Thursday, May 10, 2007

In the Bowels of Christ

A well-known remark of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Parliamentary New Model Army in England's 17th century Civil War, comes from a letter he wrote to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1650:
I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.
I remembered this as I read a recent article in the Economist about the current travails of Paul Wolfowitz. ("Wolfowitz agonistes," May 3, 2007 edition) I'm not linking it since the Economist, online or print, is a fairly expensive subscription, but it's worth looking for the copy in the library.

This article quotes Mr. Wolfowitz to the effect that he is
the victim of a “smear campaign” designed “to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am an ineffective leader.”
He claims that he didn't want to be involved in the details of his girlfriend's compensation, but the directors made him do it; the charges against him are "unfair and untrue"; and on and on to the effect that he is right and everyone else is not only wrong but is wrongly conspiring against him.

I realized that Mr. Wolfowitz is a man who is cannot think it possible he may be mistaken. In fact, this is a characteristic of the entire neoconservative inner circle. Think about them: Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Feith. The architects of the war in Iraq, believing their own convictions in the face of every fact, every implication to the contrary; manufacturing evidence to support their beliefs when the real evidence failed them. It never occurs to them that they may be wrong, and this is why they are dangerous.

I have deliberately left President Bush out of this list. I don't believe he is a member of the neoconservative inner circle; he is virtually the only member of his original administration who did not sign the Statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century. Read the list of signers. His brother Jeb signed it; but he didn't. He holds his position because the neoconservatives judged, rightly, that he was malleable enough to take direction as long as he was allowed to appear to lead.

Most of us, who know we're capable of making mistakes, will stop to reconsider the situation occasionally and see if what we're doing still makes sense; not the man who knows he is never wrong. If you are never wrong, you can fall into the dangerous trap of assuming the the ends (because you are Right) justify the means: and so we come to Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib; warrantless wiretapping in America, and sectarian murder in the neighborhoods of Baghdad - because the neoconservatives are never wrong.

It's probably unreasonable to require that no one be elected to high office unless he has publicly admitted at least one major error of judgment; but it might be safer for the country. Harry Truman had gone through bankruptcy; and although he took a lot of flack while he was in office, in retrospect, his judgment looks pretty sound.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:44 AM

    I still remember an interview around the 2004 elections, where Bush was asked, "what was your biggest mistake in office so far?" To which he could not think of one. That, I think, more than anything solidified the fear I have about the current Administration.