While the vultures circle overhead and the public calls for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to "go home" as soon as possible, let's stop a minute and think. After all, this is precisely the same solid majority - of the cabinet, Knesset and public - that urged Olmert to wage a wide-scale war, hit Hezbollah and teach the Lebanese a lesson they won't forget. If that's the case, maybe the majority isn't always right.
There are two reasons to throw Olmert out of office. The first is the way the decision was made to wage war. The Winograd Committee determined that the decision was made hastily and without an in-depth examination of the issues. The committee even raises doubts about the necessity of the military operation, its timing, its nature and the chances of success. It accuses Olmert of a "serious failure."
The second reason relates to suspicion that Olmert is involved in four acts of corruption: the tender for the sale of Bank Leumi, in which Olmert is accused of taking part to benefit his Australian friend Frank Lowy; the political appointments Olmert is accused of making at the Investment Center of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry; Olmert's alleged intervention in the Investment Center to benefit attorney Uri Messer, his friend; and Olmert's purchase of an apartment on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem. If it turns out that Olmert is indeed corrupt, even in one such affair, he will have to quit immediately. When it comes to ethics, we must not hesitate.
But making decisions about the Second Lebanon War has another side to it. The committee criticizes the haste of the decision-making, but describes a long list of meetings and consultations that Olmert conducted on July 12 with the chief of staff, defense minister and others. Only at 10:30 at night was there a cabinet meeting, which unanimously decided to go to war. This may not be a perfect process, but it could be included within the margin of error that a prime minister has when he is under tremendous pressure to make life-and-death decisions.
The committee recommends a radical change in the decision-making process. It wants the prime minister to consult with external experts and accept the National Security Council's recommendations on all political-security issues. The panel even wants to set up a national crisis resolution center urgently; it would be equipped with a situation room and be in contact with the Israel Defense Forces and the Foreign Ministry, which would also express its opinion.
In short, the committee wants to establish a cumbersome bureaucratic structure that would completely paralyze the prime minister. With all the advisers and institutions that will naturally compete for his attention, the prime minister won't be able to decide on anything. And when he does, it will already be too late.
So instead of demanding an immediate dismissal, let's perhaps learn something from a different, larger democracy: the United States. The vast majority of Americans think President George W. Bush failed in Iraq, that he shouldn't have gone to war, and that, having gone, he should have left long ago. Bush's popularity is at a low - but no one is calling for him to quit immediately.
Bush will complete his second term because the Americans understand that governmental stability has value. A leader must be allowed a reasonable amount of time to rule because otherwise he will never take a risk or make an unpopular decision, whether on matters of war or peace. Not even on matters concerning investment in infrastructure or education. That's because these are processes whose benefit can be seen only in the long term. But a prime minister constantly worried about getting kicked out of office will only opt for decisions that are popular in the short term, without trying to change reality.
Immediately dismissing a prime minister reflects a substandard political culture. Can the state tolerate elections every year or two? And what about the damage to the economy, to growth and to employment when we enter the risky period of "election economics" when politicians tend to cater to the public's financial desires?
We can wait another two or three months until the results of the complete Winograd report. Then the committee's views on the conduct of the entire war, including its security-related and political ramifications, will become clear. And then we'll decide. Haste, as they say, is the work of the devil.
Let's take a deep breath, let the facts settle, study them better, consult more. Let's not be hasty. After all, that's what the Winograd Committee teaches us.
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