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On Capability vs. Intent, Part II

I have written about the difference between capability and intent before, but in my World Politics Review column this week, I tackle the intelligence problems related to intent, which are normally much more difficult than those related to capability. Specifically, I tackle the (understandable) failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to determine whether or not Israel will attack Iran -- a failure that matches my own inability to do so.

My column was inspired by both a book I read and a conversation I had last week. On the way to and from my incredible, kick-ass hometown for a short trip, I read Bob Jervis's Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War. Jervis provided me with much of the framework through which I examined the problem. I then followed that book up with a lengthy lunch conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, who has written extensively about what might be going through the heads of Israel's leaders regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program. I first fleshed out the thesis of my column over lunch and was grateful for the pointed questions he asked.

(Goldberg noted, though, that it is problematic to call Israel, as I do, "by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid since the end of World War II." I referenced and hyperlinked a report by the Congressional Research Service (.pdf) that itself noted Israel is "the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II." But Goldberg noted that South Korea or Germany have received a lot more overall aid when you count U.S. military posture, and he has a good point. My sense is that most U.S. Congressmen and Americans do not count this as aid. But maybe they should. Also, we have never actually gone to war for Israel -- no matter what some loons say -- but we have gone to war for South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others. That surely counts for something too, yes?)

intel, Iran, Israel

10 comments

For now, though, I want to

For now, though, I want to focus on the intelligence failure that this uncertainty represents.

I think this is a fundamentally wrong way to look at intelligence. If successful intelligence is removing uncertainty, then intelligence always fails. I think it's a mistake to think that intelligence ought to provide near-perfect prognostication and then call the inevitable inability to live up to that standard "failure."

1)Exum I suggested that you

1)Exum I suggested that you read a book a while ago. Did you ever read it?
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Discussion-of-the-Method/Billy-V-Koen/e...
You might find a copy on the shelf of a library in Washington DC, New York, or TN. It is free to read except for your time!!

Koen's book is about human thought and decision making. It really has little to do about Engineering, Koen is both and Engineer and Professor of Human Method (Philosophy). ("Discussion of the Method" is more a philosophy book to get people to think about how and why they process information). If you read a book and then read it again you are reading two different books. Crazy? Why two books? Because both time and our experience changes between one read to the other. You looked at the problem of Capability and Intent differently from your first discussion to the next because you added more information to your life experience (the new book), your heuristics changed in the process. You weigh information differently on the subject in time as a result. Your perception also changed in time.

The discussion of heuristics can be applied to military intelligence because people gather information and disseminate it. How they do it is based on their personal and organizational heuristics !

2)You changed the discussion when you changed the title from "not equal" to ".vs.". The first is your judgement placed on the reader (a challenge), the second is a request asking to reader to form an opinion by balancing the two words one .vs. the other. (you are changing your heuristics on how you use your pen)

3)As far as data sets go, you can avoid getting hammered by readers by avoiding absolutes. Consider this "by far the largest" .vs. this " by far one of the largest". Think of why you wrote this article. Was it to impress people with your knowledge of who is the largest recipient of foreign aid since WW2? I don't think people really care. Non-absolute statements take away the pissing contest in the last paragraph on the discussion with Goldberg on who got the biggest check. Your really trying change the heuristics of the reader by adding to their knowledge of how Israel might make a decision on bombing Iran not measuring your dick length in public.

4) US being held hostage? What is this Stockholm syndrome? Your just being a Drama Queen. The US is not a hostage if it does not respond to what Israel does. Treaties are just good intentions on paper and the Treaty will also govern our relationship in the ME if Israel goes open loop. Would it be better to say we have obligations rather than make the US a hostage?

5) Think about Koen's book, it is all about heuristics. Why are refueling tankers a show stopper? The drug cartels use water beds as fuel bladders and put the load on top of the bladder to pressurize the fuel. If a bomber can haul bombs it can haul a fuel bladder. When the US first bombed Japan with conventional bombs it was a one-way trip, they even made a movie out of the story!

BTW. Israel is about survival of the state, they are not going to jeopardize the state. Iran is not going to go total war on Israel all Iran will do is throw turds like it always does. Iran is going to pull the strings on the US economy and can by attacking the US exposure to oil. Bibi got what he wanted, it is an election and he knew that Obama would give him anything he wanted to delay an attack ! Bibi is getting the deep-ground-penetrating-bomb from the US! Now Iran knows the size of things!

What is the articles main

What is the articles main point? I find my self confused as your article comes to a closing.

You talk about reasons Israel might have to deceive the US. Getting more aggressive action is of course a valid course of action. Explaining why Israel would need to keep a secret if it acts on its own, you leave much to be desired.
You say: "Many in the U.S. government, including both in the administration and the U.S. military, would be livid with Israel’s leaders if they unilaterally attack Iran."

Well that's true, but they're gonna be equally livid once Israel attacks anyway. So what does Israel have to gain except being 'difficult? What is missing is mentioning the US will take active steps to foil Israeli attacks - work to stop what ever agreements Israel achieved with 3rd countries regarding flight path, and possibly leak Israeli war plans to the press (something the administration has already done several times). So it's not only the US being angry - it is also about preventing the US from actively foiling its ally's war plans. This spells 'so-so' ally just as much your critique about Israel preferring its considerations over US advice and interests, in the next paragraph.

Which brings me to the oddest paragraph in the article where you blast Israel for being a poor ally which has too much influence in Congress. What does that have anything to do with the topic of Intelligence failures and the reasons for them?
Saying In an ideal world, of course, Israel would care most about what its closest ally thinks. is both irrelevant and a cheap shot. Even when you take into account that US is the stronger actor and Israel is a weak protege, the sentence is just as valid if you reverse the roles. Does not every country have a responsibility to ultimately choose (what they believe) what is best for their citizens over the interests of important but less-affected allies? Should Israel feel so convinced of the necessity of attack for its safety - should not the older more responsible ally take its protege's conviction into account? Especially since Israeli vulnerability to take crap from a nuclear Iran is incredibly higher than that of the US?

You also forget to mention other important reasons for Israeli deception tactics - absolving the USA of responsibility to bold Israeli actions. As much as the US would be furious if Israel sneak-attacks, would the administration prefer being seen as approving of the operation, or being suspected of looking the other way? The administration needs a degree of deniability, if such an attack does occur. This without mentioning the other targets of deception and psychological warfare - Russia, China and Iran. Sword rattling is a great catalyst of effective diplomacy.

And of course, demonstrating the most important problem with judging intent - there's no way to tell in advance a policy that is still being formulated. Neither the public debate nor the secret debate in the government and military is settled. Last dates and red lines have shifted incredibly in the last years following various developments, as Israel fully understands the weight of the issue and would like to defer any attack, pending failure of every other measure. So you can't really get intelligence about something that the Israelis themselves aren't sure of.

amg exam are you really this

amg exam are you really this stupid?

I have no idea whether or not Israel will attack Iran.

of course they won't....they can't. Fordo is underneath Qom.... the second holiest city of Shi'ia Islam.
Israeli sabre rattling is just fucking with the global oil market so gas prices will go up.
Bibi's main intent is to deny Obama re-election, because in Obamas second term he is going to kick Bibi to the wall and force the two-state solution.

You continue to report the

You continue to report the typical left wing meme that Israel is far and away the biggest benefactor of US foreign aid during the past 30 years, as you wrote in your column.

Truth alert... Egypt has received about the same amount of US foreign aid as Israel during the past 30 years. Facts are facts.

Also, one of the reasons Israel is keeping the Obama Administration in the dark about its plans, is because the Obama Administration continually takes a shit on Israel. The Obama Administration leaks information, bad mouths Netanyahu on open microphones to foreign leaders, and Obama himself has long surrounded himself with anti-Israel nut jobs.

The math is simple, Sir.

Dr. Ex, What this post and

Dr. Ex,

What this post and some of the subsequent comments makes me think is that in this period of history, with its multipolarity, the old view of alliances is changing. On many sides and in many ways.

Or, rather, our interests no longer overlap with others in the way they have for so many years, whether you are talking NATO countries and arms sales to China, Israel and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iran, etc.

I wish Israel well, so I take to heart the above comment by "Israeli", but our core security objectives may not overlap as much as they once did. How do we think about this while honoring a popular alliance?

Everything is shifting and our alliances can't be balanced against the "one big idea," as it was during the Cold War --and as we have tried to do with the post Cold War "Pax Americana" or "American Raj" or whatever we want to call the period from about 1990-2001.

I don't know. Just brainstorming. We are undertaking a rethink on what our core national security objectives will be in this period of transition and human intelligence is so important. Really important.

"of course they won't....they

"of course they won't....they can't. Fordo is underneath Qom.... the second holiest city of Shi'ia Islam."

So? Is nuking that gonna make the Shiites hate Israel more than they already do?

If the Shiites don't want their holy sites nuked, they shouldn't put important targets near them.

"Israeli". Your noting of

"Israeli". Your noting of Exum's forgetfulness:

"You also forget to mention other important reasons for Israeli deception tactics - absolving the USA of responsibility to bold Israeli actions. As much as the US would be furious if Israel sneak-attacks, would the administration prefer being seen as approving of the operation, or being suspected of looking the other way? The administration needs a degree of deniability, if such an attack does occur."

......Inadvertently hits dead on the preemptive CYA motivation for Exum's post. He is reinforcing a meme (US intelligence/Obama administration is blind about Israeli intentions) already so widespread that it is perceived as common wisdom among the policy cliques of DC and NY. Just like Saddam's WMD's.

If we really don't want an Israeli strike upon Iran, we could simply promise to shutdown all designated EUCOM anti-missile defense cooperation as seen in Juniper Cobra joint exercises and the upcoming October version of Austere Challenge. No X-band radar readouts for you boyos if you go rogue.

Exum is doing his duty here and in his earlier post about feeling that Hezbollah will attack Israel as Iran's proxy, despite the certainty that HA would be committing mass Lebanese political suicide if they did so. Another "forgotten" and completely obvious restraining factor completely absent from Exum's "analysis" for some inexplicable reason. Given that the combined strategic firings of HA/Syrian missiles is an Israeli nightmare, a pre-emptive war on Lebanon could, as planned for, be in order.

Nice to have someone with influence reinforce "deniability" in the case of the former situation and pre-emptive "self defense" in the later.

But as usual, the only ones fooled will be as always, gullible and/or willfully ignorant Americans.

On the third hand, the US put

On the third hand, the US put its nuclear arsenal on high alert in a global mutually assured destruction standoff with the USSR, to guarantee Israeli advances in the October War in 1973. Don't think the Saudis were ever bestowed that particular honor. And surely the US *would* have gone to war for Israel, had it ever been seen to be in serious danger.

Hard figures should not be mixed with non-quantifiable support, that's just another way of crying fuzzy maths. So let's count only aid as aid, or it will be uncountable; surely the disparity in aid alone is indicative of something in this relationship, whatever other factors may be relevant too.

Besides Korea, USA certainly

Besides Korea, USA certainly helped more Soviet Union than Israel, i know before end of WW2 but why to stop at that?...It tried to helped more Vietnam than Israel, It helped more much of Europe than Israel. As far as i know USA is still willing to go for nuclear war for parts of Europe today and there that thing called the Marshall Plan...
It is obvious difficult to check how much was traded. Israel was one of the biggest intelligence sources about Soviet equipment(except naval albeit some extrapolation could be done for electronics and missiles part) that was essential for Cold War effort. Also was the weapon tester.
The success of Israel certainly helped to stop a last ditch Soviet non nuclear offensive temptation in 80's. Yves Montand series showed what it was the risk in the TV series he voiced.

I know the abundant criticism of Israel has other proposes, first Israel denies many of left wing memes starting with forever victim that can be exploited for political proposes. Second the will to destroy Western Civilization.

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