Why Leaders Have to Retire to See Reality

Too many trees to see the forest

Mon, Feb 9, 2015
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Ex-President Sarkozy of France is recently quoted as saying two things: “Nous avons une civilisation en commun avec la Russie. Les intérêts des Américains avec les Russes, ce ne sont pas les intérêts de l'Europe avec la Russie”. Europe has a common civilization with Russia and our interests are not the same as Americans'. “La Crimée a choisi la Russie, on ne peut pas le lui reprocher”. Crimea chose Russia and you can't blame it.

In doing so, he has added his name to a long list of ex-officials who contradict the official line on the Ukrainian catastrophe that we see promulgated by virtually all present office-holders.

Many people have noticed this and speculate why former office holders should have such different opinions from present office holders. One common theory is that they are blackmailed into obedience by Washington. Another, which we can see in Hungary and the Czech Republic today, is that speaking out of line can bring sudden “spontaneous protests” supported by the local American Ambassador and people who have some (later revealed) connection with USAID or the NED. “Exes” aren't as vulnerable to blackmail or a Washington-orchestrated regime change as “presents”.

While I do not rule either of these explanations out – how could I? we know that Washington spies on everybody and we know that these “spontaneous” protests are nothing of the sort – I have been wondering and I believe there is a simpler cause that also operates.

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I worked in a bureaucracy for several decades. Bureaucracies are pyramids. Most occupants – many think of little else – wish to rise and the easiest way to rise is by attracting the benevolent attention of a higher up. This leads to what might be called “schedule flooding” as people compete for the boss's time. And so, the higher ups have almost no unscheduled moments. The only case in which a higher up would have any free time is when he has a truly powerful will and intellect to carve out that free time. But such individuals are not common; too many, in fact, are von Moltke's stupid and industrious.

So let us imagine President Smith of Yourland and his daily schedule. At the top of the pyramid of pyramids, thousands of underlings seek a few of the 1440 minutes a day he, and every other mortal, has. His schedule is filled with meetings and briefings for months in advance. And that's just the expected meetings – inevitably some crisis will pack the schedule even tighter.

Very few of these people seizing some of Smith's 1440 minutes will tell him he's not doing a very good job or that the Conventional View of Things is defective. That would not attract his patronage.

Assuming Smith is intelligent, wise, a good manager, industrious, well-educated, knowledgeable, a good character judge with a strong sense of reality, he will just be able to keep his head above water and drive ahead the two or three issues that he really takes an interest in. Fortunately, in contrast with less-favored parts of the world, the electoral system in Western countries produces leaders who are all of these things and we never have to fear that schedule flooding will drown a stupid, incompetent, foolish, lazy, ignorant narcissist.

What happens when President Smith leaves office? I recommend this anecdote of former British Prime Minister Macmillan – The Telephone is immediately disconnected. Yesterday every minute of his time was competed for, today none is. He's dug a hole in water.

But now he has some time to think quietly and some actually do think. Some, as Sarkozy apparently has, think their way to an understanding that Europe is being ruined in service to Washington and that it's perfectly natural that Crimeans should want to get out of the Ukrainian catastrophe and return home.

So, one reason the exes outnumber the presents in this case is that they have the opportunity to contemplate the forest because they no longer have every minute occupied by people telling them how important the bark on their favorite tree is.

 

 

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