Black’s Bad Boy: My stab at what got Conrad Black through a prison stretch isn’t his arrogance or sense of rectitude. It’s his not-so-inner child, an eternal boyishness. You hear it in the piece he wrote last weekend for the National Post. It has a sense of adventure with an improbably happy ending; it could have come out of the Boy’s Own Annual, which I can picture him reading, absorbing the Dickensian stylistics. (He’s always been a Victorian figure, which helps explain his choice of British lordship over Canadian citizenship.)
As he departed, “a steady stream of well-wishers from all factions of the compound came to say goodbye … the rehabilitated and unregenerate, the innocent and the guilty, and in almost all cases the grossly over-sentenced. … It had been an interesting experience …” It’s an adventure from which he determinedly drew lessons. He was “enlightened by my observation of American justice on the other side of the wall; and happy to have got on well in an environment very foreign to any I had known before.” Having turned adversity into opportunity, “I shook hands and waved as I slipped the bondage of the U.S. government,” Horatio Algeresque, giving hope to those still inside, like Cool Hand Luke sending a postcard back to jail.
He’s always seen himself as an outsider, even while The Establishment Man, and children are the ultimate outsiders, especially naughty ones. In fact, being a bad boy may have been his worst legal error, when he took those boxes from his Toronto office under a camera’s eye. Mark Steyn laboured mightily to explain the psychodynamics of that act, but it still looks to me like mainly mischief when he glares up into the lens. I can think of other things he could have been punished for, but none are against the law and there are lots of people who’d be caught in the same net.
So it ends, for now, with vindication, release and loving reunion. It’s not a fate anyone would have chosen but, once it happens and you get through it, you can feel almost grateful. As for the romance, it’s always been clear that he was besotted with Barbara, his wife. But people have often speculated on what she finds in him and why. I’m not saying I understand her but, if I were her, I wouldn’t be with him for the wealth, power, baggy vocabulary or ostentatious erudition. It would be that compelling boyishness.
The mote in our eye: The oddest element in the WikiLeaks furor was Western dismay over Pakistan’s role: still trying to use and control the Taliban. Why odd? Because it’s seen as okay to demand that Pakistan follow what the U.S. sees as its interests, but not what they see as their own. This is effectively psychotic; it ignores patent reality. You simply can’t expect people to pursue your interests, but not theirs, in their region, inside their borders.
Sometimes, the delusionality is blatant. Take this recent report: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered Beijing by declaring that disputes between China and its neighbours over international boundaries in the strategically important South China Sea are a U.S. ‘national interest.’ ” That’s the South China Sea, not the Jersey shore. And: The U.S. is “watching apprehensively as China expands its influence in East Asia.” Er, the Chinese are in Asia, the Americans aren’t. This kind of thing more or less led to the Pacific part of the Second World War.
During the latter part of the 20th century, most challenges to the egomaniacal (clinically speaking) U.S. mindset on world affairs came from small national liberation movements in places such as Cuba or Vietnam. Now the tests come from rising global powers such as China, India and Pakistan, on their own turf. I’m not crying panic here. These things usually get worked out between large powers. But it may be time for a reality check.
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