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Monday, May 12, 2014

David Brooks, "The Problem With Confidence": Try Leading a Nation Without It

"To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence."

- Mark Twain

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Problem With Confidence" (, David Brooks concludes:

"[I]f you start thinking about your self-confidence, you will just be inventing a self-referential story. It’s probably easier to go through life focusing on what specifically needs doing, rooted in a set of external obligations and criteria and thus quieting the self."

Ah yes, look outward, not inward, and see how far it takes you. It might make you a venerable Buddhist monk, but you probably won't lead a nation, an army or even a small corporate department projecting irresolution.

But what happens when your self-confidence is punctured?

Suppose you tell a country that Putin and Khamenei are not as bad as others think. Suppose you build a foreign policy around the assumption that the world's despots are just misunderstood, and with a deep bow, an affectionate embrace and a toothy grin, these bad boys can all be turned around.

What happens when six years later, you're proven wrong, and the world around you descends into chaos?

I suppose it's the time to declare, "That's some good sushi right there," particularly after failing to secure a trade agreement with a longstanding ally.

After all, unless the sun doesn't rise tomorrow, you can go to bed confident in the knowledge that you will be paid some $20 million upfront to write your memoirs and can spend the rest of your life traipsing the lecture circuit for a cool half million dollars a pop, when you are not too busy roaming the links.

You've been proven an empty suit? Who cares? The joke is on them.

Even funnier, an empty pantsuit is waiting in the wings.

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