are darn hard to acquire and just as hard to maintain, even for states.

    The real lesson in the 2nd Lebanon War is that Hizballah represents a worst-case-scenario non-state threat. We should study and understand the conditions that can lead to more of them, however unlikely. If we recognize those conditions early on we may be able to nip future Hizballahs in the bud. Certainly the IDF could have saved itself some trouble if it had done so in the 1980s.

    Finally, the Lebanon war reminds us that well-executed combined arms warfare is still the war fighting method of choice. We've grown in recent years to idealize Middle Eastern insurgents as having figured out some dastardly and unique form of warfare that is somehow superior to our own. But given ideal conditions and resources like those enjoyed by Hizballah, it chose to ape the Western way of war as best it could.