He ran the country well

But it takes more than managerial competency to make a good prime minister.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Shortly after the end of the Second Lebanon War, Ehud Olmert told newspaper interviewers: "A prime minister doesn't need an agenda, he needs to run the country." Putting the war to one side - a case of "How was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" - as well as the myriad of police investigations into his allegedly criminal behavior, the general consensus is that Olmert did, in fact, run the country well. Despite the recent terror attacks in Jerusalem, Israeli citizens in the main are more worried by gangsters having a shoot-out on the beach than terrorists, and the economy is holding up well in the face of an international recession. Tourists are back and world leaders have made a point of visiting this year to help mark the country's 60th anniversary. And yet, Olmert will go down in history as one of our most, if not the most, unpopular prime ministers. The main reason for this is, of course, the Second Lebanon War. The public will never forgive a leader who fails to meet its military expectations, as Golda Meir also discovered in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Olmert's mistake of appointing Amir Peretz as defense minister and his hastiness in launching the war sealed his eventual political fate, even though it took another two years and only the increasing probability of a criminal indictment to make him realize he had no choice but to stand down. Indeed, if it were not for the scandals surrounding the prime minister, he would still be floundering in the polls, but continuing to run the country. 'I LIKE my job," Olmert once told a Kadima forum, explaining why he would not bow to the public's will and resign. But this remark, and his statement about not needing an agenda, more than anything else explain why Olmert was unsuited for the premiership. Leading a country is not a career move, and it takes more than managerial competency to become a good prime minister. A leader needs vision and, despite his fine words at Ben-Gurion's grave, Olmert had nothing in practice to offer. All his immediate predecessors sought, not always successfully, to leave their mark on the country and build a better future. Ariel Sharon disengaged from the Gaza Strip, while Ehud Barak failed in his brave attempt to reach a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. Binyamin Netanyahu aimed to reshape Israeli society and its economy, while Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres began the whole Oslo process. Olmert has nothing similar to show for the time he stubbornly hung on to office. His whole tenure as prime minister has been, at best, a waste of time. It is therefore depressing that none of Olmert's would-be successors in Kadima are offering a compelling reason as to why they should be the next prime minister. While there is a certain logic in Tzipi Livni presenting herself as the antidote to Olmert in terms of ethical behavior, not having double-billed for an airplane ticket or accepted dubious expenses are hardly the core qualities demanded in a prime minister. With a recent cabinet meeting coming to the conclusion that Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War, was empty of meaning, Livni has little to show for her work as foreign minister. She talks of the necessity of a two-state solution but has not presented a convincing road map as to how we will reach this goal. EVEN LESS inspiring is Shaul Mofaz. As transportation minister he has singularly failed to address the impending danger to airline passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport. According to Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Lapidot, head of the Public Committee to Examine Civil Aviation Safety, Israel is "at a level of immediate national danger and is already lagging 20 years behind the standards in properly run countries." All Mofaz can do is counter that Lapidot is "sowing panic," while admitting that the country is not reaching the international standards of safety to which it aspires. In other countries, such a poorly performing minister would not dream of running for the top job, but Mofaz is ignoring his present track record and running on his security credentials as a former chief of General Staff and ex-defense minister. Security experience by itself, however, is no guarantee of leadership ability and as a recent chief of General Staff and defense minister, Mofaz cannot escape responsibility for some of the IDF's shortcomings in the Second Lebanon War. One also has the sneaking feeling that Mofaz joined Kadima at the time of its founding more because he saw the Likud disintegrating at the polls than out of any deep ideological motivation. Two days before he joined Kadima, he proclaimed that the Likud was his home which he would never leave and perhaps, in his heart, he never did. His recent irresponsible remarks that Israel would have to attack Iran, aside from leading to a sharp rise in oil prices, showed his hawkish intentions. With these less-than-inspiring candidates for prime minister, and the presence of such political pygmies as Ruhama Avraham-Balila and Eli Aflalo around the present cabinet table, the option of early elections is beginning to look more and more attractive. The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.