Monday, August 06, 2007

On Political Leadership

Four years into the Iraq war, I am often tempted to look back and think "I told you so." But what do those who supported the war think? I've heard the blame placed on faulty evidence a million times, but for our president, faulty evidence doesn't equate to incorrect decision. In the Times yesterday, former Harvard prof and current member of Canadian Parliament Michael Ignatieff waxes philosophical on why he and so many others were wrong about Iraq, and how to react to that realization. His essay came across to me as intellectually sincere and deeply compelling.

From the Times:
Good judgment in politics, it turns out, depends on being a critical judge of yourself. It was not merely that the president did not take the care to understand Iraq. He also did not take the care to understand himself. The sense of reality that might have saved him from catastrophe would have taken the form of some warning bell sounding inside, alerting him that he did not know what he was doing. But then, it is doubtful that warning bells had ever sounded in him before. He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound.

People with good judgment listen to warning bells within. Prudent leaders force themselves to listen equally to advocates and opponents of the course of action they are thinking of pursuing. They do not suppose that their own good intentions will guarantee good results. They do not suppose they know all they need to know. If power corrupts, it corrupts this sixth sense of personal limitation on which prudence relies.


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