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Friday, March 3, 2006

The Price of Arrogance

A consistent criticism of the Bush administration has been that it is arrogant in its dealings with the media, the Democrat opposition, and even with its own allies in Congress. This accusation has again arisen in the midst of the most recent controversies over Vice President Dick Cheney's pelting of a quail hunting partner and the Dubai Ports World's contract to manage six of America's port facilities. Its arrogance, critics say, is demonstrated in its take-it-or-leave-it approach on both its statements to the press and its demands regarding legislation.

When George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, the talk around Washington centered on the "new tone" the President wanted to bring to the nation's capital. He and the American people, it was said, were tired of the partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats. It was time for mutually respectful dialogue, a pleasant change from attack ads and demagoguery. So, said the administration, the President would not engage in partisan politics but would welcome the views of both allies and enemies with equanimity. Instead of being divided, we can forge consensus solutions to America's pressing problems.

As it evolved into its current, overconfident form, the "new tone" clashed with equal arrogance in the media and among politicians. Feeling snubbed, the big media outlets like CBS, exposed regularly in its liberal bias, haughtily reported severely slanted "news"—in reality, thinly guised editorials—to make the Bush administration look as out of touch and out of bounds as possible. Democrat and Republican politicians, for differing reasons, sniffed and moaned that Bush and his cadre merely expected them to fall into line on every issue instead of persuading them with sound reason and traditional inducements (read, quid pro quo). Thus, the new tone's arrogance meets the media's and politicians' hauteur, and everyone loses, especially the American people.

As an example, at the risk of tedium, let us revisit the reason for invading Iraq. Most observers would say the Coalition of the Willing inflicted "shock and awe" on Saddam Hussein's regime because of his accumulation of weapons of mass destruction. He was a threat to his neighbors, he had used them on his own people, and he was defying the international community in failing to divulge and destroy his stockpiles. The Bush administration, including Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, and George Bush himself, made such statements hundreds of times in public speeches and interviews. This was all we heard for months as the armed forces geared up for the assault.

However, if this was a reason, it was in actuality far down the list. There were multiple reasons: the free flow of oil, the Oil-for-Food fiasco, freeing the Iraqi's to govern themselves, Saddam's human rights violations, and yes, even his support of international terrorism, particularly against Israel. But the main reason was strategic, and it was, to my knowledge, never mentioned by the Bush administration. The real reason for conquering Iraq was to drive a wedge into the heart of the Middle East. Administration analysts figured that a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq would pacify regimes in the region and bring a measure of stability through fear and uncertainty about what the Americans would do if any one of them began to misbehave. Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian National Authority, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern nations have already moderated to varying degrees out of alarm over Bush's "cowboy" foreign policy.

Evidently, the Bush administration has never admitted to its strategic plan, and even what geopolitical observers think they know of it has been deduced through actual events. The White House continued to harp on weapons of mass destruction until very little was turned up, then it began beating the "bringing democracy to the oppressed Iraqi people" drum until it, too, began to wear thin. Now it is singing the praises of the fledgling Iraqi constitution, government, and armed forces, promising to reduce troop levels as soon as the Iraqi's are ready for the GIs to leave. No matter whether it is good policy or not, this close-to-the-vest style of governance infuriates friend and foe alike because it comes across as arrogant.

What has it produced? Internal conflict, distrust, accusation, division, and endless conspiracy theories. "What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate," said the captain to Cool Hand Luke, and similarly, a President, whom many see as cocky, is in deep trouble. His cockiness has eroded his support down toward one-third of the electorate, portending bad news for his party at the polls this November.

We can take a lesson from what has happened in this instance. Clear communication is vital to walking in harmony with others. Many husbands believe that they fill their roles best as the strong, silent types, but doing so is more likely to cause a rift in the relationship because wives are left to guess their husband's reasons, motives, and desires. But they cannot read minds! And if they act on something they were forced to assume due to their husband's lack of communication, they are likely to bear the brunt of his often hurtful, divisive reaction.

Arrogance is a form of pride, which forms the basis of many sins. An arrogant person assumes that he is superior to others, and therefore, since he has the final say in matters, others just have to deal with it. Before long, such an attitude will drive all but the most devoted or sycophantic away. In the end, arrogance is a destroyer of relationships, and it almost always ends in divorce. Satan's arrogance, for instance, caused him to attack God, destroying that once-close association (see Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:17).

The price of arrogance is separation, whether separation from God, from mate, from brethren, from friends, from coworkers, etc. God counsels humility, its polar opposite, for by it one encourages unity and true fellowship. Paul writes, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3).