The thrill of power

Crisis management (picture US Navy)

Some interesting speculation by Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times yesterday on the motivations of politicians. They want excitement – like anyone else, I suppose – and they find excitement in a crisis. He spoke to an official involved in British government crisis management:

“What was it like?” I asked him. “Brilliant,” he replied. “There are all the video screens and generals and admirals sitting around in uniform. You have to say things like: ‘It is 3.45 pm and I am now bringing to a close this meeting of Cobra emergency command.”

Is my friend uniquely juvenile? I suspect not – just unusually honest. He certainly believed that all the other officials around the table were delighting in the little rituals of crisis management. “I guarantee that everybody around that table had an erection within five minutes,” he mused.


Extrapolating slightly, my friend developed what you might call “the erection theory of British foreign policy”. His argument was that British government’s bias towards the “special relationship” with the US, in preference to the European Union, has something to do with the thrilling nature of American power. “If you fly into Camp David on a helicopter,” he assured me, “it’s instant arousal. But if you have to go to a European summit in Brussels, it’s so depressing you’re impotent for a week.”

Of course, there is a reason why European politics is based on discussion and agreement and the search for consensus. The Europeans have already tried the other approach – issuing threats and wielding force – and it has repeatedly led them to disaster. (I wrote more about this here.) The new style of European politics may be comparatively boring but at least nobody gets hurt.

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