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America's Idiot Plot Syndrome

It is hard to believe the Vice President is really this stupid.

by James Leroy Wilson
July 19, 2007

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America's Idiot Plot Syndrome
It's one of the most frustrating features in movies, the Idiot Plot Syndrome. Roger Ebert defines it as "Any plot containing problems that would be solved instantly if all the characters were not idiots."
 
You see it when the plot advances because just one character acts like an idiot. And inexplicably so, because the character is not otherwise an idiot, or if he is a complete idiot, he is in a position of authority that complete idiots do not achieve in real life. Further, this idiotic behavior is never explained or questioned by the other characters, which makes them idiots as well.
 
In otherwise entertaining films we may forgive the Idiot Plot Syndrome, because we know it sometimes happens in real life. In real life, it's called What Were They Thinking? We see this, ironically, in Hollywood executives themselves: how could they sign off on Jaws: the Revenge, or make Speed II without Keanu Reeves? In business, New Coke was an historic blunder that still leaves us scratching our heads.
 
Most of the time, however, the Idiot Plot Syndrome is just further proof that a movie is bad. If one of the characters behaves in ways inconsistent with what we know already about him, that is evidence the screenwriter isn't clever enough to provide an internally coherent story. Likewise, in real life, we can only accept the Idiot Plot Syndrome, or What Were They Thinking, for so long. At some point it is hard to accept that somebody behaving out of character is merely being stupid.
 
Imagine that the 9/11 era we live in is one long movie, and the Official Story of Al Qaeda responsibility behind 9/11 is true. In this scenario, Osama bin Laden would be the villain. In normal movies, the villain kills a lot of people and threatens to blow something up, before the hero comes in to save the day and kill the villain. In many movies of this kind, the villain is successful for so long only because of the incompetence of the commander in charge of the situation. The hero is an outsider or underling - often an analyst, soldier, or maverick cop – who must defy the commander and take matters into his own hands. Sometimes, the commander is revealed to be involved in a conspiracy and is a villain himself, which explains his poor decisions. Other, times, he's just an idiot.
 
But in this 9/11 era, it is apparent that no such hero exists. And the villain, bin Laden, has succeeded spectacularly. Six years after 9-11, America is on the verge of bankruptcy, has lost her freedom, and has become the most hated country in the world. Meanwhile, bin Laden's Al Qaeda movement, once the extremist fringe of the extremist fringe of radical Sunni Islam, has exploded in numbers.
 
If we saw a fictional account of a Presidential Administration this incompetent, we would dismiss it as too unbelievable. Ever since we invaded Afghanistan as a response to 9/11, the American government has done exactly the wrong thing every step of the way, but one blunder sticks out. Only an idiot would have invaded Iraq, but an even bigger idiot would have neglected post-war occupation planning, and an even bigger idiot than that would have dismissed all the experienced Iraqi officials who would have had the knowledge and experience to rebuild the country. If we are living in a movie, it is suffering from Idiot Plot Syndrome.
 
President Bush is the idiot in chief, and he is ultimately responsible. But the American people surmised long ago that Bush is lazy, uninformed, and overly-reliant on his staff. Elevating incompetents to the Presidency is not new. Bush's incompetence may have been expected, but to be this incompetent is evidence that he is getting terrible advice from his staff. The most source of the Idiot Plot Syndrome is Vice President Cheney, because it was previously inconceivable that he could serve his President so poorly. Cheney's incompetence, his idiocy, is out of character.
 
Cheney came to the Bush Administration with a reputation as an intelligent, experienced, and extremely competent man. Cheney was President Ford's Chief of Staff, and later a Republican leader in Congress. As Secretary of Defense under Bush 41, Cheney oversaw the successful expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. After that resounding victory, there was pressure on many fronts for the President to invade Iraq itself and depose Saddam Hussein. Bush 41 refused, and Cheney agreed with him, saying as late as 1996 that "I think if we had done that we would have been bogged down there for a very long period of time with the real possibility we might not have succeeded."
Cheney was right in 1991 and 1996. What changed?
 
In 1998, Cheney signed the Statement of Principles of the Project for a New American Century, which in effect says that the United States has a moral obligation to bully the rest of the world with its military might. Notably, however, Cheney did not sign subsequent PNAC letters urging "regime change" in Iraq (although future Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and some other future Bush Administration officials did).
Bob Woodward, however, claims that Cheney always felt a sense of "unfinished business" in Iraq. Woodward also quotes Sec. Of State Powell saying Cheney "has a fever. It is an absolute fever. It's almost as if nothing else [but overthrowing Saddam] exists." Convincing Bush 43 was evidently not hard to do, as Bush wanted to overthrow Saddam anyway – long before 9/11.
 
But it still doesn't add up. Was Cheney blinded by neoconservative ideology? Did his previous record as White House Chief of Staff, Congressman, and Secretary of Defense suggest that he was prone to such lapses in judgment?
 
No wonder conspiracy theories surround Dick Cheney; it is hard to believe he could be afflicted with the real-life version of Idiot Plot Syndrome. Did he want War with Iraq to secure lucrative rebuilding contracts for Halliburton, his former company? Does he want to attack Iran now to help his Big Oil and Military-Industrial Complex buddies? Is there an even more sinister reason lurking in the background? Has power gone to Dick Cheney's head?
 
Or is this really just Idiot Plot Syndrome, inflicted on Dick Cheney for reasons known only to God?
 
Whatever happened to Dick Cheney will be investigated and argued over by historians for many decades to come.
 

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