In the aftermath of a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that overwhelmed Israeli forces in 1973, a special commission was convened to determine what went wrong. Its report so shook Israel’s political establishment that Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned.
In the wake of a Lebanese Christian militia’s massacre of Palestinians, in 1982, a blue-ribbon study group’s report sparked such uproar in Israel (which was aligned with Christian forces during the Lebanese civil war) that then–defense minister Ariel Sharon was forced to resign. He was thereupon thrust into the political margin for 15 years.
Several days ago, the preliminary report of another official commission lambasted the conception and conduct of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent war against the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, raising doubts that the wildly unpopular Olmert can remain in office.
Comparing and contrasting the workings of a parliamentary system such as Israel’s, where the executive and legislative are interwoven, with that of the United States’s, where the executive is distinct from the legislative, is tricky business. The two forms of government are like apples and oranges. But they do have at least one thing in common: they are both fruit. And it is hard to escape the conclusion that Israel does a better job of dealing with its rotten fruit than does the US.
It has been four years since President George W. Bush declared America’s “mission accomplished” in Iraq. To mark the anniversary of that occasion, Bush vetoed the congressional spending bill that would have tied continued funding for the Iraq War to a timetable for withdrawal. Congress is expected to acquiesce; there is little chance it will override Bush’s veto. Nevertheless, it is the closest that Congress has come to cancelling the blank check it gave Bush when it authorized his ill-conceived war.
Little noticed but perhaps just as significant as this recent — and rare — display of congressional backbone is the news that National Review founder William F. Buckley, the godfather of the American conservative movement that gave us Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (as well as George W. Bush), has warned that the Iraq War could destroy the Republican Party for years to come. Even those of us who would relish that prospect recognize that the international havoc that the war in Iraq has engendered — especially Iran’s accelerated push to develop nuclear weapons — is too high a price to pay. Yet Bush persists.
Bush is insulated from his delusions by two factors. One is the rise of the so-called national-security bureaucracy that in the 60-plus years since the end of World War II has become a law unto itself, giving us first Vietnam and now Iraq, and is proving itself to be sufficiently muscular to resist feeble congressional attempts to check its power. And then there is the thorny issue of the all-voluntary military, invented by Richard Nixon as a domestic palliative to soothe a nation increasingly disenchanted with his expansion of the Vietnam War. We are not calling for a return of the draft. To do so now would be to provide Bush with a larger supply of cannon fodder. America, however, must realize that by concentrating the burden of fighting this nation’s wars on a self-selected few, it has abandoned the political check on a war-waging president that builds when a military drawn from the general population is caught in a quagmire. The fact that Israel — still threatened by Syria, menaced by Iran, and targeted by Hezbollah and Hamas — is defended by a true citizen military means that military blunders quickly become major political issues. That is why the commission that has pronounced on Olmert’s blunders will matter, as opposed to the polite, well-meaning report issued by the now almost-forgotten recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, chaired by James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton.