The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Great Man Theory

A apir of articles on TNR today took me back in time a little over a year, when I wrote about the 'Great Man' concept of history pushed by Hegel. Rather, I wrote about Karl Popper's criticism of it as one of the hallmarks of totalitarianism.

First, an article that goes a little more in-depth than I did regarding Bush as a (not-so) great man. While he fits Hegel's criteria in the most pitiable sense:

[Great men of history] have derived their purposes and their vocation, not from the calm, regular course of things, sanctioned by the existing order; but ... from that inner Spirit, still hidden beneath the surface, which, impinging on the outer world as on a shell, bursts it in pieces...

Sadly, Bush fails in the only part of Hegel's plan that really matters-- what separates crackpots and petty tyrants from the truly great:

Well, it’s a matter of time before we know whether Bush’s “object is attained” in Iraq, and the course of human history thereby guided safely into a new stage of progress. That looks like a very long shot indeed. And Hegel is pretty clear about success being the criterion for judging these figures. “They are great men,” he writes, “because they willed and accomplished something great; not a mere fancy, a mere intention, but that which met the case and fell in with the needs of the age.”

Which is why the news of the last 24 hours on Iraq is so disturbing. Bush has always liked to compare himself to admired presidents who've made it through troubling times, like Lincoln and Truman. Like the many once-rabid, now sheepish supporters who went to his staged campaign rallies, his neocon enablers appear to agree-- and this Salon article gets to the crux of the Great Man problem:

To [Lindsey] Graham's crowd, the president is now seizing the reins of the war from the misguided military brass. "The president has retaken control of Iraq strategy," the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Kagan told a crowd of reporters late last week. "For too long I think the administration has allowed a military leadership that was clearly on the wrong track to continue driving in the wrong direction."

Kagan and his colleagues envision this as an epochal moment for Bush, akin to President Lincoln, during the Civil War, removing a timid George B. McClellan and promoting the fiery Ulysses S. Grant. The role of McClellan in this drama is being played by outgoing Gens. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq for the past two and a half years, and John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command since 2003. "I respect General Casey and Abizaid, but the strategy they've come up with for the last two years has not worked," Graham told NBC's Tim Russert. "Iraq is not more stable than it was when they took over two years ago."

Graham's claims are incredibly grating to military officers, who say Casey and Abizaid are being blamed unfairly. "Casey and Abizaid are as good as they come," Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, uttered during an interview with Salon. "From the highest point of this administration, there will be an effort to rewrite history," he said with some disgust.

The problem, of course, is that Bush's Great Man narrative is only that-- a narrative, retroactively scripted to squeeze unpleasant reality into a heroic myth. As evidence, have a look at this:

[Bush] put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. "I said to Maliki this has to work or you're out," the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: "Because it has to."

He might as well have said "Because I'm the star of the show." This whole tragic, disastrous administration seems to revolve around the fact that the Boy King fails to realize that great deeds make for a great man, and a (self-styled) great man's deeds aren't invariably great themselves. It's just a shame that he couldn't have learned the lesson as a fry cook at Arby's rather than the Oval Office. I'd be nervous if George W. Bush were in charge of my curly fries, but allowing him to send thousands of young Americans to their deaths is a disgrace.