And the sycophancy prize goes to . . .

Some time ago I wrote about the laughably feeble attempts to portray George Bush as some sort of intellectual giant. I mentioned John Hinderaker who had written: “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.”

Now White House press secretary Tony Snow tries to better Hinderaker. The New York Times, reporting on a speech he gave quotes him about his boss, says: On the intellectual acumen of his boss: “He reminds me of one of those guys at the gym who plays about 40 chessboards at once.”

This is pathetic. Other commenters have wondered what kind of gym Snow goes to where people get exercise by playing chess. My question is why are these people trying so hard to do the impossible? Rather than being someone who makes Gary Kasparov quake, it is more likely (as Atrios says) that Bush “constantly has to be reminded the “horsey” moves in an “L” shape,” and is completely baffled by the mysterious ‘castling’ move.

The Bush team once had a fairly successful thing going with portraying Bush as a down-to-earth, plain-spoken man who did not have much use for book learnin’. Who had the bright idea that he needed to be reinvented as the heir to Einstein?

The job of president does not require you to be very smart. That is not Bush’s problem. His problem is that he is not curious, has poor judgment, is unrelentingly stubborn, petty, and cruel, and seemingly does not want to hear anything disagreeable. Those are not the qualities of which great leaders are made. The reason is that such qualities in a person in a leadership position inevitably attracts around him those who are adept merely at currying favor by saying things that flatter the boss.

Tony Snow’s other comments also show how much such people love just to be in the presence of people they think are powerful and will suck up shamelessly to achieve that. The same news report on his speech says:

Yesterday,” Mr. Snow declared, “I was in the Oval Office with the president ——”
He cut himself off, took a perfectly calibrated three-second pause and switched into an aw-shucks voice for dramatic effect: “I just looove saying that! Yeaaah, I was in the Oval Office. Just meeee and the president. Nooooobody else.” The crowd lapped it up.

I find this kind of thing nauseating. It is one thing to admire someone and appreciate the opportunity to meet them. But Snow seems to be less like a close political advisor and more like a twelve-year old in the presence of a sports idol or someone having a crush on a music icon. It is amazing that there are actual grown ups who feel like this about anyone at all. No wonder there are so many people willing to toady up to Bush by telling him just what he wants to hear so that they can continue to remain in his presence.

Any leader who is surrounded by such sycophants is doomed to disaster. Is it any surprise that Bush is clearly the front-runner in the race for the title of worst US president ever?

But once the sycophancy virus grabs hold of any administration, it spreads rapidly throughout the body and this one does not stop just at the White House. According to a news report:

The top US general defended the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying it is inspired by God.

“He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country,” said Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Rumsfeld is “a man whose patriotism focus, energy, drive, is exceeded by no one else I know … quite simply, he works harder than anybody else in our building,” Pace said.
. . .
“He comes to work everyday with a single-minded focus to make this country safe,” said [Navy Admiral James] Stavridis who was a senior aide to Rumsfeld before taking on the Southcom job.

“We’re lucky as a nation that he continues to serve with such passion and such integrity and such determination and such brilliance,” said Stavridis, 51.

It is getting truly sad when professional senior military officers are reduced to such public groveling before their bosses. And Pace is the very person whom the rank and file in the military must depend on to give the political leadership the unvarnished facts so that they can make good decisions. What does it say about the military when its top leader turns into a toady?

But on the bright side, we finally know how so many bad decisions were made by Rumsfeld about the Iraq occupation and why things are in such a mess there. It’s all god’s fault. The buck stops in the sky.

POST SCRIPT: Losing hearts and minds

There is a powerful 8-minute video Iraq-The Real Story by the London Guardian photographer Sam Smith and produced in conjunction with the BBC. It captures the futility of what is going on in Iraq: the fear and weariness and boredom of the US troops dutifully trying to carry out a hopeless mission, and the inevitable breakdown of their efforts at winning ‘hearts and minds’ of the people of the country they are occupying.

I was shocked to see how the US troops, when they round up people for questioning, write numbers on their foreheads, and make them squat in the sun while they are being interrogated.

I was amazed that there is no one with the US military who has even the remotest knowledge of the mistakes made by colonial occupiers in the past because this kind of behavior is typical of the contempt displayed by colonial forces for the people they were governing. It is precisely this kind of petty humiliation that produces seething resentment and long lasting anger against the occupying force, not only by the people directly subjected to the treatment but by everyone who witnesses it or hears of it.

Those who believe that the day will come soon when “the Iraqis stand up so that the US can stand down” are going to be disheartened by this video. It seems as if the very Iraqi forces that the US is training and nurturing as their surrogates are also aiding the insurgents. And we should not be surprised.


  1. says

    Some of this Bush sycophancy sounds disturbingly like the sorts of things said about Kim Jong-Il.

    As for Rumsfeld, he may well be “a man whose patriotism focus, energy, drive, is exceeded by no one else I know” -- none of this says anything about his competence or willingness to listen to advice.

  2. says

    I agree that competence is more important. But even if all those things said by Stavridis were true, it just seems, I don’t know, unseemly for people to lavishly praise their boss in public

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