Tzipi and the General: Who’s Experienced?

Gershom Gorenberg

Tzipi Livni is running against the embodiment of dumb military macho, and she’s responding wrong.

In a Ha’aretz piece this morning (in Hebrew), political reporter Mazal Mualam tells us that Livni’s main competition in Kadima, Shaul Mofaz is conducting “a negative campaign against Livni, focused on her lack of military experience” while Livni “is refraining from personal attacks.” Instead, she’s trying to set her own defense agenda, most recently by touring the northern border with the Italian foreign minister. It’s a quieter version of an ad about phone calls at 3 a.m. to the commander-in-chief.

Livni, let me stress, is far too hawkish for my tastes. A colleague who covers diplomacy describes her as a person who lacks empathy, a quality needed for good negotiation: You don’t have to agree with the person across the table, but it’s valuable to understand how he or she thinks. That said, she’s more of a diplomat than her rivals within Kadima, or outside of it. Labor’s Ehud Barak not only flubbed his chance, he has rationalized his failure by dismissing the very possibility of peace, reinforcing the right’s politics of despair. His line is, “If I couldn’t do it, it can’t be done.” Fortunately, in a multiparty system, I’m not constrained to vote for Barak, Bibi Netanyahu, or whoever Kadima picks. But how Kadima goes about making the choice still matters.

Mofaz is an ex-chief of staff who exemplifies how mediocre the officer class has become. Mofaz’s message is that a woman can’t be prime minister because the job requires a general with combat experience. Livni is wrong to let his attacks stand; silence legitimizes them. (See under: Swift Boat.) Livni should answer that Mofaz is sorely lacking in experience in civilian realms including economics, law, and diplomacy, where her own resume is rich. The army, she should argue, is a subcontractor carrying out policy by other means for the government. The government chooses policy based on wider considerations than those taught in officer’s school. Or rather, it should.

In theory, Livni could also find a surrogate to ask aloud what Mofaz’s great military accomplishments are, but that would be a bad move. If she wins the primary, she’ll face off against Barak, who does have a glowing military record – and nonetheless proved as prime minister that being an officer was poor training for running a civilian organization.

Of course, what Mofaz really means by “experience” is something unprintable in this polite blog, and which Livni does lack, and which is not a necessary qualification for PM. She should challenge his claim directly, and suggest that intelligence is a more helpful quality for the job.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Livni got her experience on her own. But Hillary, much more consciously feminist, also slipped into trying to out-macho the men, rather than challenging the assumptions. I can’t blame Livni, running in a hawkish party, for being uncertain how to respond. Ironically, though, the best defense against Mofaz would a strong attack on his one-dimensional and largely irrelevant c.v.

Related:

Tzipi Gets A Gun

War Ethics: And When They Do Know the Consequences?

3 thoughts on “Tzipi and the General: Who’s Experienced?”

  1. Although I agree with your assessment that Mofaz is a non-entity, you seem to miss the point that the really big concessions and really big evacuations of settlements, something you are pining for, has come from people on the Likud/Right. It was Begin who gave up the entire Sinai and destroyed the settlements at Yamit, it was Sharon who destroyed Gush Katif, and it was former Likudnik Olmert who sent the police to bash in the skulls of kids at Amona. I disagree with your characterization of Livni as being “right-wing”. It is true that Livni’s father was a far-right Likud Knesset Member and both her parents were legendary ETZEL fighters, yet she today seems quite comfortable with the far Left…she considered appointing Yuli Tamir as Ambassador to the UN (where one wit pointed out that with her, the Arab ambassadors could go on vacation, she would do their work for them), and in the end she did appoint a woman who was active (or IIRC was a founder of the B’Tzelem organization) to the position. Neither Barak nor any other Prime Minister from the Labor Party has ever knocked down a single settlement, only “Right-wingers” do it. The whole idea of setting up Kadima was to use Sharon’s immense prestige on the Right to destroy the rest of the Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria. True, he is gone, but you need someone else from the Right to finish the job…..perhaps Mofaz would be a better choice because he military record might dazzle those on the Right, just as Sharon’s did, but I am sure Tzippi is willing to do the job for you as well. Don’t give up hope.

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