Competence v. Confidence

One of the most negative characteristics that can be used to describe a leader is that he is indecisive or lacks the ability to make a decision.  After all, we expect our leaders to be strong and able to deal with the many issues they confront with aplomb.  We don’t want to see them sweat, we want them to be brave and resolute.  Because we want our leaders to reflect these characteristics in all that they do, we sometimes run the danger of confusing confidence with competence.

During the march toward the second Iraq War the Bush administration displayed a dizzying degree of confidence in their assessment of the need to attack.  They disregarded experts in the intelligence, military and diplomatic  communities.  Cheney, Rumsfeld and crew spoke in absolutes, leaving little or no doubt as to the correctness of their views.  They created the perception that to question their assessment was tantamount to being naive and timid.  We were assured by a very confident Vice President that once we toppled this ruthless leader, the people of Iraq would welcome us as heroes and liberators.  We all know how that turned out.

Donald Rumsfeld with Dick Cheney.
Donald Rumsfeld with Dick Cheney. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making difficult and far-reaching decisions is part of serving as President of the United States.  The  options presented before the President for each decision are many, each with its own impact.  Some of these decisions will create an historic precedent, others will impact on the economy, while others will send young men and women off to war.  None of these decisions are easy or simple.  Yet, to listen to those  on whose shoulders the weight of these decisions does not rest, the answers or the solutions are obvious.  We should know by now, beware of folks with an agenda and take their comments within that context.  If the Bush march to the Iraq War hasn’t taught us that, we deserve what we get.

Among the many complex and vital issues on the President’s plate at this moment is the Syrian situation.  He needs to determine whether, and to what degree, we should attack Syria.  He needs to determine what results he is seeking and how to measure them.  He needs to determine the impact of that attack on other countries such as Israel, and most importantly whether such an attack will somehow serve our own vital national interest.  The usual hawks are screaming that we have to attack.  The usual doves are screaming that we must stay out of it.  And those who are simply concerned with power are screaming, you must include us in your decision before you act.   I don’t have to name the players, you know who they are.

Collage of images taken by U.S. military in Ir...
Collage of images taken by U.S. military in Iraq. Compiled by the uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think that the answer to this problem is simple, and I sure wouldn’t want to be the one making the decision.  But for once, let’s let those who are charged with counseling the President because of their experience and expertise do their job.  I’m talking about the professional career military, diplomatic and intelligence officers.  Let’s give the President a chance to take advantage of the resources around him as he makes a decision that will impact on millions of people and many nations.  Let’s not confuse confidence with competence.  We did that once, and look what it got us.



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