Will Livni's Bubble Burst First?

While the US media focuses on dueling celebrity ads, there is another election at least as critical as the one between the senators. It is the contest for the next Prime Minister of Israel.

With Prime Minister Olmert’s late July announcement that he will step down shortly, attention has shifted to Kadima Party internal elections, now scheduled for 17 September 2008. The leading contenders to succeed Olmert as Kadima Party leader and likely next Prime Minister of Israel are current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is a former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The outcome of this internal party vote could hardly be more important, not just for the future of the State of Israel, but for American national security as well.

The parallels with impending U.S. presidential elections are startling and clear. Both races feature one candidate whose world view was formed in the crucible of wartime service in the armed forces. Both races also feature one candidate whose world view is still in the process of formation, having never yet been tested on the battlefield in leadership of men fighting for their lives.

There is another historical parallel that Sen. John McCain and Minister Shaul Mofaz on the one hand, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Senator Barack Obama on the other, share: the uncanny circumstance that we have been here before. In 1938, as Hitler’s jackboots were goose-stepping toward the Holocaust and a world war that would claim the lives of some 70 million human beings, a cultured and well-meaning Neville Chamberlain could not bring himself to acknowledge the evil that drives men to such slaughter. Nor had many bothered to read the ranting of a twisted little paper-hanger who published “Mein Kampf” in the mid-1920s. The utter ‘banality of evil’ somehow lies beyond the comprehension of those most sophisticated and humane among us. In 1938, as now, there were those who understood what faced the world and shouted from the back bench and the podium to alert their fellow men — and then, as now, many did not want to listen.

Today it is the repeated genocidal threats of a twisted little blacksmith’s son to wipe Israel off the face of the map that some would rather dismiss as mere rhetoric. Civility and urbanity have their places — 21st century Europe for instance, or the polished hallways of our nation’s Capitol. And so we hear Barack Obama offering dialogue with any who will speak with him and Tzipi Livni, declaring that “Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel”. But with all due respect, neither Tzipi Livni nor Barack Obama has ever stared straight back at the face of pure evil and snarled, defying the forces of inhumanity to advance one step farther. Both McCain and Mofaz have — on multiple occasions.

So these are the choices we face: Israel fights for its very existence, and the U.S. must decide whether to elect the candidate of experience and grit, or the young hopeful, who is as yet unaware that Armageddon beckons. There is growing concern among respected intelligence and military experts in Washington, not just about the young celebrity senator but also about his Kadima mirror image, the popular Tzipi Livni. Increasingly, these experts are worried that Livni’s utter lack of experience could imperil Israel’s very existence by undermining the strength of its deterrent and endanger U.S. national security interests as well. A succession of events that began during the term of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has catapulted this most unready of candidates to the brink of what earlier had seemed a remote and unlikely position for one so unprepared to lead as Tzipi Livni.

Indeed, Sharon would arise from his coma in alarm if he but knew she was running for his old job — just as his old friends in influential circles close to the Bush administration now watch in disbelief as Livni seems poised to assume the Israeli Prime Ministership. Ironically, it was Sharon who launched Livni on her unintended rise to the top. According to Israeli media sources, while Sharon never considered Livni of a caliber to succeed him, he was moved to appoint her to minor Cabinet posts in the wake of his beloved wife’s death, a loss that created a deeply-felt vacuum in Sharon’s life. By way of contrast, it was the powerful and respected former IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, whom Sharon appointed Defense Minister, effectively entrusting him as guardian of Israel’s security. Today, Mofaz holds the Cabinet portfolio for the strategic dialogue with the U.S.

Increasingly, doubts are being raised across the Israeli political spectrum about Livni’s ability to lead: two-time former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and Sharon’s long-time confidant Zalman Shoval said in early August 2008, “She could be a first-class ambassador to many countries. But the post of prime minister in Israel requires something else, and I am afraid she does not have the wide scope that this job requires."

Prime Minister Olmert went even further in July 2008, when long-simmering contempt for her leadership qualities burst into the open during a private conversation. He reportedly called her a “backstabbing liar,” adding that “Livni is not made from the material that leaders are made out of. She cannot make big decisions. She never has, not as justice minister and not as foreign minister.”

Respected leaders from the U.S. intelligence and military communities are beginning to echo Israeli concerns, seeing in Livni a political lightweight whose lack of substance mirrors Obama’s and similarly bodes real harm to American national security interests. A former Director of CIA, who is familiar with her background and who requested anonymity, concurred with the recent and unusual statement from Mossad that characterized Livni’s vaunted intelligence service as consisting of little more than a short stint as a glorified safe-house keeper. Far from what Israeli journalists have criticized as her own exaggerated self-portrayal as a Bond-like secret agent with a super IQ, it would appear that Livni’s brief affiliation with Mossad in fact ended with her resignation before she’d even completed training, reportedly to get married.

It is 1938 once again and we have been here before. There is no excuse for repeating the fateful mistakes of those dark days. This time, if possible, the stakes are even higher. Iran’s theocratic regime is driving for nuclear weaponization — and no one can say with certainty whether its clerical leadership clique is rational or not. Just as in 1938, it is no time to take chances on unprepared candidates whose default policy is appeasement. Americans and Israelis alike must take the mullahs at their word: they threaten genocide and refuse to halt the development of the weapons to make it happen. The dustbin of history is littered with civilizations whose trust in the innate reasonableness of mankind blinded them to the essential atavism of our species.

The best of human qualities will not be harmed by the courage to defend them. But they can be obliterated by the failure to do so.