US Secretary of State John Kerry is confronted by Fox News with a conversation with an aide that was supposed to be private but was caught by an open studio microphone. He criticises Israel’s attack on Gaza, saying sarcastically: “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” That is presumably a reference to the rapidly escalating death toll over the past 24 hours from Israel’s ground invasion.
Such incidents often look as though they have exposed politicians as mendacious, saying one thing in private and another in public. I think that is the wrong way to understand it. Most politicians are not cynical. They do not think of themselves as bad, deceitful or hypocritical – even if we often do. In their own minds, they believe they are doing the best possible in difficult circumstances.
Here Kerry shows that he is concerned to save lives and suffering through diplomatic action, even as the decisions he takes are guaranteed to result in many more people dying unnecessarily and in horrifying circumstances. He cares about the civilians being killed in Gaza, it’s just that his political priorities – the good fight for civilisation – require destroying or containing “bad guys” like Hamas. In his mind, it is sad but unavoidable that civilians have to pay the price, as collateral damage.
In other words, the problem is not that Kerry has bad motives or intentions; it is that his ideological horizons are so limited and skewed by his education and socialisation that his judgment has been profoundly corrupted and is inherently unreliable. That, unfortunately, is the problem with most of the people who run our societies.