Thursday, November 8, 2007

They'll Do It Every Time: The National Nightmare Goes On And On And On

Back in June, when Israeli President Moshe Katsav resigned rather than face trial in a sex scandal, Larisa Alexandrovna quoted Carolynn Wheeler's "Israeli President will avoid jail in sex scandal" (and the emphasis is Larisa's):
For the first time in Israeli history, the President will resign, caught in a sex scandal that has rocked the country and damaged the public's faith in its government.

But Moshe Katsav, a married father of five who has held the largely ceremonial post since 2000, will avoid jail time in a surprise plea bargain announced yesterday by the country's Attorney-General and widely condemned by women's rights groups.

Instead, by resigning his post and pleading guilty to three lesser charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment and intimidation of a witness, he will receive a suspended sentence and be required to compensate his victims.

"It was important to spare Israel from seeing a president on trial," Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz said at a press conference announcing the deal, which had been inked only moments before. "From the status of the state of Israel's No. 1 citizen, the President has descended to a person guilty of a sex offence, with all the personal and public disgrace which will accompany him."
Larisa continued:
I will never understand this point of view.
I was tempted to comment on that remark at the time, but I didn't.

Instead the thought stayed with me.

Larisa continued:
President Ford said of the Nixon-era:
"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy."
And then he pardoned the disgraced President Nixon in order to spare the public more heartache. But that decision set the country toward a course that led directly and invariably where we find ourselves today: with a paralyzed and compromised government, unable to check or balance itself.
Exactly. Larisa continued:
Why is it important to spare Israel from seeing the President on trial? Does this not put Mr. Katsav above the law because he is the President? If he were anyone else, would he have been put on trial? The Attorney General should be asked to resign over this and Katsav, should be put on trial so that Israeli citizens can decide for themselves if this man belongs behind bars or out on the streets.
I agree completely with Larisa about what should have happened. But I was struck by the place where she wrote:
I will never understand this point of view.
Never is a long, long time. Larisa is very bright. And to put it as plainly as possible, I think she was wrong.

It's pretty simple, really. Anybody can understand it. I think there are four essential points.

First: People don't always believe what they say, especially people in certain lines of work. We must remember this at all times.

Second: To the extent that they do believe it, it's a delusion. Powerful leaders often wind up confusing what is good for them personally with what is good for their countries. Thirty-five years ago, when Richard Nixon said "national security", he was referring to his continuing tenure in office.

Did Nixon really think the country would be less "secure" without himself in the Oval Office? Probably. Certainly the people around him understood what he meant. And some of them felt the same way.

There are two factors at work here. They owed their jobs (and prestige, etc.) to Nixon and his backers and they knew that if Nixon fell from power they would likely lose all that -- even if they weren't personally involved in the scandal that brought him down, and were in no danger of spending time in prison.

More generally, every leader depends on the continuing existence of the current system of governance for his position in society (and all that goes with it), and anything that throws the system into disrepute destabilizes him personally.

One could say that leaders identify their fortunes with the good of their country, but that's only half true. If a leader gets into personal trouble, he will always try to share that trouble on entire nation. But if something horrible happens to the nation, it's a rare leader who will accept any responsibility. You can think of this as a one-way street.

Third: To the extent that they don't actually believe it, they say it for our benefit. They want us to believe that the failings of a leader reflect badly on the people country, so that we will see ourselves as bearing a share of the responsibility. Because if we see ourselves as guilty -- for Watergate, or for Iraq, or for a collective case of rape -- then we are not as likely to demand any change in the system which puts madmen in power.

Fourth: It doesn't really matter whether they believe it or not. What matters is that we refuse to believe it, for it is poison.

Whenever a national leader is in trouble -- or on trial -- there is a slim chance that the entire system's moral and ethical bankruptcy will be exposed. Those who benefit most from the continuation of that system cannot allow this to happen. So they call their personal problem a "national nightmare" in the hope of making it go away faster. And sometimes it does.

But the real national nightmare goes on and on and on ... and sometimes it gets even worse.

Chris Floyd touched on this theme just a few hours ago:
The Democratic nominee looks certain to be Hillary Clinton -- whose husband buried a whole boatload of previous Bush crimes after he took office in 1993, as Robert Parry reports in his book, Secrecy and Privilege. If Clinton I had allowed justice to pursue the various Bush I scandals to the end, we would have been spared the hideous, murderous farce of Bush II's reign. The name of Bush would have been so rightly tainted that L'il Pretzel would never have gotten anywhere near close enough to steal the 2000 election. Is there anyone who believes that Clinton II would pursue Bush II's manifold crimes any more diligently than her husband? The Clintons and Bushes are so close now they'll probably be vacationing together after the election. "Hey, Hill, you gave me hell out there on the campaign trail -- and I wasn't even runnin', ha ha!" "Well, George, you know how the game is played. No hard feelings, ha ha ha!" "Naw, Hill, no sweat. Gimme another one them Coors there; thank god I don't have to pretend about booze anymore, ha ha! Say, where did Bill and Laura get off to....?"

No mainstream Democrat will ever allow full-fledged criminal investigations and prosecutions of Bush II officials for torture and the war crime of military aggression. You know and I know that's not going to happen. We will get, at most, some soaring rhetoric about "healing national wounds" and "coming together again" and "moving on." (With the outside possibility of a few small fry being offered up as sacrifices, to let the Dem president preen as the "restorer of the rule of law" -- and also purge the Republicans, and Bush, of the worst taint: "Hey, it was a few bad apples, and now they're gone. We've got a clean slate!")
And I agree with Chris, too.

But I was thinking of another example: Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf.

In Pakistan, the Supreme Court seemed ready to rule that his October 6 "re-election" was illegal, and it certainly was, as everyone who had been watching the situation was well aware. (1, 2, 3, 4)

So on Saturday night Musharraf declared a state of emergency, as reported by Reuters:
"I cannot allow this country to commit suicide," he said in an address to the nation, after suspending the constitution and purging the Supreme Court of judges opposed to him.
Now: Do you think General Musharraf really believes this? Does he really equate his inevitable fall from power with national suicide?

And furthermore, what difference does it make?

You see? You really don't need to be as smart as Larisa to understand this point of view.