Military Intelligence – a Contradiction in Terms?

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.

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“No, no, no, I won’t play on Tzipi’s team. She’s a little giirrl.”

Gershom Gorenberg

Occasionally, pop culture offers the appropriate commentary on matters of state. To understand Shaul Mofaz’s feelings about Tzipi Livni winning the Kadima primary, view a snippet of this scene from She’s the Man, a remake of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set in high school. (Sorry, there’s a block on embedding the clip.) The relevant bit here is at 4:18-4:36, after Viola scores the winning goal in the big soccer game. Watch the goalie in the orange uniform who failed to block the kick by the girl.

Ehud Barak seems to feel the same way about serving in a cabinet with Tzipi Livni as the boss.

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Pollsters, Conservatives Flunk Math

Gershom Gorenberg

This post is really about Jews and Obama. Patience.

A Ha’aretz-Channel 10 poll a couple of days before the Kadima primary said that Tzipi Livni was ahead among the party’s voters, 47-28 percent. Exit polls last night showed Livni with about that share of the vote, with Mofaz doing better, but not better enough: 37 percent.

Earlier, Mofaz himself predicted that he’d win with precisely 43.7 percent, a number he got from his imported Republican mad dog, I mean campaign expert, Arthur Finkelstein.

Funny enough, Finkelstein’s number was pretty close to the 42 percent Mofaz actually got when the hand count of ballots was finished this morning. Only problem is that it was even closer to the 43.1 percent that Livni got to win the election. Maybe importing American experts on negative campaigning isn’t such a good idea.

Tangent: Neri Livneh at Ha’aretz points out that if Livni succeeds in forming a coalition and becoming prime minister, all three branches of Israeli government will be headed by women: Livni in the executive, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch in the judiciary, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik in the legislature.

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Primary Scream, or Unrepresentative Democracy

Gershom Gorenberg

Tomorrow Kadima will pick someone to replace Ehud Olmert as party leader. Olmert will then quit, to the sound of 7 million people sighing in relief, and his replacement will get the chance to form a new government and become Israel’s prime minister. The method that Kadima will use to make this momentous decision is quaintly called a “primary” in our parts, and purports to be an election. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you in Alaska.

A total of 73,000 people are eligible to vote. That’s 2.3 of the total turnout in the 2006 national election, and about 10 percent of the number of people who voted for Kadima. But there’s no reason to think that people voting in the primary voted for Kadima in ’06, or have any thought of voting for the party in the next national election. A few might, who knows. If so, it’s by accident.

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Also Bankrupt: The Israeli Political System

OK, Lehman Bros went belly up. Far as I am from wealth, I still find this upsetting. I find it even more upsetting that the Israeli political system currently has about as much credibility with the public as Lehman’s assets had with its creditors. The ruling party’s vote tomorrow for a new leader comes down … Read more

Mr. Mazuz, This Is the Hour of Your Testing

While we’ve all got on our eyes on Ehud Olmert’s alleged sticky fingers, Prof. David Kretzmer has called for an investigation of whether one of Olmert’s would-be successors has committed crimes of an entirely different order.

Kretzmer is emeritus professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – a dry understated title for a learned and passionate defender of human rights. As The Independent reports, he has asked Israel’s Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to investigate whether Shaul Mofaz committed war crimes while serving as military chief of staff at the beginning of the second Intifada.

The letter to… Mazuz refers to a book by two Israeli journalists, Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah, which says that Mr Mofaz, after ensuring he was not being officially recorded, called for a Palestinian death toll of 70 per day.

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More on Mofaz’s mediocrity

Gershom Gorenberg

Buried in a Ha’aretz story on training exercises aimed at rebuilding the Israeli army’s ability to fight a war is the mention of the newspaper’s own report [emphasis added]

from October 2002 about the expected reduction in training exercises by the regular units for 2003, stating: “The burden of the territories displaces training; only two weeks per year.” This was the plan, but in reality, the troops sometimes trained even less than that. The article also reported that the army was compelled to divert all of its resources to combating Palestinian terror, and it quotes brigade and battalion commanders who admit that, two years into the intifada, their charges have no notion of regular training and exercise.

That article was based in part on a conversation with the head of the IDF’s training department at the time, Colonel Moti Kidor. Kidor told about how, when he tried to warn then chief of staff Shaul Mofaz about the decline in the regular units’ battle fitness, Mofaz nearly threw him out of his office.

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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.

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