Who Needs Concepts?

In one of the many interviews broadcast upon the death of Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy was asked about the myth of her dependence on astrologers to make decisions, including presidential decisions made by her husband. Without denying it, she said in her defense that in an hour of need, like after the attempted assassination of the president, we grasp at elements that it's doubtful we would turn to in normal times.

Since times are never "normal" in Israel, and most fateful decisions are patched together with haste and distress, no wonder those called "assessment and intelligence officials" are taking up every central position in the discourse. It can be said that it's a kind of index. The lax vision and barren thinking of the leadership is in direct proportion to the rise of the power and importance of "assessment officials." Because of miserable historic circumstances, those "assessment officials" are almost entirely from military circles: and although we're not talking about stargazers but opinionated, determined generals who launch assessments formulated with semi-scientific language, lately it seems they fulfill the same astrological function. Except, perhaps, with one difference: astrologers are somewhat less sure of themselves. After all, what is a "concept" if not "a belief without evidence by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel," as the American wit, Ambrose Bierce, defined faith in his "Devil's Dictionary."

Has any proof been found of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is there any proof of the thoughts running around in Arafat's mind? Is it possible to feel the "Palestinian vision?" To confirm the "intentions" and whims of Saddam, Sadat, Ghadafi? Do we have any way of predicting their desires, guessing their wishes? Until now, it's been thought that these spheres belong to the realm of mystical communication. But no longer: Our "assessment officials" have long since deviated from the functions attributed to classic intelligence. No longer the gray unheralded gathering of facts, collecting empirical information, pointing to troop movements, revealing operational commands, identifying enemy arms acquisitions, etc., etc., etc. Our military intelligence has moved into the realm of parapsychology, metaphysics, theology, new age: Our "assessment officials" treat the "vision" of the enemy with the same concreteness that classic military intelligence treats a ballistic missile; "Palestinian intentions" are treated like lathes used to make mortars; and Arafat's consciousness is handled as if it were an aircraft carrier.

Let's put it this way: An army that defines a war's goal as "searing the consciousness" in the enemy's brain, presumably has pretensions about being fully informed - intelligence-wise - about what's going on in that consciousness, even more than the external reality, for otherwise, how shall we know, for example, if we've won?

If we thought that some of these "spiritualist" intelligence eccentricities are somehow tied to some specific personality who is especially "enlightened," like Amos Gilad - it turns out that it's not at all personal. We are faced with a consistent and constant institutional hard line. As revealed in Haaretz this week, it turns out that that very same Gilad's heir, Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, head of research in Military Intelligence, is even busier than his predecessor with the maze of Palestinian consciousness. Gilad only went as far as researching Arafat's brain, while his heir is already on the way the way to the source of the Nile of the "Palestinian vision."

Armed with an analytical machete, Kuperwasser slashes his way to the heart of darkness in the Palestinian unconsciousness: he carves his way through the jungles of intentions, desires, longings, visions, the "gaps doctrine," pipe dreams, Arafat's lapses and tics, Freudian slips of the pen in documents, et al. And it's all to reach the conclusion that the Palestinians want to throw us all into the sea. True, every pickle vendor in the shuk has long since reached the same conception, but when it comes from "the head of research in Military Intelligence," it sounds much more conceptual.

Indeed, the importance given to the assessments of "intelligence and assessment bodies" - and proportionately their own opinionated pretentiousness - has long since deviated from any reasonable and logical level. It's not necessarily their fault. After all, in the absence of a political vision, the battered army is enlisted to produce conception after conception. One fails, immediately another comes to take its place; if the "there is a partner" concept collapses, then it must immediately be replaced by the symmetrical alternative of "there is no partner," and over and over it goes. The important thing is that there is a conception, as if our lives are not worth living without some conception, preferably a dramatic, axiomatic one, to justify our haplessness and serve as an alternative to the loss of our wits.

But in fact, who needs a conception, other than a leadership that evades its responsibilities? Why not decide to the point, a best judgment call, with flexible thinking appropriate for a changing reality? On the day the research department in Military Intelligence returns to the barracks and the other astrologers resume their natural dimensions, we'll know that finally someone has taken the wheel of state. Meanwhile, the strange dependence that has developed on assessment officials, can be compared to consulting a mechanic - a particularly opinionated and voluble one - not about how to drive, but where to.