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April 30, 2007

Gross Incompetence
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So what is this report talking about?

“[He] made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one," the report said. "He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the [military], despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs…

[He] was also censured for failing to “adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of [the country's] actions were not realistic and were not materializing…  All of these," the report said, "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."

"[The Defense Secretary] made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment."

[The military] chief of staff at the time, was criticized for entering the war "unprepared,"... [He] failed to "present to the political leaders the internal debates within the [military] concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions."

According to the report, “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.”

No.  It’s not George Bush.  These are the results of the Winograd Report, which evaluated the Israeli Government’s performance during the Second Lebanese War.  It includes an inexperienced leader, who never really asked the tough questions about whether or not the war should be waged in the first place, and then refused to change course once it became clear that his initial objectives couldn’t be met.  The Defense Minister made decisions without input from others.  The Army Chief of Staff did not disclose the military’s own misgivings about the operation.  Does this sound familiar?

The biggest difference is that in the U.S. we might have to wait another ten years to get a report this damning, and it will never happen while President Bush is still in office.  This report is as high profile in Israel as Baker-Hamilton was in the United States - if not more.  Could you ever imagine Baker-Hamilton being this harsh?  Then again, it's pretty easy to take shots at a PM with a 3% approval rating.


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This is becoming a universal problem. As the executive gets stronger, the decision making process becomes more amateurish.

James Fallows conducted a war game on Iran a few years ago. Here's what he found:

...All were alarmed about the way governments now make life-and-death decisions; this was ... the second big message of the exercise.

"Companies deciding which kind of toothpaste to market have much more rigorous, established decision-making processes to refer to than the most senior officials of the U.S. government deciding whether or not to go to war," Michael Mazarr said. "On average, the national-security apparatus of the United States makes decisions far less rigorously than it ought to, and is capable of. The Bush Administration is more instinctual, more small-group-driven, less concerned about being sure they have covered every assumption, than other recent Administrations, particularly that of George H. W. Bush. But the problem is bigger than one Administration or set of decision-makers."...

The Right likes to laugh at the incompetence of Arab governments and their inability to win wars. With the "unitary executive," we're beginning to copy their methods, and results.

Cal, thanks. I had forgotten that toothpaste line. It's fantastic.

As to "Gross Incompetence," I've been struck how Israelis apparently can criticize their leadership and not be constantly accused of being traitors.

It's also striking that for the Second Lebanese War and America's invasion of Iraq there are folks in positions of power who have been itching for the fight for a long time. It's no surprise they make bad decisions, because in both governments, you've got the bigwigs actively subverting the apparatus that would help them make good decisions. More accurately, they've made their decisions already and any "process" is meant to confirm that course of action, rather than attempting to honestly evaluate the situation first. Good leaders who make good decisions can stand up to scrutiny and invite debate and dissent on important issues. Perhaps most importantly, they're eager for empirical facts and realistic assessments rather than trying to squelch them.

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