Maybe there’s some uniquely calm land where military heroes and ex-generals don’t get a head start in politics. But that land is neither Israel or the United States. The only thing consistent about John McCain’s campaign is the claim that he deserves to be president because he was a POW. Closer to where I live, both Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak presume that having been the country’s top military commander not only qualifies them to be prime minister, but makes the job theirs by right. A military man, supposedly, not only understands national security but has proven his ability to make decisions under pressure.
For the past week, though, all three have done their best to disabuse of such notions:
- John McCain finds himself behind in the polls, trying to design policy on economics, which he doesn’t understand, facing a debate for which he is not ready. What does our war hero do? Why, with heroic cool and elan, he panics. He calls off his campaign, sort of. He says he just won’t debate, because it wouldn’t be patriotic. Do you trust this man to answer the red phone at any time of day or night?
- Mofaz loses the Kadima primary to Tzipi Livni. The next day he announces he is taking a time-out from politics. In Israeli political terms, this announcement normally means spending a year or two doing something else, so that the public can forget why it voted against you. Within a couple of days, though, Mofaz was already leaking hints to the press that he meant a short vacation. His allies appealed the results of the primary, hoping to prevent Livni from getting the nod to form the next government. Turns out that Mofaz made his original announcement in a fit of exhaustion and pique. Fine. If that’s how the ex-general performs under political pressure, does anyone want him as the person deciding when to go to war? For that matter, if Livni makes him foreign minister, would you trust him not to insult his Syrian counterpart over a misconstrued remark?
- Barak tells Labor party Knesset members meeting with President Peres to recommend him to form the next government. But to be prime minister, one must be a Knesset member – and Barak isn’t. No matter, the general ordered his troops to make fools of themselves for the sake of his honor. Now, according to this morning’s Ha’aretz, “Defense minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak will demand from…that he conduct the negotiations with Syria if she forms a government. Labor sources also say Barak will demand to be fully involved in all aspects of the talks with the Palestinians.” His qualifications for these tasks will apparently be his universally recognized success as prime minister negotiating with the Palestinians and Syria. Barak’s supposedly brilliant analytical abilities do not include an ability at self-evaluation.
Don’t get me wrong. It is possible that an ex-officer might be a good politician. It’s possible that a good doctor may also play a good game of baseball, or be a good administrator. Or not. It’s possible that someone with no military experience might also panic under pressure (see under: Ehud Olmert, Second Lebanon War). At the moment, military experience as such is an irrelevancy in considering a candidate.