It is tempting to congratulate Israel, as my friend and colleague Scott MacLeod has done, for holding its own leadership to account for its blunders at war. The Winograd Commission, created by the Israeli government to assess the reasons for its debacle in Lebanon last summer, has certainly offered a withering assessment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s failings. And if you take its summary of failures outlined below and transpose them to the Bush Administration’s decision making on Iraq, well, you get the point that Scott was making:
The decision to respond [to the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizballah – TK] 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 not another 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 the commencement of a military campaign without considering how to exit it.
d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.
e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand – as was necessary under its own plans – early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.
f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting would continue until they were achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.
Reading that summary, President Bush would be forgiven for thinking it was all about him. Perhaps, though, Winograd ought to have had more about Bush than it actually did (perhaps, criticizing the U.S. is a kind of third-rail of Israeli politics!): It struck me that the most glaring omission in the all the summaries I saw of the Winograd findings, was any mention at all of the U.S. role in shaping Israel’s decision to go to war, and its approach to the conflict. (Granted, Winograd’s findings released thus far concern only the first five days of the war, but there’s scarcely a mention of any coordination with Washington, whereas the Israeli media at the time made clear that Olmert was in constant contact with the White House.)
I wrote at length at the time about how Israeli and U.S. actions strongly suggested that this was, in part, a proxy war by Israel on behalf of the U.S. against an ally of Iran, and Seymour Hersh reported at great length on the U.S. involvement in planning and strategizing this war.
Given Olmert’s panicky neophyte behavior when faced with a crisis of this magnitude — and given that it is rather obvious that as a grand strategist, he makes a pretty good mayor — Winograd’s findings on the limit of his consultations within Israel’s security and political establishment in his decision making over the war suggest, to my jaundiced eye, at least, that Olmert was talking to someone else. He certainly needed his hand held. And the reports of in the Israeli press at the time of him running out of his own cabinet meetings to discuss the war on the phone with Condi Rice deepens my suspicion that Olmert did not make these blunders entirely alone (and I’m not talking about the rest of the Israeli leadership echelon that is now racing to distance itself from the decision).
This was a blunder that was, well, shall we say, Bush-esque. I’m looking forward to someone reporting this out a little more.