Sunday, November 07, 2004

Conviction, Courage and Other Things That Don't Matter

We're told time and again by himself, his staff, his talking heads, by conservatives, and by “people of faith” that the President is a man of conviction. A man of courage. Just this morning I heard Bill Kristol refer to the president this way in his decision to stay in Iraq .
The problem is these are inconsequential things when out of that framework bad decisions are made. I can list more than a few leaders who, to their people, also had courage and conviction.



Osama Bin Ladden.

Saddaam Hussein.

I am not associating the president to these people in deed, but am trying to show that “courage” and “conviction” mean nothing if they produce bad judgment. In fact, they can be dangerous. How does someone with 100% certainty in their beliefs and abilities ever change direction? Yes, it is infectious to be around someone so passionate. The average person, myself included, is easily swayed by someone who appears to know, without a doubt, what they are doing.
The problem is that no one knows 100% what they are doing. This includes the president, it includes your minister, and it includes your parents. We make the best decisions we can and we hopefully learn from the results and do not commit any irrevocable errors along the way. Isn't that life?

We live in scary, uncertain times. From terrorist's attacks, to the very definition of marriage being questioned, the average person is faced with a world where our buildings come down and our traditions are questioned. People come at us from both sides, one in favor of stem cell research, and the other against it. One side in favor of a woman's right to chose and the other against aborting a baby. Faced with such enormous chaos the average person looks to President Bush for leadership. Unfortunately, they are not as concerned with being lead in the right direction as they are with just feeling like they are being led somewhere, anywhere. History has shown us that's good enough for most.

I'm sure the people of Germany felt the same way in 1930. The country was gripped in harsh sanctions after World War One and was caught in the middle of the Great Depression. People were lost, angry. Hitler was a strong and decisive leader. He pointed the finger at scapegoats and told the German people they were a special group, entitled to what was coming to them. This rhetoric was passionately delivered at rallies, devoid of any logic. But people like to be lead, especially people who are scared or confused.

True leaders make the hard decisions before they have to, and therefore many people may never know who the best leaders are. What would have been best in 1930? Probably stopping Hitler before he could get too powerful. What would have been best for our country would have been to identify the terrorist threat and to stop it BEFORE it led to hijacked planes and flown into our buildings. The best leaders are not reactive. They lead before those being led see any reason for leadership. And a rule of thumb is if a good leader has to tell you he is, he probably isn't as good as you want to think he is. How would we react at work if our bosses told us in memos “I'm doing a good job.” We would probably view him, rightly, with some suspicion because if he's doing a good job, we'd know it.

And what we don't want to admit is that we don't know President Bush is doing a good job do we? But we're happy to let him fill in those blanks and tell us what we want to hear so badly.
What hurts us to accept is that President Bush is reactive. In the wake of 9/11 he decided it was time to reshape the world? Suddenly it was clear that Saddam Hussein was a major threat to this country, so much a threat that we had to go take him out, immediately? Bush was convinced and when the evidence didn't back it up, he worked around that and told us in no uncertain terms that Saddam was an immanent threat. After all, Bush is such a good leader, he knows better than the factual evidence. He knows better than every other sensible leader in the world who chose not to invade Iraq because there was simply no reason to invade.

But that is all hindsight, isn't it? My question is, why didn't such a strong and convicted leader like President Bush recognize any of these obvious threats before 9/11? President Bush's actions have not come from any strong convictions leading him to act given no outside stimulus. No. It took a terrible disaster for him to start acting.

Now, we are reacting. We have almost 150,000 men and women trying to hold Iraq together. The country has fallen into a state of martial law. 100,000 Iraqi civilians have already been killed, not to mention how many more have been wounded. Only the most militant of us agrees that invading Iraq was a good idea, or that the invasion/occupation is going well today. No, what many of people who voted for Bush seem to selectively forget is that the best course of action would have been to stay out of Iraq all together and let the UN sanctions keep Saddam pinned as he was.

But now it's broken—because of a faulty reasoning process by the President. And rather than letting hindsight guide us and vote out the man who has proven to be a reactive/dangerous leader, costing America her integrity and her young men and women, we put him back in power for four more years because we believe what he tells us. We want to believe it so badly, because most of us are lost. He IS decisive. He IS convinced. He IS a good leader. I have no doubt that in a different life you could invite him to your house and he would bring chips and watch the football game with you, or play paintball with you. He would argue things passionately, and cling to his beliefs and everyone would respect him for that. Unfortunately, having conviction and having courage means nothing if it leads to destruction.

No comments: