I don’t often agree with Nicholas Kristof — there’s too much of the moralistic crusader in him, and moralistic crusaders can too easily make war the means by which they achieve their aims — but he said something brilliant in his Sunday New York Times column:
We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless.
Kristof doesn’t say why Washington doesn’t have better intelligence, but that’s because Washington (and this includes not just government but also hangers on, such as DC’s incredibly servile press corps) doesn’t believe the powerless contribute anything. They are to be governed. Well perhaps, kindly maybe, but still governed. What people say, believe, think and feel doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as what governing elites say, believe, think and feel and can communicate to those they govern.
And Western elites have governed this way for so long they forget that the people can often times feel things their leaders believe they shouldn’t. And act upon them too.