ANOTHER TACK – LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

Having covered politics for longer than I care to admit, I supposed I had encountered every species of cynicism, sleaze, smut and scandal imaginable. But even so, I couldn’t believe that Ehud Olmert and his lackey sidekicks would dare gloat after learning the highlights of the Winograd Committee’s final report.

Yes, it could have been worse for them. The committee Olmert himself handpicked, appointed and hobbled could have spelled his name out in the second installment of its findings (as it did mercilessly in the first). Instead, it implied specific identities under the catchall euphemism of “the political echelon.” But regardless of the evasive title, Olmert and his government are still described as outright failures.

So what’s there to be so cheery about? How could the crew which – in Winograd’s words – dragged Israel’s infantry “into a ground operation only after it was no longer possible to derive any benefit therefrom” claim vindication? Where did it draw the unparalleled cheek to demand apologies from its critics? How could it crowingly rejoice in the fact that no ulterior political motives for sending troops to die in hopeless battles during the war’s last 60-hours could be substantiated? (Winograd stated he didn’t rule out mercenary incentives but uncovered no verifiable corroboration).

How could Olmert &Co disregard the fact that even if a ground operation was deemed “almost necessary” (as persuasive as “almost pregnant”), it could have been mounted much earlier? Alternatively, the devastatingly delayed campaign could have been aborted once word was received of agreement on UN Resolution 1701. That was before any sacrificial soldiers had yet engaged the enemy.

All told, how can Olmert exploit Winograd’s nebulous hemming and hawing over those disastrous last phases of the 34-day-long fiasco as a red herring to divert attention from the rest? How can Olmert overlook the very unambiguous declaration by Winograd that the first – and outspokenly damning- volume of the report is part and parcel of the whole, that it cannot and mustn’t be discounted?

How could Olmert conceivably presume to demand to be entrusted with fixing up whatever went wrong in the war he negligently oversaw? How could he argue that he’s the most competent to patch up the very tangible damage wrought by his own incontrovertible incompetence? How could proven dilettantes claim the prerogatives of professional proficiency and consummate expertise?

My daughter, cramming hard for psychology exams, proposed the Dunning-Kruger Effect by way of explanation. I perused her copy of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and discovered that Cornell researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger determined that underachievers often possessed inordinately high opinions of their performance and ability, sustaining the hypotheses that “incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.”

It sounds just about right, assuming that in their minds Olmert and his coalition accomplices indeed “fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy” and that they have actually convinced themselves of their capacity to put right everything they had royally messed up. Perhaps some ministers did fall under the spell of their own hubris. But knowing Olmert’s incomparably honed political guile it’s difficult to assume that he isn’t cognizant of his ineptitude. Instead of laboring under a grotesque misperception, he’s most likely engaging in willful misrepresentation.

He is out to hoodwink us – his electorate. He is no different from the electrician who, after short-circuiting your bathroom and starting a fire in the kitchen, insists that he is the best qualified to rewire the entire house because he has become familiar with your circuitry like nobody else. Would you seriously let him in the door again?

Would a CEO who had just lost his company millions and left it teetering on the brink of bankruptcy be put in charge of its rehabilitation (because replacing him would usher instability and, besides, he’s familiar with its shortfalls like nobody else)? Would a coach who brought nothing but defeats to his ball club be rehired (just in order to avoid shocking the team and because he has become familiar with the players like nobody else)?

Olmert himself wouldn’t give the above electrician, CEO or coach a second chance. Yet he brazenly asserts that in statecraft the penalty for failure is the privilege to fail again. Besides, says he, the last thing this country, given its travails, needs now is another election. Of course, not too many years back, when it suited him, Olmert supported early elections. Moreover, considering the endless external threats against Israel, it might be advisable to dispense with elections altogether and keep Olmert in power indefinitely -because he’s familiar like nobody else with all he botched up.

How long Olmert continues “working for us,” in direct contraindication to our collective safety, depends on no one but us, his employers.

In a culture where opinion polls determine policy, long-term strategy is subordinated to fleeting interests. Israelis hanker after the good-life, not realistic somber assessments. Governments are wary of disrupting the delusions they inspire, which is why Barak and Sharon failed to react to six years of Hizbullah rearmament and why Olmert would rather we not dwell on Hamastan’s military build-up. That’s why Barak, Sharon and Olmert indoctrinated IDF commanders to aspire at most to “containment of conflict” rather than victory.

In their heart of hearts the overwhelming majority of Israelis know that Olmert and his entire opportunistic Kadima coterie are the last who can repair what they broke. Why do we continue to suffer them?  Perhaps the answer lies in an older Cornell-spawned psychological theory – Learned Helplessness.

This is a disorder in which humans (and animals) are conditioned to believe that they are powerless and without control over their circumstances. Their abiding impression is that any response on their part is futile. Thus, even when they’re capable of changing unpleasant or hazardous situations, they remain passive and convinced, for instance, that they are wretchedly stuck with Olmert, his glaring incompetence notwithstanding.

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