In many contexts, we tend to believe that politics is highly elitist and controlled to the fullest by powerful interest groups. Regardless of the nature of those interest groups – may they be religious, economic or ethnic –, there is certainly a considerable truth to the claim that they exert power behind the political curtains. Some theories about the secret elites are more far-fetched than others, some theories turned out to be true and yet others were disproven. However, the full truth remains behind those curtains and we as outsiders are left with very limited tools to understand the dynamics of those political elites. In this article, the limits of political calculation are discussed. At some point, even the most advanced monopoly of power will encounter unexpected situations and crises and face consequences that were not accounted for. We can infamously point to the invasion of Iraq. The decision to wage war in this country was a logical consequence of the extremely high socio-economic coherence of the decision-making group, forcing it to make faulty decisions (excellently analysed by Prof. Dr. Steve A. Yetiv in Groupthink and the Gulf Crisis, 2003). In other words, regardless of how sophisticated the power-political elite is, it will make grave mistakes and miscalculations at some point. As outsiders with little information, it is important to identify when the elite makes mistakes.

The “Normal” in Politics

Naturally, we must always expect the highest political and economic cadres to be at the top of cognitive abilities. Surely, this is not because those people are inherently better or naturally more intelligent but rather because they have not only access to the brightest minds in their respective societies but also the resources to make those minds work. The access and operationalisation of human, material and immaterial resources of those elites are enormous. Accordingly, we can expect them to have the means of producing effective decisions and outcomes in their interest while also reducing downside risk to a minimum. The “normal” in politics truly is to think that almost nothing is impossible. Therefore, it is wrong to form statements along the popular lines of “this is so far-fetched, this cannot be”. Depending on the motives of the respective political elite, the degree of utilising extra-legal means to achieve the desired ends can reach far beyond the borders of acceptable societal norms. Often, these measures are necessary to serve the interest of the ruling elites of a nation or transnational elites; this is certainly not to say that the ends in themselves are desirable.

A Miscalculated War in Ukraine?

But no matter how sophisticated and well-structured the mechanisms of control are, no matter little the downside risk is, there will always be a situation in which the elites will face massive structural problems. In the contemporary political landscape, there are several situations that might raise eyebrows among attentive political scientists. Most obviously, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is one of the most glaring examples of policy actions that beg the question of whether the political elites could not have thought about the consequences beforehand? Was it not clear that the western nations will inevitably respond to the invasion with a widespread hate campaign, support Ukraine will a sheer unlimited supply of weaponry and sanction Russia? Was this the most effective and efficient policy option for Russia to counteract the expansion of NATO and the repression of Russian minorities in Ukraine? Or was it a calculated risk? In this case, the consequences were all too predictable and today we are slowly seeing that the calculations made by the Russian elite are slowly turning out to be right. Most western businesses were overtaken by Russians for laughable sums, meaning that they transformed foreign productive and commercial capacities into domestic capacities at a discount. With the formation of stronger commercial ties with other nations, Russia has substituted its former trade partners with newer, less affluent partners against whom Russia has now pricing power. Further, Russia made significant territorial gains in Ukraine with access to geostrategic locations, such as the Black Sea. Though there surely is a huge black hole in terms of information, the decision by Russia to go to war against a seemingly much better-equipped allied opposition is unlikely to amount to a miscalculation because the situation is slowly turning in favour of Russia now – apparently, not by surprise from the perspective of the Russian elites.

Too Much Liberal Counterweight in the EU?

A more puzzling development is the social policies in European nations. In recent years, there has been a significant radicalisation of European politics and seemingly erratic policymaking. One very central concept in European politics is the reduction of air pollution through a systemic shift in the economy. The reason, proponents of radical decarbonisation say, is that the greenhouse gases emitted by industrial facilities and power plants are causing climate change. Accordingly, the industries must be transformed, from automotive to consumer goods. Widespread attempts to simultaneously reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in all sectors were complemented by medial backing that led to a pan-European radicalisation of the society. Technically seen, however, the emission of those gases is not the primary source of the ecological decline. It is the general over-consumption in all aspects of life that requires industries to apply invasive tactics that destroy wildlife and fragile ecological systems. Political elites in Europe must know this but they are noticeably turning a blind to this issue. In the name of climate protection, the morally unacceptable working conditions in mineral mines abroad and pollution of groundwater by pharmaceutical companies are accepted – all while the media is entrusted with pushing the agenda.

Now, this development accelerated significantly after 2017. What preceded this societal shift was a development in Europe that was widely observable in a lot of member states: a shift to the political right. With stronger nationalist tendencies in France, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Germany and most significantly the United Kingdom, which eventually left the EU in 2016, the European political landscape was characterised by nationalist movements getting stronger by the day. Spurred were these movements by increased migration in the 2010s, comprehensive redistribution of national funds in the context of bailouts and flight of manufacturing to cheaper non-European regions. Now, such a situation posed a threat to pan-European unity. We can reasonably assume that an elite around the ideal of a unified Europe had an interest to contain the spread of right-wing thinking. In the absence of knowledge of Devletism at that time, the response of such an elite could only be to further liberal ideals as to counterweigh the spread of nationalism. Though solely an assumption, we can explain via this domain why we today encounter so many liberal ideas and discussions in the media. And here we can also see that there might have been a miscalculation on the part of the political and economic elites. The current political cadres of European nations are vastly underqualified and approach politics one-sidedly and in a radical way. It might be that the push to counteract populism and nationalism was a bit too much. Further, there is also a significant risk that this might also lead to a more radical response by the political right. There are two options: (i) either the aim was to achieve such a situation of ever-increasing tensions and intensifying European decline, or (ii) the political elite truly formed the wrong policy response to a threatening development. In scenario (i), we must assume that the controlling elite of Europe is not European. In scenario (ii), the controlling elite is European but reached its limits of political calculation.

Karma of Double Standards in Israel?

Recently, a document by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, allegedly surfaced that indicated that the Mossad leadership encouraged the ongoing protests in Israel against the authoritarian rule of Benjamin Netanyahu. In a nation, that has been characterised by almost perfect homogeneity across all societal metrics, the protests alone are puzzling enough. Having such widespread dissent expressed so openly can nowhere be rarer than in Israel. But having the intelligence service of this nation support it? All the more questionable. This information surfaced in a report by the New York Times that, in turn, referenced intelligence documents of the intelligence service of the USA. There are many political miscalculations that could have happened here. First, Benjamin Netanyahu and the elites that surround him and his ideas on a strong Israel might have relied too heavily on social coherence and domestic homogeneity over the past years. While proliferating neoliberal and capitalist ideals abroad, domestic politics were traditionally characterised by conservatism. However, such double standards could have caused a spill-over effect on the domestic population, as it is relatively difficult to promote two different agendas simultaneously. The current protest might be the result of miscalculating the strength of the inner-Israeli bond and that the public opinion in this country is now more centred around the very values that have been exported to much of the western world.

Second, the USA have been under much pressure from Mossad. Over the last decades, Euro-American politicians were subject to far-reaching blackmailing campaigns that forced the USA to not only support Israel materially but also in achieving their foreign policy goals. Certainly, there has also been an exchange of material and immaterial resources in the other direction but due to the difference in size, this has naturally been quite limited. With the increasingly independent stance of Israel towards the USA, the allegation that Mossad incites people to protest the government could well be an independent move by the intelligence agency to oust the government that strained the relationship with this important partner. Third, the news about the Mossad recommendation is simply made up by the USA to signal to Israeli leadership that one is better off working with the USA than against it. In diplomatic terms, releasing information can be read as “we could if we wanted to, let sit back together”. But even in this case, there is a miscalculation in terms of how far one could go even in such a seemingly solid partnership between the USA and Israel. Finally, and this is always an option within any analysis of elitist behaviour, there is no miscalculation. It is very likely that the information about the Mossad leadership is false; just as it is unlikely that two of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world allow the leak of such sensitive information to a popular paper, such as the New York Times. If such a document has reached the New York Times, it is very likely that it fulfils a specific purpose and plays a role in the management of the ongoing domestic crisis in Israel.

In the end, the only way to find out, as an outsider, whether political courses of action were subject to miscalculation or not is the assessment of the outcomes. We have seen that the seemingly irrational invasion of Ukraine is slowly turning out to be a beneficial course from the perspective of the Russian elite. In Europe, the situation does seem to display characteristics of a great miscalculation. In the case of Israel, it is too early to predict whether the government miscalculated certain things – there are good points in favour of it but also against it.