The Olmert myth and Barak's problem

Even before the tears have dried over the approaching death of Ehud Olmert's government, another new myth is making the rounds: Olmert was a good prime minister.

Even before the tears have dried over the approaching death of Ehud Olmert's government - after a long, drawn-out period at death's door - another new myth is making the rounds: Olmert was a good prime minister.

Not just good, but excellent. Sharp. Decisive. Involved in the details and developments. This is absolutely the opposite of what his defense attorneys claim in his criminal cases. There he is never responsible, had no idea, those were only trivial matters handled by underlings such as Shula Zaken and travel agencies.

The most interesting facet of the Olmert myth, which even the bearers of the tale admit, is that reality on all its levels - security, political, economic and social - is actually quite depressing. A bad situation and a good prime minister is an Israeli miracle.

This is a phenomenon we recognize from the Israel Defense Forces: They prefer someone who makes quick, firm decisions, even if they are bad: "We will start moving and make corrections along the way." The IDF prefers this over someone who thinks and hesitates first.

Olmert, who established the Winograd Commission of inquiry into the Second Lebanon War, was the only senior official involved who survived the findings. Olmert justified his refusal to resign by his determination to fix the failings. But he did not fix them. When the time came to retake the examination during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, it turned out that his grades, as the only participant in both chapters, did not improve.

The government fell to its lowest point last week over the negotiations to free Gilad Shalit. The ministers competed among themselves in taking sides, choosing the one they thought was most popular. But the cabinet is itself the measure of the national interest; and it is not its role to act as a non-governmental organization or an interest group, as just another lobby working against the government.

Over the past three years - one each for every indictment recommendation, with room left over for another one soon - Olmert's devoted followers in the media, whether in the newspapers, radio or television, worked hard on his behalf. They are much closer to the serving prime minister than military correspondents are to the defense minister, the chief of staff or the head of the Shin Bet security service. These journalists carry a certain amount of the responsibility, if not for the situation itself then at least for the gap between the truth and the image.

It is also worrying to see that the custom of senior officers befriending politicians they are meant to serve has not disappeared, even now that Ariel Sharon's time has passed. It was recently reported that Olmert's staff held a party for him. Among those celebrating was his military aide, Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, who has never been known as one to ingratiate himself with his superiors. But just like most of his predecessors, he does not know how to draw the lines between his military service and his political surroundings. Maybe Kalifi learned something from his commander, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, at the general staff's party for Olmert.

Ashkenazi was at the Pentagon last week. It is a shame he did not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his hosts if American officers ate and drank with disgraced president Richard Nixon before he resigned with the law close behind him.

The person who is actually appropriate for the American system is Ehud Barak. It would be appropriate for him to serve as a personal appointee of an elected leader - not as the leader of a party in his own right, like his friends Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld served their presidents.

Barak has a relative advantage from his military track, in his expertise and understanding, and in his approach that integrates a broad vision with detailed knowledge.

As a politician, whose profession is the human soul, he is hopeless. Like other retirees from the intelligence services, such as Rafi Eitan and Avi Dichter, who were discovered to be politicians unable to see beyond their noses, Barak has made every possible mistake. The escape clauses that Barak worked into the promises he planned to violate destroyed his credibility. In his losses, he also desired to serve under whoever defeated him, first Sharon and now Netanyahu.

Barak is distorting the essence in presenting his fervor to join forces with Netanyahu as the voters' will. In that way he can present any combination that wins a majority in the Knesset.

He could even claim that a government headed by Ahmed Tibi and supported by Avigdor Lieberman, Barak and Shas represented the public's choice.

Barak and Netanyahu deserve each other. Barak is afraid of being left out. Netanyahu is scared to be left inside, alone. But don't worry: The day will come when they too become ridiculous myths, just like Olmert.