Powered by WebAds

Friday, February 01, 2008

Olmert's fatal flaw: It's arrogance

No great surprises here. Writing in The New Republic, Jerusalem correspondent Yossi Klein HaLevi hits Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert's fatal flaw on the head: It's arrogance.
Olmert's fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance. No Israeli leader ever decided to go to war faster than Olmert did--in a matter of hours. And no Israeli leader was worse prepared: Not only did Olmert have no security expertise, but neither did his defense minister. The one member of his cabinet with top military credentials--former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz--was serving as transportation minister, and Olmert didn't include him in his inner circle. Olmert failed to establish clear goals for Israel's counter-attack or to inquire whether the IDF had alternative plans. Olmert's policy was, in effect: Let's go to war and see what happens.

Israelis, who are repeatedly called upon to defend their country, have to trust their leaders' integrity. Even if Olmert has been vindicated of the accusation that he sacrificed 33 soldiers for personal gain, he remains the first Israeli prime minister widely perceived to place his own interests above those of the nation. Olmert still faces nearly a half-dozen criminal investigations and, according to a recent poll, is seen by Israelis as the country's most corrupt leader, a clever lawyer who's managed to keep one step ahead of the law. That perception could undermine morale in wartime. Israelis may well ask whether a leader who failed so miserably in war and then refused to take personal responsibility for that failure has the right to send their sons into war again.

Olmert's political longevity will also have devastating consequences for his political party, Kadima, the first centrist party to form a government. In linking the center to his own persona, Olmert will drive many Kadima voters back to the right or the left. Olmert's failure is ideological, too. The hope of Kadima was to free Israeli politics from the contest between two equally non-viable alternatives: "greater Israel" of the right, "peace now" of the left. Yet Kadima under Olmert has failed to articulate a coherent centrist position, especially after the collapse of the unilateral withdrawal option following the withdrawal from Gaza, which has resulted in daily rocket attacks on Israeli towns in the south. The result is that the next election may well be a contest between Likud and Labor, back to the old mode of left versus right.

With Gaza burning and Iran approaching the nuclear threshold, Olmert will continue to be preoccupied with political survival, in the face of both ongoing corruption investigations and coalition unrest. In allowing Olmert to once again remain one step ahead of the law, the Winograd commission committed the same mistake it attributed to the prime minister's conduct during the Lebanon War: missing an opportunity to extract Israel from danger.
I have two bones to pick with Klein HaLevi. First, by calling Olmert's Kadima party 'centrist' I think he's ascribing to them an ideology that they don't have. Kadima is not a true centrist party and it has no ideology. This is from an Ari Shavit column in Haaretz nearly two years ago that was written as a letter to the eighteen (really it's twelve) families that control Israel's economy with my comment - made at the time - tacked on at the end:

But the issue isn't just personal. As a vehicle, Kadima has the political structure we always dreamed of, being a party with no members and no institutions and no ideology. The new ruling party will be a vastly valuable tool to achieve our goals. Since it has no obligations downward, only upward, it will enable us to seize full control over the Israeli government. Police, prosecution, treasury - it will all be in our hands. Even the antitrust commissioner. The Supervisor of Banks. Even the Supreme Court will be manned with new, friendly faces. Like Berlusconi's Italy or Putin's Russia, Israel of Kadima will be a paradise for corporate control. The decrepit democratic regime of the 20th century will be replaced by a reign of the oligarchs with absolute economic power.

Ladies and gentlemen, do not underestimate the importance of this moment. In the last few months we proved we can hold elections with no debate of the issues, no confrontations, no true picture of the situation. We proved that by anesthetizing public opinion, we can mold it. We have perfected the art of managing the democratic process so as to yield the desired results.

And at the end, when the masses return home from the voting booth, we will be able to say with absolute certainty: We rule Israel absolutely. Not indirectly but directly, not partially but wholly. Israel is ours, dear 18 Families.

For those of you whose response is that every country has corrupt politicians who will say anything to be elected, that is not the history of this country. In 1977, just before the elections, Yitzchak Rabin resigned from the party leadership because it was discovered that his wife maintained a bank account in Washington DC - which was illegal under the foreign currency regulations at the time. Menachem Begin and Golda Meir both resigned after wars in which they were the country's leaders (Lebanon and Yom Kippur, respectively) went badly. I may not agree with everything David Ben Gurion did, but he never tried to enrich himself at the country's expense. Politicians in this country used to be straight shooters. Olmert is not. And neither is his party, which was born in sin. Olmert and Kadima must go.
The other nit I have to pick with Klein HaLevi is that he implies that the Commission should have fired Olmert:
In allowing Olmert to once again remain one step ahead of the law, the Winograd commission committed the same mistake it attributed to the prime minister's conduct during the Lebanon War: missing an opportunity to extract Israel from danger.
But the Commission never had the mandate to extract Israel from danger. The entire reason we had the Winograd Commission rather than an official government committee of inquest (like the Agranat Commission that sent Golda Meir to retirement after the Yom Kippur War of the Kahan Commission that sent Ariel Sharon into temporary retirement after the Lebanon War - Begin resigned of his own volition) was so that the Commission would not be able to force Olmert out. This is from a YNet article I blogged a year and a half ago:
With the judge's appointment, the prime minister is looking to minimize public and political criticism waged against him regarding government investigation of the war in Lebanon.

At first, Olmert seemed determined not to appoint a commission, then he asked to split the commission into three – two state commissions of inquiry, one to examine the political echelons and another for the military, and a third commission of the state comptroller to investigate the management of government offices and home front functioning. Since this declaration, his expectations have collapsed one after the other.

Already the day after his declaration on the three commissions, a public debate arose between the prime minister and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the latter emphasizing in the media that he is not a subordinate of the government and isn't obligated to act according to its wishes. In the State Control Committee, he detailed the steps of his investigation following the war in Lebanon, and that it turns out that both the political and the military echelons were in the crosshairs.
The specific issue of whether a government commission of inquiry - a statutory body with the power to send the government home - should be appointed, was considered by the High Court of Justice. The court let the Winograd structure stand by an unusual 4-3 vote, even though the court was quite critical of it.
Writing on behalf of the Supreme Court majority, Supreme Court Vice President Eliezer Rivlin wrote:
Sharp criticism has been leveled at the decision to appoint an inquiry committee to investigate the war and to give precedence to a state inquiry commission. Hard feelings have developed in the public, and an understandable desire has been expressed for the events of the war to be investigated in the best, most comprehensive and trustworthy way that will merit...the public's trust.
Rivlin also wrote:
The government's behavior in general and its decision not to establish a State-commissioned inquiry in particular will also be judged by the public. The rejection of this petition does not constitute a 'kosher' stamp on the matter for the public. It does not relieve the elected officials of their obligation to the public. They will be held accountable for their actions by the voters.
It's not fair to blame the Commission for not exercising powers it did not have. It's time for the public to hold Olmert and Kadima accountable. The government must go.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is supposed to decide this weekend whether to pull Labor out of the government. If he does, the government should fall. If he does not, all hell should break loose fairly soon. Even if Olmert is replaced at the head of Kadima (and Livni and Mofaz both claim not to be interested in that), I don't expect the coalition to last long anyway. Contrary to what you read in the media, much of the country is furious.


At 4:34 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Kadima is a Seinfeldian party... it stands for nothing other than the survival of the people in it. It has no real beliefs, values or vision. Ehud Olmert's arrogance may be his undoing but right now what keeps him afloat is his ability to play every one off against each other. He's certainly a poor leader but is an amazing politician. Who always seems to escape people's attention in the middle of a disaster.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger J. Lichty said...

Interesting Carl that you think after Barak stays in the government (which does anyone have any doubts he will after this whitewash of a report) there will be a downfall.

You have all along said that the public is powerless to make the government fall. Millinions protested retreat from Gaza. What has changed - how do you see it happening? (good shabbos and I await your response on Sunday)

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The media seems to be whitewashing the whole report. Most articles i am seeing in YNet, Jerusalem Post etc., Are trying to take the blame away from this criminal Olmert.
The last comment made an interesting point though. What can the public do to make the government fall, especially when the public local and international news services hardly report it?

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

J. Lichty,

The public always had the ability to bring down the government by protesting loudly enough. After this report, I think enough people have had it that we will see a lot of demonstrations starting with Monday's Knesset session. I don't think Olmert will ever find a conscience and resign. I think Barak will bring down the government. He knows that's what most of the country wants and while Labor voters may not want it, Labor would like to return to power one day which means they will need more voters than they currently have.

At 4:10 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - for that to happen, Labor would have to admit the Oslo-Wye-Roadmap-Annapolis policy of territorial concessions and disengagement is a dead end that imperils Israel. I don't think the party committed to the mistaken concept is likely to make that kind of reappraisal.

It would be more preferable to see Ehud Barak keep Labor in the government so its failures become associated with Labor as well as Kadima and Barak also ends up becoming discredited in the process. There's no reason to let Labor anymore than Kadima off the hook for the policies of the past decade.

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Aryeh said...

I do not see in what way Olmert is more arrogant than other politicians.
Here is my (different) interpretation of the 2006 events:



Post a Comment

<< Home