Sunday, March 25, 2007

Qualities for a new leader

David Brooks:

For over the past few years, America’s enemies have been more cunning than we have. Whether it was Mohamed Atta with the box cutters, bin Laden escaping at Tora Bora, the Baathists with their insurgency, Zarqawi inciting an Iraqi civil war, or Ahmadinejad maneuvering his way toward a nuclear bomb, America’s enemies seem to have been rendered clever by their relative weakness while we’ve been rendered stupid by our might.

And the tasks ahead require cleverness more than Gary Cooper simplicity and virtue. The next leader will have to build a coalition of autocrats against the extremists, not grow apoplectically rigid in the face of their barbarism. The next leader will have to manipulate the self-interest of other countries and factions, not bully them with ultimatums. The next leader will have to have an intimate knowledge of the apparatus of government and the limits and capacities of what it can do.

In other words, what the country seems to need is somebody who understands power, and the subtlety of its use, and who has had direct experience with friends and foes, foreign and domestic.

And this person must have all these world-weary qualities with a thick stripe of American idealism too. Or as Reinhold Niebuhr put it a few decades ago: “The preservation of a democratic civilization requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice. They must know the power of self-interest in human society without giving it moral justification. They must have this wisdom in order that they may beguile, deflect, harness and restrain self-interest, individual and collective, for the sake of the community.”