Paul Greenberg

Exit, pursued by a bear.

-Stage direction

Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale"

Is it some kind of requirement that a politician who's finally leaving the stage has to depart with a graceless blast at the press, the opposition or the universe in general?

Call it the Nixon Rule, as in Richard Nixon's whine when he lost a race for governor of his native California in 1962: "As I leave you, I want you to know - just think about how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." (He was wrong about that, too.)

Ehud Ohlmert followed the Nixon Rule last week when he announced his long anticipated resignation as Israel's premier just ahead of the Israeli prosecutors digging into his personal finances: "I was forced to defend myself against relentless attacks by self-styled fighters for justice who sought to oust me from my job and saw all means as justifying of that end."

Mr. Olmert leaves behind a record strewn with failure after failure - all rooted in overweening ambition, ethical insensibility, poor judgment, and the kind of arrogance typical of successful politicians who haven't been caught yet. All that on top of a general incompetence, which in his case was exacerbated by a lack of any extensive military experience in a country that must regularly defend its existence on the battlefield.

The one thing Ehud Olmert seemed adept at was political intrigue, and now even that talent seems to have been undone by his avarice. The most embarrassing part of his leave-taking is the sheer tawdriness of the accusations against him. They add a final, grace(less) note to his fall: taking envelopes of cash Spiro Agnew-style, double and triple billing for travel expenses, always holding his hand out for more. Is this a prime minister or a small-time grafter? What's he supposed to be guilty of - double bookkeeping and incessant schnorring?

Mr. Olmert's more dangerous shortcomings as a leader were on embarrassing display during the course of the Second Lebanon War two years ago this month. Israel somehow managed to fight to a draw only because of the courage and improvisation of her common soldiers - the kind of long-suffering reservists who pull on their boots and hustle off to the nearest front whenever word comes that there's another war on. Once again they had to overcome the faults of their leaders, whose incompetence didn't keep them from being arrogant, too.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.