Waiting for Winograd

The public does not need the committee to tell it what to think, it needs to know what happened, in a full and fair context, in order to judge for itself.

winograd 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
winograd 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Winograd Committee will reportedly issue its final report in the next few weeks. In the meantime, court cases have swirled around whether the committee must issue warning letters to officials and officers who might be affected by its work. The perhaps even more controversial question was whether the committee should or would make "personal recommendations" calling on senior officials to step down. In statements issued around the release of its first report, the Winograd Committee suggested that it reserved the right to make more explicit statements about what particular officials should do. The implication was that if its blistering criticism of Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, and Dan Halutz was not enough to force them to step down, then it might have to say so more directly. Over time, however, the committee got bogged down in legal wrangles over warning letters. Seemingly torn between the desire to issue something with more teeth and doing so quickly, with minimal legal encumberments, the committee looks as if it ended up with the worst of both worlds: interminable delays and no teeth. Now the committee is saying that it will not be issuing "personal recommendations." Further, its first report was "partial," not "interim," implying that its "personal conclusions" were final and will not be substantially added to by its final report. All of this, however, tends to miss the central purpose of this process. Much of the discussion treats the Winograd Committee as if it were the judge and jury of the government's conduct of the Lebanon War. While in the investigatory sense this is true, the public and media anticipation of such a "verdict" is misplaced. The committee's purpose should be regarded differently. What the public and political system need the committee for is less its "verdict" than its presentation of the facts. We need to know how decisions were made, why and in what context. If there were failures of process, judgment, or both - and the strong public sense, confirmed by the partial report, is that there were such failures - then those failures should be exposed to help prevent them from happening again. Exposure alone, of course, does not automatically prevent repetition. At this very moment, for example, a central lesson of the war, the folly of allowing a terrorist enemy to carry out a massive arms buildup on our border, is being repeated in Gaza. And in this case it is even more inexcusable, both because we should have learned from very recent and costly experience and because it is much more preventable, since Egypt, a supposedly responsible nation at peace with Israel, controls the border that the weapons are crossing. History is replete with governments and leaders ignoring the lessons of the past. Yet the committee's work is critical because if daylight is not shed on what went wrong, there is even less chance of fixing it in the future. Now we have a situation in which two of the three key figures "indicted" by Winograd have left office, while the principle figure, Ehud Olmert, remains as ensconced as ever. Further, far from "implementing" the conclusions of the Winograd Report, he is repeating the same errors in judgment that that report exposed. The committee cannot be blamed for this situation. It is the public that seems to have delegated its vote to the committee. If the committee were to demand Olmert's resignation, many, if not most, would cheer. But if it does not, the public seems content to watch as the Knesset and Olmert dismiss its conclusions and blithely continue in office. Our political system seems to be sustaining itself on public cynicism. That the government still stands is largely testament to the public's feeling that going through elections will not produce anything better. We have stumbled into a vicious cycle of ever-lowering expectations fulfilling and perpetuating themselves. From a morale perspective, more of Winograd's spotlight into the inner workings of this deeply flawed government will hardly be encouraging. Yet it is healthy to remind ourselves that a higher standard of governance still exists, if only in the breach. The public does not need the committee to tell it what to think, it needs to know what happened, in a full and fair context, in order to judge for itself. Further, the public needs to find within itself the power to expect more from its leaders and impose political consequences on those who fail to deliver.