Ehud Olmert also wants to be coddled like the proverbial etrog. His master and teacher, Ariel Sharon, was granted extensive leeway by the political center, a small part of the left and the media, thanks to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. This problematic unilateral step bought Sharon immunity from corruption scandals. No one mentioned the severe failure of the first Lebanon War. But Olmert has shelved his plan for disengagement from the West Bank, so what is left of his short term in office is mainly the failure of the Second Lebanon War and a huge pile of corruption affairs on the attorney general's desk.
So how can Olmert seek etrog status, protected from every scratch? That is why they invented Benjamin Netanyahu. If you do not keep swallowing Olmert, his people continually reiterate, the public will call on Bibi. That frightens Labor ministers and Kadima MKs, but this strategy has two weaknesses. One: Who says that Olmert is the only person in Kadima worthy of the premiership? At least a dozen members of the party seem to believe that at least two other party leaders (Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni) could do the job just as well. The second weakness is that polls show the public's disgust with Olmert is far stronger than its fear of Bibi.
True, in most democratic regimes, including the United States, leaders can survive to the last day of their term even after becoming embroiled in an idiotic war. But there is a big difference between the narrow margin of error that a troubled country with seven million citizens can allow itself and the wide margin that a superpower with 300 million citizens enjoys.
Amazingly, Olmert found an etrog for himself deep in the Winograd report itself. Chapter 7, Clause 17, footnote 8 states: "A culture that does not allow an individual who has erred to continue in his post in appropriate cases is not a culture that learns, and it might lose its most experienced people only to enable those who have not yet erred to repeat mistakes that those who have already made them would avoid. One of the worst outcomes in such a culture is the refusal to admit a mistake, with all its ramifications, because of a reality that repays such admissions in a way perceived as unjust."
Olmert and his advisers understood that the Winograd Committee had formulated a new rule: A leader can commit whatever foolishness he wants with impunity. All he has to do afterward is appoint an examination committee, announce that he will accept the findings and appoint a special team to correct the mistakes. But here, too, there are two weaknesses. First, the statement quoted begins with the words: "A leader who admits his mistake can also recognize the need to correct it; only one who does not act makes no mistakes." Olmert insists that he made no mistakes in deciding to go to war or in continuing it after the United Nations Security Council approved a cease-fire resolution. Second, the committee did not forget to note that "the attitude toward mistakes must be differential, depending on the size and seriousness of the mistake." The last word has not yet been said on the size and seriousness of Olmert's mistakes.
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