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.