A Problem of Intelligence
Frank Kaufmann «View Bio

The most significant matter about this horrific Israel-Hezbollah war has yet to dominate the attention of analysts. It has to do with intelligence. Here are three invaluable observations from Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post:

1. Israel has been forced to improvise furiously on the battlefield after discovering how much it did not know about the forces Hezbollah had amassed in southern Lebanon… Israelis take intelligence deadly seriously. For them, it is a tool of survival.

2. The intelligence failures by the Israelis in Lebanon and by the Americans in Iraq are related.

3. American intelligence has done no better at predicting the course or strength of Iraq’s insurgency and the sectarian warfare that the insurgents have deliberately fanned between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis. Months of Bush administration happy talk about a government of national unity based on Sunni inclusion did not lead to the reduction of violence that was predicted, but to a sharp spike in Iraqi deaths and destruction instead.

Intelligence (like everything) has two dimensions, an interior impulse and an exterior manifestation. The public and political figures tend to focus on the exterior aspects of intelligence gathering even though they are of lesser importance. The exterior aspects of intelligence, (what information you gather, how, and how accurately) are only valuable if guided well by insightfulness. In fact the term “intelligence” in common parlance does NOT refer to how much you know or how accurate your information, rather to how well you think.

The fact that two of the finest militaries in history (and the nations attached to them) find themselves up to their elbows in tar babies with no end in sight, after days for one and years for the other, and countless billions poured into shocking and awe-ing, is not for the lack “a big right hand,” but for not thinking straight.

A person or state operating on the following understanding might be described as intelligent. Further, the “gathering of intelligence,” might proceed more fruitfully from an “intelligent” starting point.

1. Iran, Syria, and over 50 major, independent and state sponsored Islamist, and anti-Israel/US militias and “terrorist” organizations do not like the United States and do not like Israel. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.

2. The term “democracy” is not regarded as representing a virtuous social order to the intelligentsia, leaders, and rank and file of these states and these groups. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.

3. These states and groups do not uphold Christian and European conventions on how properly and “justly” to conduct war. Bombing them will not make them change their minds.

4. There are too many of them to bomb until they are all gone. Many argue that attacks on them strengthen them politically and strengthen their recruitment efforts.

It would be pleasant if we could bomb people into seeing things our way, and failing that bomb the recalcitrant ones until they are all gone. But we cannot. Good and effective strategies cannot arise from such a starting point. That is bad intelligence.

Strong and effective intelligence gathering should be based in clear understanding. Better understanding as the ground of “intelligence” would help to avert occasions in which powerful and economically and militarily advanced countries make big and costly mistakes with dire and enduring repercussions.

Frank Kaufmann is the Executive Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace.