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Regression

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Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that the planned inquiry into Israel’s defeat in Lebanon would be indefinitely delayed. His hope, obviously, is also to delay his own departure from office, since the findings of any half-honest probe are not likely to redound to his glory. The fact that his likely eventual successor, "Bibi" Netanyahu, is Israel’s most outspoken conservative will not save Olmert’s seat after the fiasco he ordered and led. Israel seems to be unavoidably heading down the road from bad to worse, as far as its political leadership goes.

When the inquiry finally does move forward, what is it likely to conclude? Undoubtedly, it will point out failings in logistics, planning, and the training of reservists. Possibly, it will note the unwisdom of choosing an aviator as chief-of-staff, unless he is one of the few who understands the limits of air power. One of the many signs that heavier-than-air flight was spawned in Hell is the number of military disasters traceable to faith in air power (the Zeppelin, in contrast, was obviously a Divine inspiration, intended to offer safe and serene travel at speeds suitable to the human condition). At the very outside, a thorough Israeli critique may conclude that fighting Fourth Generation enemies is different from fighting states.

It is, however, a virtual certainty that the Israeli inquiry will not address the most interesting question of all: how did the world’s premier post-World War II Third Generation military regress to the Second Generation?

When I was in Israel several years ago, I said to my host, a retired Israeli general with several interesting books to his credit, that I thought the IDF had begun to regress to the Second Generation after the 1973 war. He told me I was wrong; the regression had begun after the war in 1967.

The question of how it happened, and why maintaining the culture of a Third Generation military is so difficult even for armed services that have attained it — the Royal Navy lost it after the Napoleonic Wars, for reasons brilliantly set forth in Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game, and the German Army lost it when the Bundeswehr was created, for political reasons — is of interest far beyond Israel. A number of Israelis have traced it in their case to the development of a large weapons R&D and procurement establishment, and I think there is a lot to that argument.

The virtues required in military officers involved in weapons development and procurement are the virtues of the bureaucrat: careful, even obsessive attention to process; avoiding risky decisions, and whenever possible making decisions by committee; avoiding responsibility; careerism, because success is measured by career progression; and generally shining up the handle on the big front door. Time is not very important, while dotting every i and crossing every t is vital, since at some point the auditors will be coming, and the politicians and the press will be waiting eagerly for their reports. Remunerative careers in defense industry await those officers who know how to go along to get along. While the Israeli defense industry has produced some remarkably good products, such as the Merkava tank, getting the program funded still tends to be more important than making sure the weapon will work in combat. As time goes on, efficiency tends to become more important than effectiveness; not surprisingly, the simpler and more effective Israeli weapon systems came earlier, and more recent ones tend to reflect the American tendency toward complex and expensive ineffectiveness.

The Israeli inquiry into the Lebanon fiasco is unlikely to address this issue for the same reason it is not addressed in the United States: too much money is at stake. The R&D and procurement tail now wags the combat arms dog. Nor is the question of how to reverse the process and restore the virtues a Third Generation military requires in its officers an easy one. Those virtues — eagerness to make decisions and take responsibility, boldness, broad-mindedness and a spirit of intellectual inquiry, contempt for careerism and careerists — are not wanted in Second Generation militaries, and officers who demonstrate them are usually weeded out early. A Third Generation culture is difficult to maintain, and even more — impossible perhaps? — to restore once lost.

Yet, as I have said many times in these columns, a Second Generation military, no matter how lavishly resourced, has no chance against Fourth Generation opponents. In this conundrum lies the fate of the state of Israel, and the fate of states everywhere.

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