What has Ehud Olmert been smoking?
In a recent interview, when asked about his low approval ratings among the Israeli public, Olmert replied: “My first year in government reminds me of the first year of [Ariel] Sharon and the first two years of Bill Clinton in the White House. Both of them moved dramatically up, after being very down for a very long time — similar to my position, maybe slightly better, but not very much. Eventually, they went up again, as did so many other politicians.”
Olmert’s approval rating, after a bit more than a year in office, stands at 23%. Clinton’s, during his first two years, was never lower than 56%. Sharon in his first year was never below 47%.
Inflation, illusion, delusion, lie, whatever; it doesn’t much matter. It’s a trivial thing, and no one in Israel takes such things very seriously any longer. (In one recent survey, asked whether they trust Olmert, 2% of Israelis said they did.)
The more serious and ever so much more consequential aspect of Olmert’s manner is the degree to which he has become a virtual lackey of the United States — or, more precisely, of President Bush. You may recall, some months back, Olmert’s positive attitude toward negotiations with Syria, a position that changed virtually overnight when the United States made clear its opposition to any such initiative. Now we have two more recent examples of Olmert as vassal to Bush.
The first was Olmert’s message, by video, to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. Here is some of what he said: “[A]t the end of the day, I think we all know and we have to recognize that President George W. Bush is the only leader and the United States of America is the only country that can be of enormous influence on what the Iranians will do…. I know that all of you friends of the State of Israel, well-wishers for the State of Israel, all of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the State of Israel understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat. And I’m sure that you will not hamper or restrain that strong leadership unnecessarily.”
And later, in regard to Iraq, “Those who are concerned for Israel’s security, for the security of the Gulf States and for the stability of the entire Middle East should recognize the need for American success in Iraq and responsible actions there.”
Elsewhere, as in a recent meeting with leaders of the Reform movement, Olmert has made it clear that he regards any move toward early withdrawal of American troops as irresponsible. That is why he asked the Reform leaders to reconsider their movement’s recent resolution calling for a timetable for troop withdrawal.
Now, anyone who believes that the United States may yet enjoy “success” in Iraq is entitled to believe that we ought to stay there until that success has been achieved. But at this late date, anyone who believes that such success is plausible is either given to fantasy or mired in desperation.
One can understand that America’s failure in Iraq is a terrible blow to Israel; one can wish the Israelis themselves had given greater consideration to the consequences of such a potential failure during the run-up to the war. But all that is wishful thinking.
And Ehud Olmert should know that, for has he not just this last summer been through a similar, if foreshortened, experience? Did he agree to a cease-fire with Hezbollah because Israel had “succeeded” in its war — or because continuation of the war would have been pointless?
All right, say Olmert doesn’t see Lebanon as precedent. Say he is given to wishful thinking. What are we to make of his effort to embarrass Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last week?
The speaker went to Israel, and then to Syria, begetting criticism from Bush even before she arrived in Damascus; this administration frowns on anything that might relieve Syria’s isolation, notwithstanding the urgent recommendation for diplomatic contact that was a feature of the Iraq Study Group report.
“Sending delegations doesn’t work,” Bush said. Never mind that a week before Pelosi’s trip, Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt and Frank Wolf visited Syria; that Republican Rep. David Hobson went there with the Pelosi delegation; that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa showed up in Damascus a few days later, and that senators of both parties have been in and out of Syria since even before the Iraq Study Group, all this without generating a word of criticism.
It was left to Olmert to twist Bush’s knife. According to Olmert’s office, Pelosi mischaracterized the message that Olmert asked her to carry to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president. But Pelosi says she delivered precisely the message she was asked to, that Israel is prepared to negotiate with Syria once it stops its support for terrorism and that it has no plan to attack Syria.
No, Olmert says, she left out the qualifier regarding an end to support for terrorism. Yet, Rep. Tom Lantos — Democratic chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, member of the Pelosi delegation and as ardent a friend of Israel in the House as any — has written that “the speaker told Mr. Assad that Syria must end its support for terrorists, including Hamas and Hezbollah, if it wants peace talks with Israel.”
Whom to believe? Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who have dragged our nation into war and disrepute with lie upon lie? Ehud Olmert, servant of delusion and master of mistruth? Or Nancy Pelosi and Tom Lantos?
But why the Olmert effort to embarrass Pelosi? Because a vassal seeks to curry the favor of the lord. And soon it will be Israel Independence Day.