Unlearned Lessons From Failed Governments

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been criticized by Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum, which is not unusual for a politician - especially in Israel, considering its large number of political parties. Although Olmert's resume is varied, the same ability that defined him as mayor of Jerusalem also became his downfall.

Fred Taub, Boycott Watch,

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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been criticized by Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum, which is not unusual for a politician - especially in Israel, considering its large number of political parties. Although Olmert's resume is varied, the same ability that defined him as mayor of Jerusalem also became his downfall.

When Olmert became mayor of Jerusalem in 1993, he had big shoes to fill, as his predecessor was Mayor Teddy Kollek, a.k.a. Mr. Jerusalem. Kollek was not only able to keep all the diverse religious groups in Jerusalem happy and living alongside each other, but he also ran the municipality well, as evidenced by remaining mayor from 1965 to 1993. Olmert emulated the Kollek style of keeping all religious entities happy, but was not able to deliver city services at anywhere near the level Kollek did.

While Olmert sharpened his consensus-building skills, which were necessary to keep everyone happy, he did not focus his energy on the leadership skills necessary to best manage a bureaucracy. Olmert was an adequate mayor, but then again, nobody expected anyone to rival Kollek's accomplishments.

After being mayor of Jerusalem for ten years, Olmert was elected to the Knesset in 2003, where he used his consensus-building skills to make a name for himself as a team player in the Likud's Knesset block. This led to his appointment as minister of industry and trade, and then deputy prime minister.

As prime minister, however, the consensus skills Olmert had relied on all his political life have become a burden he has neither gotten past nor escaped. Olmert became Mr. Consensus. The traits required to run Jerusalem - i.e., consensus building to preserve peace among diverse groups while allowing each group to rally under their own flags - are the exact opposite of the skills required to lead a country, rallying the people behind him and under a single national flag.

President Bill Clinton governed using the same methodology. While trying to make everyone happy, he allowed polls to dictate his policy direction, and as a result, he did not lead by his convictions. Thus, there were no major policy accomplishments in his eight years as president. The Clinton gun-ban expired and his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was an executive order that can be removed with a single signature.

In his role as deputy prime minister, Olmert signed on to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan to build a consensus in the Knesset for Sharon. Olmert did his job for Sharon, but while he shared the vision of Sharon, he lacked one essential skill necessary to carry it out - foresight.

Hamas and Hizbullah both view Israel's relinquishment of Gaza as a victory for their terrorism, actions that emboldened the terrorist organizations to start Israel's most recent war. Despite this, Olmert still plans to give more land to the Palestinian Authority, an action that will surely also be viewed as another reward for terrorism.

A good politician operates like champion chess player. He plans each move he makes with a strategy to maneuver his opponent into position for an ultimate victory. At the same time, a good chess player needs to know when to resign, so as to not prolong his own agony and to allow him to move on and win another game. In his Lebanon campaign, however, Olmert did not know when to step aside. When trouble arose, he should have let someone else finish the game while it still could be won. Instead, he ran a long war campaign leading to Israel's first war stalemate, which by Israel's terms is a defeat, despite face-saving claims.

I lost track of the number of Olmert cabinet approvals during Israel's month of fighting Hizbullah, but it was reminiscent of another war prosecution by consensus, culminating in failure - Vietnam. That war, too, was run by politicians and not by generals. A true leader can not run a war by consensus. Olmert's cabinet approved every military move, step by step, instead of giving a single order allowing his generals and the IDF do their job the way they have always trained to do .

While Olmert may be a good municipal leader, he became prime minister in a transitional time for Israel, while the sun is setting on the era of Israel's founding war heroes, who were also Israel's political leaders. While some term this a power vacuum, Israel should continue to look toward its next generation of great military leaders for its future national leadership. Israel needs people who can lead, just as the United States did as our founding fathers faded into their sunsets.



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