HOW ISRAEL BUNGLED THE SECOND LEBANON WAR
By Dr. Efraim Inbar
This does not mean that Israeli officials did not take Hezbollah seriously. After leaving southern Lebanon, Israeli officials considered the group to be a nuisance, but, in recent years, their assessment changed, and they acknowledged Hezbollah to be a strategic threat.  In July, 2003, outgoing IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, who subsequently became Defense Minister, warned of the growing Hezbollah threat.  His successor, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, cautioned that much of northern Israel was vulnerable to Hezbollah's missiles.  Politicians and former intelligence officers also said that they had warned the government. 
Still, many IDF leaders believed that minimal force, if not diplomacy, would suffice to minimize the threat. Chief of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, for example, said:
He added: "I do not believe that anyone wants to go back into Lebanon." 
Restraint ended on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah terrorists attacked an Israeli patrol on the Israeli side of the border and abducted two soldiers.  The attack came just nineteen days after Palestinian terrorists staged a similar cross border raid from Gaza.  Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered a forceful reaction.  IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who had not even mentioned Lebanon in his tour d'horizon at the Herzliya Conference seven months earlier, acknowledged that "the way we finish this [operation in Lebanon] will have ramifications for the entire Middle East."  He was right. The end of military operations on August 14, 2006, with the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701  had implications not only in Israel and Lebanon, but also across the region.
Israel's highest political and military echelons committed serious strategic errors in preparation for, during execution, and in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon campaign. Together, these errors enabled Hezbollah to persevere against the larger, better-equipped Israeli military and emerge as perhaps an even greater threat.
Failure to prepare undercut Israeli operations from the start. Before the war, Israeli planners had unrealistic expectations about armed conflict with Hezbollah. They planned for small skirmishes, not for a large-scale, conventional military campaign. Some of Israel's reluctance to plan for action inside Lebanon might have been rooted in former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's legacy. As Defense Minister, Sharon presided over the 1982 Lebanon war, and many Israelis consider him responsible for the subsequent imbroglio.  In 1983, the Kahan Commission found Sharon negligent for his failure to predict and stop a Lebanese militia's massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatilla.  Sharon's subsequent attempts to rehabilitate his image during his premiership (2001-2006) would be undercut if he again involved Israeli forces in Lebanon.
Inattention by the General Staff toward Lebanon reflected Israeli assumptions about the unlikelihood of any land war on its borders. Udi Adam complained that the highest military forum hardly discussed the Lebanese front. 
Perhaps, as a result, the IDF failed to estimate adequately its needs prior to the war. Effective March, 2007, Shaul Mofaz, Defense Minister between November, 2002, and March, 2006, had scheduled a gradual reduction in conscript military service and also initiated a new law shortening reserve duty and reducing training. According to Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, chief of Israel's ground forces, the government had cut allocations for training reserve units by US$800 million since 2001.  Budgetary constraints also led the IDF to reduce the size of tank formations, and budgetary officials pressured the Israeli military to discontinue production of its top-line Merkava tank. In addition, because of cost, the IDF declined to install the Trophy antimissile system on most tanks and did not provide the Israeli Air Force with bunker buster bombs.  Only a number of special forces received training geared to operations in southern Lebanon, but even these units lacked the latest intelligence when ordered across the border because the heads of military intelligence refrained from transferring data collected on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon to the units in the field. 
Further underlying Israel's lack of preparation was the failure of its leadership to acknowledge the operation against Hezbollah to be a war, rather than a retaliatory raid or more limited military action. The Israeli government, for example, never declared a state of emergency, nor did it enact its wartime administrative and legal powers. Delays in mobilization of reserve forces reflected the military leadership's failure to realize it faced a war.
Israel's leadership also failed to understand the strategic significance of the cumulative Katyusha strikes. An IDF statement of its strategic goals presented to the Israeli government at the beginning of the conflict failed to even mention home-front defense.  Over the course of several years, Israel's intelligence organs had neglected to collect intelligence regarding Hezbollah's short range Katyushas.  Military officials had considered such rockets as weapons of little consequence because of their inaccuracy and small warheads. In the initial stage of the war, Halutz said that "short range rockets are not a decisive weapon."  But the war showed Israel's northern population to be ill-prepared to withstand a large rocket barrage. Most of the short-range Katyushas fell in empty fields and caused little damage, but 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 missiles launched hit urban areas and paralyzed the whole of northern Israel, its main port, refineries, and many other strategic installations.  Over one million Israelis lived in bomb shelters and about 300,000 temporarily left their homes and sought refuge in the south. Olmert was very wrong in stating, on August 3, 2006, that the war could not be measured by counting the number of missiles falling on Israel.  The continuous barrage of Katyushas at Israel's northern cities supported Hezbollah's claim to victory. Only in the last stages of the war did the attempt to limit the Katyusha salvoes become an operational goal.
Israel's failure to allocate sufficient funds towards the development of an adequate missile defense system to provide protection against the Hezbollah threat was a strategic mistake. While Israeli military industries mastered several technological responses against short-range missiles, Israel had refrained from turning them operational. Only after the war, in February, 2007, did the Ministry of Defense approve the development of defensive weapon systems against short-range and intermediate-range missiles. The newly-approved Rafael Armament Development Authority's Iron Dome and Magic Wand systems will eventually defend against Qassam rockets, short-range Katyushas, and medium-range Iranian-made Zelzal missiles, while existing Arrow missiles can protect Israel from longer-range Syrian and Iranian missiles.
Over-reliance on airpower was another strategic folly. While the IDF had long invested in its airpower, until the 1990s, it believed land forces to be critical for victory. Yet, after the 1991 Kuwait war, many military strategists, not only in the United States, but also elsewhere, began to consider airpower to be seductive.  Among political leaders, airpower is especially tempting. It offers great destructive capability without high risk in home casualties. Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, former Chief of the Israeli Air Force, admitted that the fixation with new technologies was addictive and obscured thinking. 
The Israeli Air Force leadership convinced Israeli politicians that they could expand their military role beyond traditional air missions and cope effectively with new security challenges. Halutz had commanded the Air Force between April, 2000, and July, 2004, and his enthusiasm for airpower was unequivocal.  As Chief of Staff, Halutz planned cuts in the IDF's ground forces and emphasized reliance on the Air Force.  The IDF sought to tackle low-intensity conflict with a combination of airpower and special forces.  Yuval Steinitz, former Chair of the Knesset (parliament)'s Committee on Security and Foreign Affairs, questioned the wisdom of giving airpower such a high priority on both a budgetary and a doctrinaire level,  but he was the exception, rather than the rule.
Over-sensitivity to casualties also hampered Israeli operations. Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, head of the IDF's manpower branch, complained after the war that the IDF did not complete some missions, due to casualties,  an assessment with which Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair, head of one of the postwar IDF inquiry committees, agreed. 
During the war, Halutz opposed a ground incursion into Lebanon as anything but the last resort.  Even when Olmert and Peretz decided to insert special forces into Lebanon to deal with the Katyusha threat, Halutz resisted a large-scale land operation.  His hesitation enabled Hezbollah to continue its rocket salvoes into Israel for a month.
The reluctance to commit ground troops to battle betrays a gap between Israel's leadership and its people. Both political and military leaders misjudged the resilience of Israeli society. At the beginning of 2004, Yaalon asserted that the weakest link in Israel's national defense was the lack of public stamina.  While Vice Premier in 2005, Olmert said:
The current chief of the Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, said that, while worried about Hezbollah's missiles, he was more concerned about the ability of Israeli society to withstand the pressures of war. 
Such concerns were misplaced. Israeli society demonstrated high stamina, even during wars of attrition. Israelis did not surrender to the post-September 2000 Palestinian terror campaign,  a sentiment reflected in recent polls.  Israeli society would have been willing to absorb greater casualties to bring an effective end to the Hezbollah threat. Even parents who had lost a child in the Hezbollah war backed its expansion. Nor did combat unit recruitment suffer because of the war. 
The cost of the Israeli leaderships' miscalculation of societal strength goes beyond opportunities lost. Israel's reluctance to commit troops to battle signaled weakness. The widespread perception within the Arab world that Israeli society is sensitive to the loss of human life invites aggression. It was such a perception that motivated Palestinians to renew their terror campaign in September, 2000. 
The military, from at least the time of Yaalon's tenure as Chief-of-Staff accepted the same logic. Both Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizencott, Chief of Operations in the General Staff, and Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former Director of Research at the IDF Intelligence Branch, believed that Israel's use of force could change the political equation in Lebanon. 
From the first day of the campaign, Halutz advocated attacking infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to counter Hezbollah.  This logic of transformation through force was reminiscent of the earlier attempt to transform Lebanese society through force. In 1982, Israeli officials sought not only to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but also to normalize relations with Beirut and its newly-empowered government.
In the contemporary Middle East, though, force seldom creates a new political environment.  For years after signing the Oslo Accords, Israeli politicians turned a blind eye to Palestinian Authority actions, rather than acknowledge that Yasir Arafat's administration did not live up to its agreements. In Lebanon, Israeli leaders might have adopted more modest goals. Rather than seek to change Lebanon's reality, they might have instead sought only to eviscerate Hezbollah's ability to harm Israel.
Fear of escalation clouded Olmert's strategic judgment. On the first day of the conflict, Mossad Chief, Maj. Gen. Meir Dagan recommended that the Israeli Air Force target Syrian sites.  Instead, Olmert sought to placate. Israeli leaders repeatedly said that Israel had no intention of expanding its military activities to target Syria.  Peretz even called for a renewal of peace negotiations with Syria.  Even when Hezbollah was launching Syrian missiles at Israeli cities, Israeli military officials announced that retaliating against Syria was not under consideration.  Rather than pressure Damascus to stop its resupply of missiles to Hezbollah, such statements, in effect, blessed the Syrian government's proxy warfare.
Such rhetoric contrasted sharply with past practice when the threat of escalation coerced Israel's adversaries into accepting its conditions. The Syrian government was susceptible to such pressure. After the February 14, 2005, assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, apparently at the Syrian leadership's behest, joint condemnation by Washington, Paris, and Riyadh reverberated through Damascus.
Israeli officials enjoyed similar sympathy after Hezbollah initiated the Summer 2006 conflict. At the Group of Eight (G8) heads of states meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 17, 2006, an open microphone caught U.S. President George W. Bush saying that they needed "Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit." 
But, the Israeli military's restraint cost it an opportunity to eliminate Syria's long-range missile capability. The risks of regional escalation were minimal. Iran was in no position to intervene directly. Tehran, rushing to complete its nuclear program, did not want to create a pretext for international action against it.
A successful campaign against Syria could have weakened Hezbollah and might even have strengthened the Lebanese government more than destroying Lebanese infrastructure did. An Israeli strike against Syrian targets would have signaled Israel's determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence. It would have also diminished both Iranian influence in the region and Tehran's ability to retaliate through Hezbollah, in the event that its nuclear installations were attacked.
Olmert initially sought to have the Lebanese Army deploy its forces southward. In a meeting with Israeli diplomats on July 18, he said that the idea of an international force was "a good headline" but that Israel's experience "shows that there is nothing behind it."  Yet, after learning of the weakness of the Lebanese Army, he agreed to deploy a UN force instead. The Israeli military concurred that an international force in south Lebanon and a UN-imposed arms embargo could be effective. 
But the UN mandate determines that, in the event that UNIFIL personnel come across caches of weapons or gunmen, they should call upon the Lebanese Army to handle the situation. The European-enhanced UNIFIL not only shows little inclination to use force to implement UNSCR 1701, but also hampers Israeli monitoring of weapons trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border. The French government, for example, denounced Israeli flights over Lebanon to monitor continuing violations of the arms embargo by Hezbollah. On October 19, 2006, the French Commander of UNIFIL even threatened to shoot at Israeli planes, if they came too close to his troops.  A few days later, Berlin complained that Israeli planes had taken aim at one of their ships. 
Unfortunately, the UN favors ineffectiveness over conflict. Secretary-General Kofi Annan advocated "flexibility" in the deployment of UNIFIL along the Syria-Lebanon border,  in effect blessing non-enforcement. Damascus has continued to funnel arms to Hezbollah, something that both prominent Lebanese officials and the U.S. government acknowledge. 
By November, 2006, according to Israeli military officials, Hezbollah had replenished nearly half of its prewar stockpiles of short-range missiles and small arms.  In December, 2006, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Syria continued to arm Hezbollah and sought to overthrow the independent-leaning Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. 
While the new UNIFIL might be no more effective than its pre-2006 incarnation, its damaging impact is greater. It now not only restricts possible Israeli action against Hezbollah, but also creates a precedent for an international force in the West Bank and/or Gaza, a move long sought by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but resisted by successive Israeli governments.
Israel squandered an important opportunity to settle regional scores. It left unchecked Iran's apparent efforts to expand Shi‘i influence in Lebanon and left untouched Syria's potential for mischief in Lebanon. Hezbollah's resilience against the Israeli bombardment emboldened it to withstand future Israeli assaults, and Israel's failure to succeed emboldened regional radicals.
Israel is a strong state, but it can ill-afford such failure. It lives in a dangerous neighborhood in which military might is the guarantee for survival. Halutz has initiated an intensive and comprehensive inquiry process and resigned. In the past, the IDF has proved its capacity to learn from its mistakes and improve. Some deficiencies can be easily corrected. Increases in the defense budget could provide the means to implement some lessons learned, for example, longer training for reserve units and procurement of better weapon systems. Less easy to correct are deficiencies in strategic thinking.
Post-modern notions have blurred the strategic clarity of Israel's political leadership and its defense and foreign affairs establishment. The economic cost of building a strong military force may be high, but it is not an optional expense. Too often, wishful thinking supplants reality.
Should Israeli officials recognize their mistakes, however, they will find much with which to restore unquestioned Israeli regional deterrence. The war demonstrated that Israel is a strong state. It has the spirit to fight. Its soldiers won each encounter with Hezbollah. The Israeli home front displayed great resilience, and Israel's economy continued to bloom. With adequate preparation, Jerusalem might attain a clear victory in the next round, which, however unfortunate, the outcome of the 2006 war makes inevitable.
 Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), July 24, 2006.
 See Eyal Zisser, "Hezbollah and Israel: Strategic Threat on the Northern Border," Israel Affairs, Jan. 2006, pp. 86-106.
 Ariella Ringel-Hoffman, "Time Works against Us," Yedi'ot Aharonot (Tel Aviv), July 5, 2002.
 Ari Shavit, "Colleagues Undermine You," Ha'aretz, Aug. 8, 2003.
 For example, see the interview with Yuval Steinitz, Defense News, Jan. 29, 2007; comments of Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former chief of the intelligence branch of the IDF, Channel 2 (Jerusalem), Nov. 5, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2007.
 The Jerusalem Post, June 26, 2007.
 Ilan Kfir, Haadama Raasha (Tel Aviv: Ma'ariv, 2006), pp. 21, 23.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2006.
 For the resolution text, see "The Situation in the Middle East," UNSC Resolution 1701, United Nations, New York, Aug. 11, 2006.
 Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Milhememet Sholal (Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1984), pp. 380-8.
 "104 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut" (The Kahan Commission), Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb. 8, 1983.
 Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2007), p. 128.
 Ha'aretz, Nov. 29, 2006.
 Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 178.
 Ha'aretz, Nov. 4, 2006.
 Zeev Schiff, "Let Us Be Realistic," Ha'aretz, Oct. 20, 2006.
 Ha'aretz, Feb. 16, 2007.
 Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 160.
 For a detailed analysis of the Katyusha attacks, see Uzi Rubin, The Rocket Attacks on Northern Israel during the Summer of 2006, Mideast Security and Policy Studies (Ramat Gan: The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, forthcoming).
 Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 189.
 Eliot A. Cohen, "The Mystique of U.S. Air Power," Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 1994, pp. 109-24.
 Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, public lecture, Tel Aviv University, Dec. 19, 2006; Meir Finkel, "The Rites of Technology in the IDF—Return the Balance to the Land Build-Up," Maarachot, June 2006, pp. 40-5.
 Biton Heil Haavir, Israeli Air Force, May 2000, p. 7.
 Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 137.
 Shmuel Gordon, The Vulture and the Snake, Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 39 (Ramat Gan: Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, July 1998).
 Yuval Steinitz, "The Sea as Israel's Strategic Depth," Maarachot, May 2002; idem, "It Is Missiles," Maarachot, Dec. 2005, pp. 70-4.
 Ha'aretz, Nov. 4, 2006.
 Ha'aretz, Oct. 18, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2006; Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 293; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, pp. 118.
 Ha'aretz, Jan. 23, 2007.
 Ha'aretz, Jan. 13, 2004.
 Ehud Olmert, remarks, Israel Policy Forum Tribute Dinner, New York, June 9, 2005.
 "The Chief of the Northern Command: The Struggle of the Right Is More Dangerous than the Hezbollah Missiles," Globes (Tel Aviv), Jan. 11, 2005.
 Avi Kober, "From Blitzkrieg to Attrition: Israel's Attrition Strategy and Staying Power," Small Wars and Insurgencies, June 2005, pp. 216-40; Meir Elran, "Israel's National Resilience. The Influence of the Second Intifada on Israeli Society," memorandum 81 (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Jan. 2006); Nadav Morag, "The Economic and Social Effects of Terrorism: Israel, 2000-2004," Middle East Review of International Affairs, Sept. 2006.
 "Maagar Mochot" poll reported by Israeli radio Reshet Bet, Dec. 28, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 19, 2006.
 Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff, Hamilchama Hashviit (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2004), p. 54.
 Schiff, "Let Us Be Realistic."
 Ehud Olmert, statement to the Knesset, July 17, 2006, official transcript, p. 2; UNSC resolution 1559.
 Ehud Olmert, statement to the heads of the municipal authorities, July 31, 2006, official transcript, p. 4.
 Tzipi Livni and Javier Solana, EU envoy, news conference, July 19, 2006; Tzipi Livni, statement to the Knesset, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 8, 2006; The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 24, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2006.
 "Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser," Hatzofe (Tel Aviv), Oct. 20, 2006, p. 7-8; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 50; Ha'aretz, Sept. 15, 2006.
 Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 22; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 50.
 For a discussion of attaining goals, see Avi Kober, "Israeli War Objectives into an Era of Negativism," Journal of Strategic Studies, June 2001, pp. 176-201.
 Kfir, Haadama Raasha, p. 22; Shelah and Limor, Shvuyim Bilvanon, p. 51.
 Channel 7 News (Ofra), July 26, 2006; The Jerusalem Post, July 28, 2006.
 MSN News, Aug. 15, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2006.
 Tzipi Livni, foreign minister, statement to the Knesset, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 8, 2006.
 Ha'aretz, Oct. 1, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
 "Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser," Hatzofe.
 The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2006.
 Shelah and Limor, Haadama Raasha, p. 167; "Interview with Yossi Kuperwasser," Hatzofe.
 Yedi'ot Aharonot, Oct. 20, 2006.
 The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 28, 2006.
 Ha'aretz, Aug. 31, 2006.
 The Washington Times, Nov. 1, 2006.
 Time, Nov. 24, 2006.
 Ynet, Dec. 18, 2006.
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
The Middle East -- Lebanon as a Geopolitical Problem
The Middle East & the Problem of Syria
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
Islamism & Jihadism -- Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
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International Politics & World Disorder:
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
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Dr. Efraim Inbar is Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. He thanks Ian Blomberg, Sara H. Krulewich, and Tamara Sternlieb for their research assistance.
The foregoing article by Dr. Efraim Inbar was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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