Winning and losing

By lex, on August 25th, 2006

One of the things we taught at TOPGUN was the concept of winning and losing during basic fighter maneuvers. You might think, given the amount of time a good aerial brawl takes – no more than a matter of a couple of minutes, three at the most with evenly matched pilots and closely matched machines – that it would very quickly be obvious who the winner was: If you’re the “gunner” rather than the “gunee,” you’re winning. If, on the other hand, you’re straining hard to look over your shoulder to your six o’clock under ever-decreasing “g” as your airspeed bleeds off and the terrain swims up to meet you while wondering if your opponent has sufficient lead angle to complete the attack, well: You’re losing.

Or at least, that’s what people tell me.

They also tell me that seeing that sight picture means you were a little late to figure it out, though.

The truth of the matter is that “bugging out” of a losing fight gets harder and harder the losing-er you get. Trying to ease “g” and go for knots when your adversary is closing to guns only means that you’ll be extending (on a very predictable flight path) into a lethal missile envelope. So, if you’re on your way to what looks to be an inevitable thrashing, the earlier you figure it out, the better off your chances of living to fight another day are. This is called “redefining” the fight.

All that said, it’s often harder than you’d think to figure out whether you’re winning or losing, and egos being as they are, the bias is always to stick with it and hope for the best. It takes time – not much time, but seconds can feel like forever in a fight – to figure out where you are on the sliding scale between “hero’s welcome” and “it was a lovely service,” and it helps while doing so to be analytical.

You: But what’s all that got do with Israel’s war against Hezbollah?

Me: I was just getting to that.

Shortly after the conclusion of active hostilities, there was what we in fighter aviation would label a “race to the blackboard” among all the several interested parties to claim victory on the behalf of one or the other contestants. But just because the “gunee” gets to the chalk first, doesn’t necessarily mean he won the brawl, don’t matter how prettily drawn the arrows on the board are.

Part of this problem is definitional: Israel’s stated victory condition – to “destroy” Hezbollah – was never realistic, especially as contrasted to Hezbollah’s victory condition of having at least one wild-eyed, bearded and be-turbaned loony clutching an AK-47 somewhere, anywhere in the Levant. Under these circumstances, Israel couldn’t win and Hezbollah couldn’t lose, no matter what the outcome might have been.

That didn’t stop the partisans on either side from braying, although it is to me instructional that while Hezbollah was quick to claim that they had been strengthened by being reduced, Israel fell quickly into characteristically loud and open disputation on tactics and strategy, means and ends.

For my own part, I think it’s more useful to look at the most recent hostilities not as a “war,” sufficient and complete in itself, but rather as one more campaign in a long, drawn-out struggle between East and West, reaction and modernity. And through the lens of a few weeks time, we have in fact learned a few things:

That what the feckless UN bureaucracy really cares about is not peace so much as a continued, low and non-telegenic level of Jew killing. This is no particular revelation, and thus it is not expected that learning this will evoke any changes in institutional behavior.

That Israel’s powerful and professional armed forces are just as poorly suited to rooting well-armed suicides out of bunkered positions as would be any other army made up of rational actors, no matter how motivated or well-led. Lessons will be drawn from this on all sides.

That while it’s difficult to pick winners, it’s a lot easier to see who the big losers are likely to be: The Palestinian people – in whose name Hezbollah based its post-2000 legitimacy – are further than ever from self-determination in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Hamas, whose political wing has proven disastrously ineffective at governing, has now had their military wing highlighted as regional buffoons in comparison to the well-motivated and surprisingly well-equipped Hezbollah fighters.

That the long-standing US policy of peacefully containing Iran’s imperial and theocratic ambitions has failed and it is probably well past time for a strategic review.

That on the other hand, while Iran’s strategy of becoming the regional powerhouse has been advanced, other, inevitable forces of reaction in the region are now stirring and new alignments may well be possible.

Amir Taheri has an interesting and considered take in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Hezbollah had to declare victory for a simple reason: It had to pretend that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth it. A claim of victory was Hezbollah’s shield against criticism of a strategy that had led Lebanon into war without the knowledge of its government and people. Mr. Nasrallah alluded to this in television appearances, calling on those who criticized him for having triggered the war to shut up because “a great strategic victory” had been won.

The tactic worked for a day or two. However, it did not silence the critics, who have become louder in recent days.

But, claims of victory and demands to stifle discussion notwithstanding, the locals are making up their own minds about what has happened here, and what to do next:

Hezbollah’s position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool rather than as the vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening), as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran, Syria and Hate America International Inc. But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is–a Khomeinist Trojan horse–would be too long for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil and reveal what really happened in Lebanon.

Having lost more than 500 of its fighters, and with almost all of its medium-range missiles destroyed, Hezbollah may find it hard to sustain its claim of victory. “Hezbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States,” says Egyptian columnist Ali al-Ibrahim. “But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory.”

So: Time to redefine the fight?

Dunno – Lex just pawn in big game of life. But I do sense an opportunity because of the fundamental difference between hate and fear: While it may always be fashionable for many in the region to hate Israel, they know that so long as they don’t provoke their inconveniently successful Jewish neighbors, they in turn will be left in peace. On the other hand, what they fear is the messianic mullahcracy in Iran – with, it would seem, good reason.

Interesting times.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, GWOT, International Affairs, Lex

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