Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Winograd Report and the Results Test

The Winograd Report, in its preliminary version issued 30 April, covers four main areas: First, it provides an account of the situation on Israel's northern border from the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 up until the Hezbollah attack on an Israeli patrol and the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Second, it provides a factual account of the events and decisions in the first six days of the Second Lebanon War, 12 -17 July, 2006. Third, it provides theoretical criteria for assessing political decision-making. Finally, it assesses the functioning of the three principal officials involved in the decisions of the first five days: the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, and the then Chief of the General Staff, Dan Halutz.

As the report itself admits, the usual way to assess a political decision is by its consequences: "The results test is the usual test for behavior on the public plane" (p. 22 n.1). It would therefore appear that the first thing we have to do in assessing the conduct of our leaders in the Second Lebanon War is to assess the consequences of their decisions. Only once we have determined that those consequences were negative is it reasonable to go on to try to identify those responsible for those negative consequences, and to assess their measure of responsibility. The Winograd commissioners claim that "we have abstained from applying criticism where the failure was not clear and manifest on the face of things" (p.23 chapter 2, section 9). It is a different question whether this standard, to criticize decision-makers only on the basis of a clear judgment of failure to achieve desired or desirable consequences, was in fact carried out systematically in the Winograd report.

The commissioners at times ostensibly abstain from offering a categorical verdict on the consequences of the Second Lebanon War. They write regarding the damage inflicted on Hezbollah (chapter 1. sec. 7, p. 11): "The level of damage and loss of life to Hezbollah from the war was very heavy. Hundreds of its fighters were killed, and their strategic capacity was damaged. Their center in the Dayhiyya neighborhood of Beirut was destroyed. The effect of the war on [Hezbollah's] standing in Lebanon and the Arab world is unclear." Regarding the far more important political and strategic effects of the war, they continue (sec. 8): "The war ended 48 hours after the approval of resolution 1701 in the [United Nations] Security Council. Resolution 1701 and the processes that made it possible contain a number of important achievements for Israel. The Hezbollah no longer sits on the border, and its capacity to initiate an attack on soldiers or on the settlements is less significant. It is possible that the decision, and the processes that fed into it, could be an opening for positive developments in the region."

The commissioners go from these hypothetical claims in chapter 1, which leave the reader with a positive picture of the consequences of the war, to stating, in a footnote in chapter 7 that "the consequences of the battle in Lebanon are conceived by a few as a failure and by others as mixed or even as partial victory" (p. 114 n. 5). Yet that same chapter 7 is devoted to a scathing critique of the triumvirate Olmert-Peretz-Halutz that appears to depend on a negative assessment of the consequences of the war. Surely it is only compelling to describe the decision-making procedures employed by the triumvirate and the Olmert government as a whole as flawed, arguing as the commissioners do on the basis of the case of the Second Lebanon War, if indeed the Olmert Government failed to achieve a positive result from the Second Lebanon War.

The reader of the report therefore must hunt for the evidence it supplies that the war indeed had negative consequences. Most emphatically, the commissioners emphasize that the war was not a clear military victory (p. 11, chapter sec 9), and, moreover, that the military means chosen were not sufficient to bring about a knock-out military victory on the battlefield (p. 77). Since military victory ought only to be sought as a means to political or strategic ends, the absence of a "knock-out" blow to Hezbollah is not decisive for assessing the most important consequences of the war. The means the Olmert Government, as advised by Lt. Gen. Halutz, chose to employ airstrikes against Hezbollah targets and Lebanese transportation infrastructure, tactical ground operations to eliminate the Hezbollah positions that loomed over the northern border itself, together with an air and sea blockade. The Government and the General Staff knew that these measures could not lead to such a knock-out blow, and were not aiming to achieve such a knock-out (p. 79). The political purpose of the war was to bring about such intervention by the international community and the recognized government of Lebanon so as to end the threat from Hezbollah to the North of Israel, principally by bringing the Government of Lebanon to act on its responsibilities as lawful sovereign over Southern Lebanon.

Second, the commissioners make much of the extensive rocketing of the North, and demonstrate that the military means Israel chose, while provoking these attacks, did little to mitigate their effects. But the report in its preliminary version does not provide a systematic or quantitative assessment of the consequences of these rocket attacks. These attacks, the reader must remind herself, while personally tragic for those affected, killed fewer people than one major suicide bombing and had no long-term or structural consequences for the Israeli economy as a whole or the economy of the Israeli North in particular. Without a comprehensive assessment of the consequences of these attacks the reader cannot assess whether the short run costs of the war might be outweighed by the apparent long term benefits of replacing Hezbollah with the government of Lebanon as the ruler over the territories bordering the Galilee.

Third, and apparently decisively for the commissioners themselves, the public believes that the war was a failure, for otherwise the commission would not have been created (e.g. Chap. 7 secs. 9, 132, pp. 114, 135). Yet if the public believes the war was a failure, this is because the public believes that the consequences of the war were, on the balance, adverse to Israel. Yet the reader is left at loss to understand why the commission with its ample staff, time, and resources, accepts as evidence for the consequences of the Second Lebanon War what the comparatively ill-informed and distracted general public believes to be the consequences of that wars.

If this reading of the preliminary report is correct, then on the basis of a logically flawed inference "the public believes the war was a failure, therefore the war was a failure," the Winograd commission has plunged Israel into a political crisis. There is only one healthy way out of the crisis: the Israeli public, but especially opinion makers in politics, journalism, the army, the wider intelligence community, and academia, need to hold a factually informed public debate as to the actual consequences of the war, focusing principally on events in Lebanon during and subsequent to the war and their wider ramifications. Only should we come to agree with the hidden but implied premise of the Winograd report that the Olmert Government's decision to go to war and the mode in which it conducted that war failed to achieve sufficiently worthy ends, can we consider whether the personal "conclusions" and structural "recommendations" proposed in the preliminary version of the Winograd report are generally justified, and whether their application is desirable.

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