Please Open Your Exercise Books

The gap that has been uncovered between the leaders of the past and their successors today is incomprehensible.

The Winograd report's sharp, clear phrasing, which speaks for itself, was apparently insufficient. The commission decided to decorate its report with a poem by Yehuda Amichai, to lend it the appropriate loftiness and gravity. It might possibly have created a more chilling effect by attaching the article by historian Dr. Mordechai Naor - "The old man's black book" (April 24 in the Haaretz English Edition) - which describes "what a seasoned politician with experience in the civilian arena [does] when he is appointed defense minister."

The year was 1947 and the politician was David Ben-Gurion. What he did was simple: The moment he received the defense portfolio of the Jewish state-in-the-making, Ben-Gurion established for himself a "personal seminar," as he termed it, which lasted six weeks and in which he set about learning the duties his new position entailed. He met with dozens of commanders of the Haganah Underground (pre-independence army of Palestine's Jews), interrogating them thoroughly. He distrusted overly uniform answers, made field trips and filled entire exercise books with minute details: data on commanders, training methods, weapon arsenals, the possibilities of arms manufacturing and procurement. He simultaneously gathered similar information on the Arab armies. Unlike some of the commanders, he was not optimistic. Skeptical and sober-minded, he devoted his energies to what needed to be corrected, prepared or built.

In this respect, Ben-Gurion was not unique. The gap that has been uncovered between the leaders of the past and their successors today in the premiership, Defense Ministry and General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces is incomprehensible - it is as though we were talking about two separate worlds. There is an almost symmetrical contrast between Ben-Gurion's determination, awareness, imagination and sense of responsibility, and the mental laziness, narrow-mindedness and rashness displayed (at least, according to the Winograd report) by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz.

Past leaders should not be idealized: Like the present ones, they were seasoned politicians, thought about their political survival and generated "spins." What is so disturbing about the comparison between Ben-Gurion and his present successors is not the feeling that our past leaders were "giants" but rather the understanding that we have become accustomed to "pygmies" - namely, disgracefully substandard leadership.

Although admittedly a great leader, Ben-Gurion simply did the basic minimum we naturally expect of any leader or senior official: learning about your new role, gathering data, defining objectives, becoming involved in something bigger and more important than your ego. The Winograd report, from which some spirit of the past emanates, only demonstrates how far we have distanced ourselves from this natural expectation of what leaders are supposed to do.

Today's politicians and generals are no less gifted or educated than their predecessors. The difference is their degree of commitment and their way of thinking, which also determine their degree of maturity and their stature. The present leadership, as it was so starkly exposed in the last war, is guilty of magic-oriented thinking, like several past leaders and like the majority of the Israeli public: "Things will somehow work themselves out simply because we want them to."

For example: "The IDF is more than the sum of its parts." Why? Because it simply is. Because that is what the IDF has always been, because that is what the Israel Air Force has always been, and because they "will know what to do."

Alas, our military strength is precisely the sum of all its parts - the sum of its nuts and bolts, caterpillar tracks, exercises, plans, personnel. No less, but also no more. Somebody has to worry about those details. That "somebody" is not found beside, behind or before our senior leaders as in a game of hide and seek. No, that "someone" is the leaders themselves. Ben-Gurion was so anxious and worried that he had to confine himself to bed before every military operation. As IDF chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin collapsed because of his sense of responsibility and his anxiety on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War. Not so our present leaders, who go off to war without blinking an eye. They chatter meaninglessly, are arrogant, worry about being properly made-up for the television cameras, and are strongly driven by an almost infantile urge to "be prime minister."

Along comes the Winograd report and drops a bomb. But that is not enough. Leaders have to work hard, get their exercise books out, do their homework, train their minds, take responsibility for their actions, and do something useful, damn it.