June 18, 2008

The Olmert Show

Don't miss my friend and colleague Noah Pollak's latest at COMMENTARY magazine. I haven't studied Israeli history closely enough to decide whether or not Ehud Olmert is the worst prime minister in that country's history, but if he isn't it's a near miss.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2008 1:52 PM
Comments

I am following news from Israel from a distance, admittedly. But I am starting to get afraid that Irsaeli Jews may be losing their will to live. Israel's politics of the last few years have seemed pretty suicidal to me overall. Don't know what's up with that.

Olmert is making a pathetic spectacle of his remaining days in office, hoping that his manic, flailing diplomacy will be mistaken for boldness in pursuit of peacemaking.

I think it's all a cheap and desperate attempt to rescue his legacy. It happens to many leaders.

Have you noticed how so many US presidents (ehem, hint hint) on their last year of the their second term, all get this messianic inspiration to bring "peace in the Middle East",... at all costs!

Same with Olmert... He is a disgraceful tool as far as I am concerned.

What do you think of Bibi Netanyahu?

Posted by: medaura Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 8:14 PM

Medaura: What do you think of Bibi Netanyahu?

If I were an Israeli, I could only vote for him in a serious emergency. He might be good in a crisis, but I wouldn't want him in charge otherwise.

That's what I thought about Ariel Sharon too, though, and he turned out better than I expected.

I realize peace is impossible there right now (yes, I'm talking about you Condi, Olmert, and Bush), but it's better if the only actual obsructionists in power are on the Palestinian side rather than on both sides at the same time.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 8:31 PM

I lost a very long post to timeout: so here's a succinct redo:

1) Your ad hominems are sad excuses for argument. Judging you as I'd judge your commenters.

2) Your case against Olmert is wonderfully unarticulated.

3) Noah's is articulated, but it's magnificently stupid. Example and key "point":

4)And now Olmert is making peace overtures to Lebanon, giving the Lebanese prime minister the opportunity to reject negotiations and castigate Israel for its depredations against peace and justice while he’s at it.

a: Siniora is supposedly one of the good guys from the Cedar Revolution, now just waiting for a chance to dump on us.

b. If a) is true, who f*cking cares? Oh no, we somehow gave an Arab leader an opportunity to say something MEAN about us.. because we did something nice! To drop out of satire for a second, Arab leaders talk trash about Israel every day and no one cares. And what, exactly, happens to Israel when and if Siniora reacts to this peace overture negatively. How many people does that kill? How many nuclear missiles does that hand someone? Sing it to me.

c. If Pollak wasn't a fool and a fanatic, he'd consider the possibility that, I don't know, making peace overtures publicly towards Siniora makes it harder for him - and Hizballah - to demonize Israel. We've entered a bizarro world where making peaceful gestures gives people 'opportunities' to hate you. Um, I think they have those regardless. eh?

d. If you need to find a reason for Pollak's logic in #4, I suggest an obsession with looking weak and being 'disrespected' reminiscent of a gangland leader of Newark, New Jersey.

e. But you're supposed to be smarter than that. Moving on:

#5. Olmert's diplomacy makes perfect sense for an America - not to mention an Israel - trying to build a coalition against Iran. Me, I think that's silly as well, but once you've bought into the whole World-Ending Nuclear Doom - and they have - making nice with Sunnis - and with every other state in the region follows like babies after mammas. The single hardest part of forming an Arab coalition against Iran for Arab states involves being on the same side as Israel. Trying to sweeten that is the minimum requirements of pragmatism.

#6. So what's the other case against Olmert? His ethical problems are being selectively pushed by dead-enders like Noah with agendas. Sharon was easily just as guilty, as is every other major Israeli politician. The system is top-to-bottom fu*ked, and he's taking the fall because he's politically weakened.

#7. By the Lebanon war, which you can bet your bottom dollar would have gone the same way whomever was in power from among the choices. And I don't think you really believe otherwise, Mike.

#8. So what's left, against Olmert, exactly? Would you care to make a case? And what, exactly, should Olmert be doing instead of making peace with Lebanon? Bomb it some more? Who do you think is driving peace with Syria? Could it be, hmm, the entire rest of the world needed to build pressure on Iran? Do you think heightened Israel-Syria tension and cold war is likely to make things in Lebanon less explosive, or more explosive? In short, do you have an argument, or do you have a sloppy opinion?

#9. Oh, almost forgot. You don't have so much as a scintilla of evidence that Olmert's diplomatic moves are being driven by his domestic problems. They said that about Clinton in Kosovo, and they say it about George Bush. And they'll say it about any leader whose domestic problems happen at the same time as an ambitious foreign policy. Instead of passing along these kind of intellectually lazy, trashy assumptions, you should seek to examine them and determine if they are, or are not, accurate. Let's say I'm not convinced you've done that.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 8:44 PM

It seems I once again failed to make my points without being obnoxious. So, what I just said, but minus the cursing and the attitude.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 9:18 PM

Glasnost: Siniora is supposedly one of the good guys from the Cedar Revolution, now just waiting for a chance to dump on us.

Yes, he is one of the good guys. And he is required to reject peace with Israel whether he wants to or not. It is widely understood that privately he wants peace with Israel.

And what, exactly, happens to Israel when and if Siniora reacts to this peace overture negatively. How many people does that kill? How many nuclear missiles does that hand someone? Sing it to me.

It doesn't kill anyone. Does it help anyone? Yes. It puts Seniora in a position where he is forced to toe the Syrian and Hezbollah line. Against his will. Yet again.

The single hardest part of forming an Arab coalition against Iran for Arab states involves being on the same side as Israel. Trying to sweeten that is the minimum requirements of pragmatism.

That is reasonable point.

His ethical problems are being selectively pushed by dead-enders like Noah with agendas.

The vast majority in Israel agree with Noah about Olmert's corruption. It will bring Olmert down, and it will bring him down shortly.

By the Lebanon war, which you can bet your bottom dollar would have gone the same way whomever was in power from among the choices. And I don't think you really believe otherwise, Mike.

Probably. But if someone with actual military experience -- even if he or she were just as clueless about Lebanon as Olmert is -- were in charge instead, it might not have gone half as badly as it did.

what, exactly, should Olmert be doing instead of making peace with Lebanon? Bomb it some more?

Of course he shouldn't bomb Lebanon.

Olmert should make peace with Lebanon if peace were possible. Obviously I am in favor of peace between Lebanon and Israel, more so than the overwhelming majority of the human race. Peace right now is impossible between the two countries, and Olmert should know that. It's Middle East 101.

Who do you think is driving peace with Syria?

Nobody. There will be no peace with Syria while Assad is in charge unless he first loses a war.

Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah want war. And so they will get it. That's how it works.

I'm sorry, Glasnost, but you are painfully naive about the prospects for peace in the Middle East at this time. I am by nature an optimist, but I've had my optimism driven straight into the ground by serious reality checks over the years. It will hapepn to you, too, if you keep your eyes open long enough.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 9:49 PM

Here's a relevant quote -- again -- from Rebecca West. She's writing about people in Yugoslavia, but the same applies to much of the Middle East. Americans have a hard time understanding that some people really think like this, but they do:

Only part of us is sane. Only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our 90s and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set life back to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 18, 2008 9:51 PM

"Your ad hominems are sad excuses for argument."

and then ...

"If Pollak wasn't a fool and a fanatic"

It's not like we didn't already know that glasnost was a hypocrite, but even he usually doesn't make it this obvious.

PS - it's "weren't", not "wasn't".

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at June 19, 2008 12:39 AM

Glasnost confused me there at first:

Your ad hominems are sad excuses for argument. Judging you as I'd judge your commenters.

What ad hominems? 'possibly the worst PM of Israel'? Really?

Your case against Olmert is wonderfully unarticulated.

Maybe so because Michael didn't make a case against Olmert here. He barely linked to another article.

Anyway, the rebuttal's to the number-point list were wonderfully articulated and straight on target.

Not only were the prospect of peace with Hamas and Syria looooooong shots to begin with, but the extravagant testicular fortitude necessary for any Israeli leader to semi-realistically hope to pull it off, is a department Olmert shot himself in the foot (balls) in long ago.

I might have been inclined to attribute the desperate overtures he is making to his diplomatic naiveté, if it weren't for his great unambiguous failures before this day.

He knows he will be taken down soon, and he wants to be able to say "look, I tried!". His actions reek of a man trying to rescue his legacy, only that he is further driving it to the ground, and his successor will likely inherit many tight spots Olmert is cornering Israel into.

As for Bibi, like you said, he is good for crises, and from the polls I read, it seems that Israelis feel the same: he would win in a heartbeat by a landslide if elections were to be held today (well, actually, yesterday or a month ago or so, when I last checked the polls).

He is a bit overaggressive for the sake of it, unfortunately, as if he has something to prove almost, in his foreign policy. It seems that his financially conservative domestic policy is what took the true toll on his popularity though, which is a shame, because that was one of the main reasons I cheered for him.

Posted by: medaura Author Profile Page at June 19, 2008 9:00 AM

It doesn't kill anyone. Does it help anyone? Yes. It puts Seniora in a position where he is forced to toe the Syrian and Hezbollah line. Against his will. Yet again.

It represents short-term thinking and a poor sense of priorities to value Siniora's short term psychological discomfort over the long term goal of making the Lebanese public like Israel more. Peaceful gestures from Israel helps the Lebanese get used to the idea of Israel not being warmongers. Only in Noah Pollak land are peaceful gestures opportunities to make Israel look more evil than previously.

The vast majority in Israel agree with Noah about Olmert's corruption. It will bring Olmert down, and it will bring him down shortly.

I hate corruption. And I really mean that. But you know what's worse? A Vladmir Putin system, where everyone is corrupt, but only 3% are prosecuted for it, and those 3% are the corrupt ones who are also pushing certain policy ideas that are opposed by the dominant forces for reasons that have nothing to do with corruption. Political corruption in Israel is systemic. I don't believe he's being punished for his corruption, but for political machinations.

Peace right now is impossible between the two countries, and Olmert should know that. It's Middle East 101.

Who says Olmert expects his overture to Lebanon to lead to a treaty in the near term? It will be impossible forever if no one has the balls to put it on the table.

Nobody. There will be no peace with Syria while Assad is in charge unless he first loses a war.

Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah want war. And so they will get it. That's how it works.

yada, yada, yada, are Syria and Israel at war right now? Did I miss that headline? You know, the kind of war where Syrians and Israelis are killing each other? That's the kind of war that is, you know, war.

If Israel's moves to make peace with Lebanon are eminently defensible, then what's the rest of your case for why Olmert is "Israel's worst prime minister"? Does his alledged personal corruption involving.. (what? can anyone say what Olmert alledgedly did in exchange for cash?) make him worse than Menachim Begin, who invaded Lebanon disasterously and created Hizballah? Or worse than Yitzchak Shamir, a former terrorist himself, and who started the policy of funneling support to the precursors to Hamas in order to undermine the PLO?

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 19, 2008 6:44 PM

It's not like we didn't already know that glasnost was a hypocrite, but even he usually doesn't make it this obvious.

I think, to be a hypocrite, I'd have to be socring myself by different rules than Mike. My ad hominems aren't any better than Mike's.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 19, 2008 6:48 PM

I don't think Olmert is much worse than other Israeli PMs -- I think the proportional representation system of Israeli democracy is worse. In Slovakia, there is a 5% vote threshold for a party to get into parliament -- many small personal splinter parties (only since 1989!) have already tried and failed and disappeared.

Plenty of Israelis agree on how bad Olmert is, but don't agree on who would be better, nor what the policy should be.

glasnost (more driving than hijacking this thread): "Peaceful gestures from Israel helps the Lebanese get used to the idea of Israel not being warmongers. Only in Noah Pollak land are peaceful gestures opportunities to make Israel look more evil than previously."

Are these gestures of peace, or of weakness? It's not just Noah who thinks weakness gestures make Israel look more weak, and thus opposition to Israel more likely to be successful.

Maybe Olmert's secret plan is to look so weak that Hezbollah attacks again? ... but this time Israel "wins"? I don't think that's his plan, but I can easily imagine the next war coming because of perceptions of Israeli weakness.

Which will create a crisis.

And Bibi will get his chance to be tough.

It's too bad Israel never learned how to do occupation well -- like maybe America is doing in Iraq.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at June 20, 2008 2:14 AM

"Peaceful gestures from Israel helps the Lebanese get used to the idea of Israel not being warmongers. Only in Noah Pollak land are peaceful gestures opportunities to make Israel look more evil than previously."

This is easily proven to be bullshit. What was the response to Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon? What was the response to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza? Hamas and Hezbollah, along with their Iranian patrons, have said over and over and over and over and over again that they will settle for nothing less than the elimination of Israel. glasnost is either living in cuckooland, or else he is thinly veiling the same wish.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at June 21, 2008 12:36 AM
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