The blogosphere is abuzz with the inability of the Bush administration to find an impressive figure to become "the War Czar" having suffered four rejections from high ranking retired military officers (this mirrors an inability to fill key posts in the intelligence community). There are strong reactions from Left, Right and Center, generally negative. I will ask a different question, however:
Why are Americans in love with the "Czar"metaphor?
First, we are a liberty-loving democracy without an autocratic tradition. We like inefficient government with lots of checks and balances, staggered electoral terms, judicial review and leaks to the media. Secondly, it is not as if the"Czars" ( henceforth spelled correctly as "Tsar") have an impressive track record that we should be following, just read the Marquis de Custine sometime.
Tsar Paul was mad and several others were feebleminded; Catherine the Great was an usurper and poseur French intellectual-wannabe; Tsar Nicholas I and Alexander III were iron-fisted tyrants; and the last Tsar, Nicholas II " the Unlucky" was a complete incompetent who ended up being slaughtered in a basement by third-rate Bolshevik revolutionaries who threw the body of Russia's last Autocrat down a mineshaft. Because of Nicholas, Russians suffered seventy years of Communist totalitarianism, terror, famine and poverty. Hoo-boy! I want him running the war in Iraq! He did such a great job on the Eastern Front!
Even the "good Tsars" were no great shakes. Peter the Great was a far-seeing modernizer but his namesake capital, St. Petersburg rests upon unnumbered bones of the serfs who toiled in the swampy mire to build it. Russia's equivalent to Abraham Lincoln, Alexander II "the Tsar-Liberator" freed the serfs but left them landless and impoverished, ended his life being blown up by an anarchist's bomb. These two top the Tsar-list; it goes downhill from there.
And then of course, there is Ivan Grozny or "Ivan the Terrible", the terrifying medieval Tsar whom Stalin idolized as a role model. It was Ivan who drove away the ferocious Tatar hordes, unleashed Russia's first secret police, the Oprichnina, had his nobles torn apart by dogs and even killed his own son in a fit of blind rage. Tsar Ivan was feared by all of Russia's neighbors and none dared stand against him.
Hmmm....maybe that's exactly the kind of "czar" we need after all.
" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli