John Boyd’s Guide to Hasbara

They’re inside your cycle, Israel.

The BDS-niks.

Their friends, accomplices, enablers, gofers, wannabes and assorted recreational protesters .

Devotees of trendy causes who currently grok on the Palestinians who are kept in perpetual and politically useful poverty and despair by their own corrupt, self-interested leadership.

The anti-Semites, ranging from “Not Our Kind, Dear” nose-in-the-airheads to those “Too Bad Hitler Didn’t Finish the Job” troubled souls.

The Islamists. “It’s going to be ours. All of it. And all of you.”

Lots and lots of the endlessly developing world, especially those assembled in the laughingly mal-monikered United Nations.

And more and more Americans and Europeans, left, right and center, who find Israel, for reasons ranging from genuine humanitarianism to domestic . . . distasteful to abhorrent.

They’re inside your cycle, too.

So nu, what’s a cycle? And why does it matter who’s inside what?

It matters.

It’s an extremely simple idea – simple once somebody points it out. But the implications are profound.

The idea originated in the mind of one American Air Force colonel; became a staple of the American defense reform movement in the 1970s and 1980s; took on the trappings of a cult; and for a while seemed like the Next Big Thing in business.

The idea, like many fashionable ideas, was oversold, misinterpreted and manipulated. The vogue has passed. The cult has faded. Still, John Boyd’s concept of the OODA Cycle (aka the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle) may have something useful to say to Israel as it continues to lose the struggle for the minds and hearts of the civilized world and of those who want their worlds civilized.

John Boyd was a fighter pilot who flew in the Korean War. After the 1953 Armistice, the Air Force pondered a question that grew to obsess Boyd. Why were the “exchange ratios” in air-to-air combat, i.e., dogfights, especially one-on-one, so lopsidedly favorable to the United States? Granted, these were red-blooded Ammerrican boys going up against atheistic godless CHICOM coolies or robots or fanatics. Take your choice.

Still, in many ways the Russian-made MiG-15 was a better aircraft than the American F-86.

So why’d we do so good? Really?

Those who studied the aircraft noted two factors. First, the MiG might perform better in certain “one-dimensional” aspects: climb faster, turn tighter, whatever. But the F-86 could transition from one mode to another – go from a climb into a turn, for example – more rapidly. It was, to oversimplify, more agile. Second, thanks to the F-86’s “bubble-top” canopy, the American pilot had far better visibility than the MiG pilot, especially to the rear.

In aerial combat, knowing what’s going on behind you matters

To condense the tale egregiously: after all this, plus studying the standard after-action debriefings of pilots, in-depth interviews and postwar studies, Boyd came up with the idea of the OODA Cycle.

Observation. You see something.

Orientation. You place it within the larger context, i.e., situational awareness.

Decision. You decide what to do.

Action. You do it.

Of itself, hardly a magnificent revelation. What made this revolutionary was the realization that that the American pilots, for reasons both technical and tactical, could go through this cycle faster than their Chinese adversaries. Of course, the enemy would react. But after a few repetitions of this cycling, the Chinese pilot found himself reacting to things that the American was no longer doing.

His actions, no matter how skillful, had become irrelevant to his survival.

Almost inevitably, panic set in and the MiG pilots either turned tail for home or launched into a series of frantic, meaningless maneuvers.

Either way, score one more for the good guys.

To operate inside an enemy’s cycle, then, is to confuse him by your superior thought, speed and agility. It’s to panic him, force him into either full flight or paroxysms of pointless, frenetic activity.

In short, it’s to bewilder and then paralyze his mind.

Perhaps this may also have some relevance to Israel’s miserable performance in the struggle for global opinion.

Israel’s situation is ambiguous: the only peaceful, stable (for how long?) somewhat democratic society in the Middle East. But Israel’s also an imperial power, dominating people who do not wish to be dominated and given to interfering in other countries’ affairs, including the United States.

People see what they’re predisposed to see. To those who see Israeli oppression and arrogance, Israel’s domestic situation matters little, and well-meaning invocations to “recover our narrative of freedom” may be met with a stern rejoinder.

Whose freedom? At whose expense?

Israel’s enemies know it. They also know that, while extreme, mindless rhetoric may feel good and have its uses, especially on campus, the process of delegitimizing Israel works best when it’s low-key and constant.

BDS may never have much of an economic impact. But every time some entertainer refuses to visit or cancels a trip; every time some university condemns Israel or bars Israelis; every time some corporation or labor union . . . you know the litany.

It adds up.

(It also impacts psychologically. For several years, my wife has ordered cosmetics from an excellent small company in the United States. Her last order was refused with, “We do not ship to Israel.” Boycott? Of course not. Just part of a new list of no-ship countries. Imagine such a list. Uzbekistan. Chad. Israel. Mongolia. Tasmania. And to make it look Kosher, Italy or maybe New Zealand.

So what’s Israel’s response to all this?

To put it bluntly: spasmodic, frenetic, meaningless, stereotyped, bewildered, ineffectual and utterly predictable pseudo-“defense.” Lotsa facts and fervor. Little to negative impact.

The “narrative of freedom” motif (don’t take it on the road) we’ve already mentioned. How about “Get the Facts Out”? That is, terabytes of MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) carefully-selected and masticated detail, aimed mostly at those who babble to people who’ve neither the time nor the inclination to listen.

And if the facts are inconvenient to damning? Ignore them, deny them, explain them away, gabble on about how the latest Israeli crimes and atrocities don’t reflect Jewish Values. And anyway, whatever we do, they’re far worse.

And finally, the reflexive habit of condemning all those who question Israel as either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews.

Sorry, but you’re pushing buttons no longer connected to anything.

Rigid. Frenetic. Meaningless. Unavailing. Ultimately, perhaps suicidal.

So how to get them out of our cycle?

Can’t be done. Not as Israel is today.

(For those interested in learning more about John Boyd, his ideas and impact (including his partial paternity of that staple of the Israeli Air Force, the F-16), take a look at Robert Coram, Boyd.)

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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