Young lead­ers aren’t the so­lu­tion

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Black Death of the 14th cen­tury killed as much as 60 per­cent of Europe’s pop­u­la­tion. A cause of the dis­ease was the bac­terium Yersinia pestis, but lack­ing mi­cro­scopes, many at the time turned a keen eye on the Jews and killed them by the thou­sands. Still, some­how, the plague per­sisted, with the old and chil­dren dy­ing off, but young adults of­ten hang­ing on. What fol­lowed was a goodly amount of war. This is what young men tend to do.

Bar­bara Tuch­man made that point in her 1978 book about that squalid cen­tury, “A Dis­tant Mir­ror.” Young men hav­ing grown up in an age of chivalry, tour­na­ments, joust­ing and other pre­cur­sors of the may­hem we have to­day — mixed mar­tial arts, for in­stance — turned to war for recog­ni­tion and to win the hand of some damsel whose fa­ther was not in debt. Chaos en­sued, be­cause as all but young peo­ple know, young peo­ple are fools.

As luck would have it, some con­tem­po­rary ex­am­ples come to mind. The crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, known as MBS, is a mere 33 years old. Since ris­ing to be­come the king­dom’s ef­fec­tive ruler, he has widened a war in Ye­men, kid­napped the Le­banese prime min­is­ter, got­ten into a snit with Qatar, im­pris­oned women’s rights ac­tivists and — mur­der most foul — al­most cer­tainly or­dered the killing of Ja­mal Khashoggi, a U.S. res­i­dent and Post con­tribut­ing colum­nist.

The mur­der it­self was a teenager’s way of ap­par­ently set­tling a score, and was im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by an ar­ro­gant and clumsy coverup. MBS re­vealed him­self to be highly in­ept, stub­bornly stick­ing to the story that the dead and al­ready dis­mem­bered Khashoggi had left the build­ing, amid mount­ing ev­i­dence to the con­trary. The world has al­ways had a weak spot for cru­elty, but not for ap­palling in­com­pe­tence. Even some of the busi­ness­men around Pres­i­dent Trump, the avari­cious sword dancers of yes­ter­year, might hes­i­tate to do deals with such a clod.

MBS’s tele­phone pal in Wash­ing­ton is Jared Kush­ner, just 37 and, un­til re­cently, hugely in­ex­pe­ri­enced in Mid­dle East diplo­macy. He is now in charge of get­ting Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to stop killing one an­other. Kush­ner is Trump’s son-in-law and also a real es­tate mogul in his own right, hav­ing worked his way up in his fa­ther’s busi­ness much as Trump did in his. As a busi­ness plan, it seems to be all the rage.

The world is full of other lead­ers who have yet to grow into their jobs. Kim Jong Un of North Korea is only 35 and armed with nu­clear weapons. He, too, took the fam­ily path to reck­less power, suc­ceed­ing his fa­ther and, re­port­edly, ex­e­cut­ing his own dear un­cle. I am even be­gin­ning to have some doubts about Em­manuel Macron, just 40. He rushed through an eco­nomic-re­form pack­age that is now bring­ing him loads of trou­ble in the streets. That, cou­pled with his Louis XIV airs, has given him a life-threat­en­ing ap­proval rat­ing of about 26 per­cent. He may soon be gone.

Para­dox­i­cally, the youngest leader on the world stage may well be Trump. He is 72, of course, but since ig­no­rance is the func­tional equiv­a­lent of youth, he is for­ever young. The pres­i­dent’s head is un­clut­tered with the facts, not to men­tion the con­tra­dic­tions and para­doxes that come with knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. For in­stance, his an­tiNATO pos­ture was clearly based on not know­ing the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons for its cre­ation. Trump saw it solely as an anti-Rus­sia al­liance, which it al­ways was in part, but to him Moscow was just a nice place to build a ho­tel — not an en­emy at all. But the de­sire to keep the United States en­gaged in Europe was beyond his ken.

The young — their minds con­cen­trated by the mil­i­tary draft — got the folly of Viet­nam. But the ap­par­ent cur­rent con­vic­tion that young is bet­ter be­cause it is young is a pre­scrip­tion for dis­as­ter. The young are flat­tered by a pop­u­lar cul­ture that cher­ishes them as cus­tomers, by a mass me­dia that longs for their pa­tron­age and by politi­cians who beg them just to vote. It makes their young heads swim.

Age is not a panacea. The ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who led us into the Viet­nam War could hardly have done worse. Iraq was no dif­fer­ent. But the im­petu­os­ity and, of­ten, rage of young men — the build­ing blocks of all armies — have al­ways been a cause for worry. Tuch­man of­fered us a dis­tant mir­ror — but the ones we are see­ing now are strictly for van­ity.

Richard Co­hen’s email ad­dress is co­[email protected]­

Richard Co­hen Colum­nist

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