I’ve been pondering Ezra Klein’s apology for supporting the invasion of Iraq. It contains a sentence that I bump up against with incomprehension, like a goldfish trying to understand an aquarium.
“I thought that if U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair all thought it was necessary, then that was because they had intelligence proving as much.”
What I don’t understand is a personality type that actually respects our political leaders – for this sentence could only come out of such respect. There is a chasm like divide between those people who consider that, generally, anybody who has power is a scoundrel most of the time, and those people who consider that, generally, anybody who has power is a responsible and intelligent figure worthy of trust. I am in the former camp. I believe that our leaders should fear the people, and that they operate best when they fear the people. Mostly, they don’t fear the people, and they operate to maximize the interests of predators and plutocrats, and to incrementally make the lives of the masses worse. This is just SOP, in my opinion.
I take it that Klein is expressing his respect, because I can’t believe he is that dumb. The idea that there is some super secret intelligence shared by the leaders – in the wake of such vivid disproofs as 9.11 and the inability of the Bush’s keystone cops to advance step one on the anthrax caper - should have been knocked out of his head. It is as if he was incapable of grasping the events that were happening around him. And of course one glance at Iraq’s recent history in 2002 – a history in which Saddam Hussein had essentially ceded control of a vast chunk of his territory in Northern Iraq – should have squashed the idea that, though he was unable to attack the fearsome Kurdish state, he was just about to casually nuke NYC. There was no excuse for believing the intelligence canard.
Klein’s career afterwards is a case study in R-E-S-P-E-C-T and advancement – you don’t get to be a dealer in D.C. memes if you don’t, in your heart, believe incredible crap about politicos and presidents. You have to be a mook. This is a matter of deep character, perhaps. A real sceptic simply couldn’t believe, is constitutionally unable to believe, a fact because a world leader pronounces it on television. Facts are stupid things – they are only intelligence once they are part of a larger set – which is why even when leaders are not lying, they are lying. Clinton, Bush, Obama, who really cares – this is the sceptic’s assumption. Unmoved by state of the union speeches or Inauguration pageantry, the sceptic is looking for the black spot with which the leader damns whole peoples. The drone on the one side, prison on the other – this is American leadership in a nutshell. The Kleins, on the other hand, are actually moved by the pageantry, oratory, and leadership – by the faux history of it all. My own view of leadership comes from the gospel: he who is first shall be last. Jesus, here, is just compressing into a nifty, Dylan-esque piece of poetry an insight of folk wisdom that Machiavelli laid out more extensively in the Prince: in the moral order, the leaders are shit, and the benefits that accrue to the state from their shittiness are definitely not the result of their better qualities, their ideals. Outcomes that benefit the masses are either side effects of leadership or compromises that spring from the leader’s fear of being overthrown.
Respect your dog, respect your friends, respect your lovers, respect your children – but never respect leaders. They don’t deserve it.