The Winograd Commision

On September 17th 2006 just two months after the ill-conceived Israeli attack on Lebanon which started on July 17th, the Israeli Government appointed a governmental commission to investigate what went wrong.

Seven months later on April 30th 2007 the commission presented a damning preliminary report focusing solely on the decision making process between the time Israel unilaterally pulled out of their occupation of Southern Lebanon on the instigation of the then Prime Minister Barak and the date of the abduction of the Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah on July 12th 2006 plus the five days it took to decide to move into war on that fateful July 17th date.

A final report was promised for the fall of 2007 but no date has been set for its release for reasons that are not relevant to this analysis.

The question posed was whether the report had any lessons that might be of value to the United States.

The first and most obvious answer was that unlike many similar commission reports produced in the United States the Winograd Commission was unanimous for one obvious reason in that it was not bipartisan it was non partisan. It consisted of a retired respected justice, a law professor, a political science professor and two retired generals. Thus there was not the usual political infighting common in such an enterprise. Compare that to the theater that is the United States Congress where partisanship appears to be more important that patriotism.

Another important lesson especially for many members of Congress is that they should not blindly support the actions of the Israeli Government (that also applies to the US administration). Long gone are the days when the US can rely upon the common sense, efficiency and wisdom of any of its allies. THAT is especially true when it comes to Iraq. To make foreign policy relying completely on the competence of ones allies is a recipe for disaster.

Whilst the Winograd Commission was brave and scathing in its criticism of the three major actors in the war, Prime Minister Olmert, Defence Minister Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz it made one major mistake which it may have come to regret. It believed that after such harsh words no politician would have the chutzpa to remain in office. That was the one downside of not having a politician on the commission. They failed to recognize the lack of shame and honour that is common in the political class and did not explicitly call for Olmert’s resignation.

We have seen how lack of accountability is rife in Washington and any commission appointed in the United States must not be shy in calling for heads to roll.

But the greatest lesson to be learned from Winograd and the abject failure of not just the present Israeli administration but past ones also, is the ostrich like tendency to avoid facing obvious dangers as they start to appear.

See if the following comments from Winograd resonate as we look at how the United States has approached the dangers of Islamist terrorism over the years and how excuses have been made for the actions of Syria and Saudi Arabia in supplying man-power, arms and money to kill Americans in Iraq and how much talk there has been about the acts of war of Iran in sending materiel and manpower over the border for the sole object of killing more Americans whilst the State department debates whether it is an Iranian Government action or not.

Many paragraphs of the report resonate and one only has to substitute Iraq for Lebanon and Iran for Hezbollah to see how.

10. The main failures in the decisions made and the decision-making processes can be summed up as follows:
a. The decision to respond 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…
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…
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.
15. Concomitantly we determine that the failures listed here, and in the outcomes of the war, had many other partners.
a. The complexity of the Lebanon scene is basically outside Israel’s contro…
b. The ability of Hezbollah to sit ‘on the border’, its ability to dictate the moment of escalation, and the growth of its military abilities and missile arsenal increased significantly as a result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. In May 2000 (which was not followed, as had been hoped, by The Lebanese Army deploying on the border with Israel..
f. Israel’s government in its plenum failed in its political function of taking full responsibility for its decisions. It did not explore and seek adequate response for various reservations that were raised, and authorized an immediate military strike that was not thought-through and suffered from over-reliance on the judgment of the primary decision-makers…

The main lesson to be learned however is how those who hold the levers of power can be advised and restrained from making catastrophic mistakes if (and it is becoming increasingly common) the public keeps making the mistake of electing inadequate leaders.

One needs only to look at the almost 20 candidates for the office of the next Presidency of the United States to understand that the present system of finding leaders of great wisdom and judgment is not working and either that has to be fixed or one has to make damn sure that they listen to the best advice available should they achieve office.

The unclassified interim report can be read in full here.