It is unclear whether it is even possible to find an effective peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2020. Very clever people have desperately tried for over 70 years and failed. Perhaps that’s what made Trump choose his son-in-law to give it another shot, i.e. try the exact opposite: charge a not-very-bright and less-than-dedicated person with this seemingly impossible task. After all, that’s how he himself became president, right?
Whatever the (lack of) thought processes happening in the White House, Jared Kushner was chosen two years ago to bring peace to the Middle East. According to reports, he started badly, namely by demanding from both sides that no history was allowed to be discussed and that they should only look forward. And things went downhill from there.
Eventually, in January 2020, the great Trump Peace Plan was presented by Kushner and a beaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and without a single Palestinian leader. The image went around the world, with a global media unable to figure out whether this was genius at work or an ill-judged joke.
As the initial twitter dust settled, it turned out to be neither: it was simply a young man, with no knowledge or understanding of the job he was supposed to do, being way out of his depth in possibly the most complex issue of our time. He had been played like a fiddle by the incredibly capable and experienced Israeli diplomats. If it had been anyone else (rather than Donald Trump’s relative), we would have wanted to give him an encouraging hug and tell him that life will get better again.
Jared Kushner’s abject failure is a classic example of a system, in this case the White House, suffering from a combination of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the Peter’s Principle, surrounded by a world in which expertise is trumped (pun intended) by political spin. Let’s unpack all three:
The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a person (or group) who does not understand their own ignorance or lack of skill in dealing with complex matters. They display a cognitive bias creating a false sense of superiority. An example would be a toddler who believes they can cross a busy road safely by himself. Or Jared Kushner who believes he can bring peace to the Middle East. Both are too ignorant to understand how preposterous their misplaced confidence really is.
The Peter’s Principle is the idea that in (large) organisations, eventually people get promoted to incompetence and therefore become incapable of effectively doing their job at a certain point. Take an engineer who is great at making mobile phones and then is promoted to lead a team of other engineers. Their technical skill-set then becomes pointless. Instead, their introverted scientific personality is expected to all of a sudden lead grumpy colleagues who also wanted that promotion. Or, alternatively, take someone who is great at marrying the daughter of the future President of the United States and who is then promoted to become a 21st Century mix of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but in Arabic. It just doesn’t work.
Finally, expertise versus political spin. In a world where everyone and their pet cat can tweet, post on Instagram or have a successful YouTube channel, the value of expert opinion has been drowned out. Instead, we are bombarded by a cacophony of loud opinions and no true value. Studying a subject matter for decades is for wimps in 2020; being successful is all about effective use of the “like” and “follow” buttons on social media. #realtalk
Donald Trump understands this last point like no other. In part because he understands very little else. And thus it should come as no surprise that he saw no point in hiring an expensive team of Middle Eastern experts. After all, he had his daughter’s husband who could do it for free and would be able to simultaneously strike some business deals while being there. A win-win situation for all involved.
Except for the millions of people who continue to suffer in the region. Day after day. Year after year. Lifetime after lifetime.