The Winograd Paradox: Olmert must resign but it will not solve anything
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Zionism & Israel Center http://zionism-israel.comFollowing the release of the interim report of the Winograd Commission, (click for full version in Hebrew PDF), Israelis are fairly united in their resolve that PM Ehud Olmert should resign. A poll shows that 69% of the Israeli public believe Olmert and defense minister Peretz should resign. Editorials in Haaretz and other papers call on Olmert to resign. Halutz has already resigned, and the fate of Peretz is probably sealed as well. He will be ousted in the Labor party primaries if the elections are honest. Only Olmert really remains.
The Winograd commission faulted them for these reasons:
10. The main failures in the decisions made and the decision-making processes can be summed up as follows:
a. The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was no other effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired - which would have a high "cost" and which did not enjoy broad support. These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken.
b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.
c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it.
11. The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. We single out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better - the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better.
There is no doubt that Olmert, Peretz and Halutz should have resigned immediately following the war. This is a matter of good form and formal responsibility. It is part of the ritual of democracy and good administration to offer up such scapegoats. We have a valley near Jerusalem, called the valley of ben Hinnom (Gey ben Hinnom), which is used for that purpose according to ancient Canaanite tradition.
If nothing succeeds like success, then it is also true that nothing fails like failure. Since the war is perceived to be a failure, any action taken by anyone responsible during that war can be "analyzed" and "proven" to be negligent and incompetent. For example:
c. The Minister of Defence did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF's operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them. His influence on the decisions made was mainly pointillist and operational. He did not put on the table - and did not demand presentation - of serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF. .
. Moshe Dayan became minister of defense a few days before the Six Day War. Does anyone really believe that he conducted a "comprehensive examination of the fitness of the IDF," or of the "fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them?" Dayan's influence on the decisions made in 1967 was certainly "pointillist (a bad translation - in Hebrew - "nekudati") and operational." In fact, he changed his mind several times a day and nobody could understand why, and in some cases his orders were ignored. But the IDF won the Six Day War, so it doesn't matter. As for goals, after the destruction of the Egyptian air force and the conquest of Sinai, it would be a big fib to say that anyone had a clear idea of the goals.
And what about this, "The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it." In 1967 the Israeli government voted to go to war without knowing that the United States had prepared a contingency plan to attack Israel. The ministers truly had no concept of the nature and the implications of the war, and they could not have any such concept, and that has been true of almost every war in history. Wars are traumatic events that upset all the base conditions, and it is never possible to foresee the results that may seem obvious in retrospect.
The commission, like Olmert, is part of the system, and shares its values and assumptions, as is evident from the following remark:
...there was no other effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired - which would have a high "cost" and which did not enjoy broad support.
Wars are not popularity contests. We cannot imagine that Roosevelt would have held a vote on whether or not to launch the attack on Sicily or the invasion of Normandy. It was clear to the public and it should have been clear even to those great intellects in the government, that the rocket fire would stop if the Israeli invasion stopped. Therefore the easiest way to stop the rockets was not to have a war at all. However, in the perception of the Israeli public, the war was not fought to stop the rockets, but rather to wipe out the threat of Hezbollah. If the objective of eliminating the Hezbollah was necessary, and if it was achievable only by higher risk of casualties, the government should have done what was needed to win the war, because the alternative of leaving Hezbollah intact can result in many more casualties. The same faulty decision making characterized France in 1939: attacking Germany would be "unpopular" and therefore they allowed Germany to overrun Poland. The ultimate "cost" of that "popular" move was very high. I believe most Israelis understand this calculation. The government and the Winograd commission do not, it seems. The Winograd commission accepted an unacceptable premise as a legitimate basis for decision making.
It is always debatable in history, whether great successes are due to individuals or to societies as a whole and "historical forces." The above analysis would seem to lay the major blame for the problems on three people: offer up these sacrifices and the gods will be propitiated.
Further on in the report, it is evident that that the Winograd commission contradicts itself. They write:
18. ... After 25 years without a war, Israel experienced a war of a different kind. The war thus brought back to center stage some critical questions that parts of Israeli society preferred to avoid.
19. The IDF was not ready for this war...Some of the political and military elites in Israel have reached the conclusion that Israel is beyond the era of wars....
20. Given these assumptions, the IDF did not need to be prepared for 'real' war. There was also no urgent need to update in a systematic and sophisticated way Israel's overall security strategy and to consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength - political, economic, social, military, spiritual, cultural and scientific - to address the totality of the challenges it faces.
21. We believe that - beyond the important need to examine the failures of conducting the war and the preparation for it, beyond the need to identify the weaknesses (and strengths) in the decisions made in the war - these are the main questions raised by the Second Lebanon war. These are questions that go far beyond the mandate of this or that commission of inquiry; they are the questions that stand at the center of our existence here as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be a grave mistake to concentrate only on the flaws revealed in the war and not to address these basic issues.
According to this analysis, the problem was not Olmert or Peretz or Halutz or another functionary. Rather, the "posture" of the entire society is at fault. If so, no matter how many sacrifices we offer up in the valley of ben Hinnom, the danger will not pass, unless we reform our society and its institutions. Indeed it must be so. If Olmert were to resign along with Peretz and Halutz it would be a gesture that honored the wishes of the families of soldiers and civilians who died, and a proper sacrifice to the gods, but it would not solve anything. For Olmert and Peretz and Halutz would be replaced by their clones. It is proposed that Benjamin Netanyahu inherit the mantle of Olmert. But when he was in power, Netanyahu did everything possible to annoy the Americans, the Europeans and all our Arab neighbors, and nothing to advance Israeli security. If the IDF is ill equipped and inadequately trained, it is in large part because Netanyahu cut the defense budget mercilessly when he was Minister of Finance. Barak might step into into the shoes of Peretz, but Barak was responsible for the unilateral Lebanon withdrawal that allowed the Hezbollah to develop its threat unmolested. It is vain to mourn that we do not have a Churchill or a Lincoln or a Ben Gurion or a Rabin handy. They are not handy because we would not tolerate them. We would not follow where they lead, and so we would not vote for them. Our leaders and our institutions are created in our image. That is how we got a leader who goes to war without understanding the risks, and then tries to stop the war because twelve soldiers got killed, and we have an investigating commission that formulates its judgment on the premise that war strategy should be decided on the basis of popularity contests. It was the Israeli public after all, who consented that Mr Peretz should be Defense Minister, knowing full well that this appointment was based on coalition politics. If the Shas party was essential to the coalition then perhaps a Yeshiva student would have been made Defense Minister. The Israeli public would not have reacted any more than the Romans reacted when Caligula made his horse consul.
The Israeli public must make up its mind. If Mr. Nasrallah and his masters in Tehran, and Mr. Haniyeh and his masters in Damascus are not a serious threat, then it is not worth wasting a single life in stopping them, and all the stories we have been told about "existential threats" are just propaganda. In that case, we can continue business as usual. Hopefully we can find some harmless person to run the country who will not make trouble. It should be someone who is not silly enough to start a needless war, and someone else to run the defense ministry who knows how to look through a pair of binoculars. Perhaps we can also find a Finance Minister who is not liable to abscond with the loot, and a President who can act in a decorous and fitting way. Those are minimal demands that can probably be met for a "normal" country that is not faced with overwhelming threats.
On the other hand, if we really do live in a dangerous neighborhood, and are faced with existential threats, as they are now called, then we have to appreciate the threats, and we have to do everything necessary to ensure that we can meet those threats. If we face major challenges in developing our country and defending it, and in leading the Jews of the Diaspora, we need leaders of an entirely different caliber, models that we seem to have stopped manufacturing some years ago, and we need competent and dedicated people at every echelon, who will "consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength - political, economic, social, military, spiritual, cultural and scientific - to address the totality of the challenges it faces," as the press release of the report states. Indeed "they are the questions that stand at the center of our existence here as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be a grave mistake to concentrate only on the flaws revealed in the war and not to address these basic issues."
This does not require only a change in some personnel, or even a major organizational reform. It requires a change in our entire national value system and all of our priorities, which have gradually eroded since 1967.
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