Leaders ignore reality at their peril

Leaders ignore reality at their peril

“Military leaders that serve dictators often hide the truth from them,” wrote former US Secretary Mike Pompeo in his just-published memoir “Never Give an Inch,” which enraged Ankara.

With the above-mentioned quote, he placed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for whom he doesn’t have the warmest feelings, among the dictators. Of course, we may add, it is not just those who serve dictators that hide the truth from them.

We see the same thing happening in western democracies, and elected governments that gradually lose touch with people and reality, with an entourage of so-called “yes men” (and women) leading the prime minister of the day to a disastrous isolation and a continuous delusion of grandeur.

Of course, one can understand that, if this can happen to governments that are not only popularly elected but also consciously back their country’s democratic institutions (something very difficult to say about Erdogan), it is so much easier to happen to regimes strongly tempted by authoritarianism.

We have seen this, or, more accurately, surmised it is happening in Putin’s Kremlin. The most common explanation for the failed invasion of Ukraine is that, for several years, military leaders and political aides were telling Putin what he wanted to hear about the state of the Russian army. That’s how, the “walkover” turned into a disastrous slog.

In a democratic country, where a change of government can happen after every election, or two, the parties that rise to power can at some point start believing they’ll stay there forever. Not at the very beginning, but as time goes by, especially if opinion polls stay favorable and the opposition is seen as unreliable. So, with the passing of time, governments tend to see people as predictable.

This is a mixture of arrogance and ignorance. And often, a leader’s ignorance is abetted by their closest collaborators. Also, there is a subconscious fear that the bearer of bad tidings will be sacrificed, a theme already observed by the ancient Greeks. So, they only tell the leader the good news. And this, until the moment until they are all sacrificed, by the electorate.

Almost no one escapes that fate; it is almost an unwritten law of politics and power management. Reality always gets its revenge on those bent on ignoring it.

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