Analyze This: Olmert the realist does the right, smart thing

PM shows that his political smarts haven't deserted him.

olmert quits 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert quits 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been called many things throughout his career, especially during the past two years. But as a pure politician, such words as "smart," "shrewd," "pragmatist" and "realist" have always been among the most frequent adjectives applied to him. However else one could describe his speech Wednesday evening announcing his intention to resign following the Kadima primary on September 17, the same words above also comfortably fit in this instance. Olmert certainly did the right thing in declaring the end of his tenure as premier - but more importantly, at least from his perspective, he did the smart thing. He certainly did, as he often does, the smart thing politically. With the finalizing of the Kadima primary date this week Olmert truly became a lame duck, with no chance for reelection as party leader and retaining no remaining clout for his government to carry out any significant decisions. By making his intentions clear at this stage, he will at least earn back some respect from his coalition colleagues, and will be able to leave office on his own timetable, rather than having the police and State Attorney's Office decide it for him. It is also the smart thing personally, at least as regards being able to better contend with the several legal proceedings now moving against him. The most serious of these, at least based on leaks to the media, is the Rishon Tours affair involving his alleged multiple-billing of flights abroad. What's more, that investigation involves members of his family, a distraction that must truly be taking its toll on the prime minister. By stepping down now, Olmert will be able to focus fully on defending himself against any charges resulting from that and the other investigations. It might also open up the way, if necessary, for a possible plea-bargain with the Attorney-General's Office to minimize the consequences for Olmert over those "mistakes" he did admit to making in his speech Wednesday evening. Finally, Olmert did the smart thing historically - and from the way he defended his entire term of office in his comments, offering up a list of achievements during his shortened tenure as prime minister, he was also clearly thinking as much of his long-term legacy as he was his immediate fate. With the Second Lebanon War casting a shadow over his time in office, Olmert clearly prefers also not to be remembered as the first prime minister to be indicted while still in office. All this is so self-evident it may be difficult to see just what other option the prime minister really had. But many people, even veteran politicians who should know better, often act otherwise in similar circumstances - just look, for example, at the behavior of former president Moshe Katsav. Olmert, in contrast, gave one of the best speeches of his career last night, and can now leave his office with a modicum of the dignity it deserves. A man who would never have attained the premiership were it not for a chain of unforeseen circumstances - the Likud breakup that led to Kadima's creation, Ariel Sharon's sudden stroke - was enough of a realist, as usual, to grasp that the moment had come when his fortune had finally run out. Thus Olmert leaves office bloodied, but not completely bowed. He is not even the first prime minister to step down in the midst of legal troubles, the late Yitzhak Rabin having preceded him in that dubious distinction by three decades. It may even be that the prime minister had in mind Rabin's example in taking this step - at least from the perspective of the latter being able to preserve his political career. Olmert, of course, is out of the game for now, and realistically has no chance of ever returning to the Prime Minister's Office he was very lucky to gain in the first place. But some political commentators were perhaps a little quick after his announcement to declare a final finish to Olmert's public career. In this country, it often seems almost everything is possible in politics - and if he can beat the allegations against him, or they end up less serious than most currently believe, who's to say we've seen the last of Ehud Olmert? Having proved that at least he knows when to make the proper exit, the prime minister showed that whatever his other shortcomings, his political smarts haven't deserted him. [email protected]