Politics, Gladiator, Praetorians and a Missing Fugitive
While many viewers were enthralled by the epic battle scenes in the Gladiator, hardly any noticed that the plot of the film turned on a single focal point. When the Emperor Commodus was un-sworded by General Maximus in the final fight scene, he turned to his Praetorian Guards and demanded another sword. As the Guard unsheathed their swords to offer their beleaguered Emperor, the Guard Commander, Quintus, overruled the Emperor, ordering the Guard to stay their swords. General Maximus subsequently killed Commodus with the latter's own dagger in front of a shocked Coliseum. It was not the first time that the Praetorian Guards played a pivotal role in the film. In this sense, the film was unerring in historical accuracy, the praetorians were more often than not, the true Caesar-makers of Pax Romana.
The Prime Minister's explanation of the Mas Selamat escape fiasco is a lesson in politics. He perhaps more than any other recognises that the ISD is an intelligence agency, staffed by intelligence officers, whose primary job is the gathering of information of leverage, of value. Running a prison is a routine task beneath such intelligence officers, such tasks delegated to the lowly Gurkha mules. It is precisely this mindset that allowed the Mas Selamat escape to occur and this was probably what the PM meant when he singled out the mindset issue. The element of complacency.
Interestingly, the PM made one slip of tongue which did not really come out in the COI report findings, he uttered something about the unclear lines of command on the security responsibility in the detention centre. This is the nub of the issue. It is apparent that ISD intelligence officers are not prison wardens. More likely, intelligence officers are egotistical bastards who like to kick down toilet doors rather than perform lowly prison escort duties. Hence, the security of Mas Selamat was delegated by these intelligence officers to the two Gurkha mules. They made the critical mistake in thinking that two Gurkhas on one prisoner should be adequate security. But alas, the Gurkhas are good only for parades and are basically gentle savage mules with less initiative than your average Filipino maid. This was the critical failure, window or no window, fence or no fence.
If a cock-up of this scale occurs in a ministry like MICA, the PM will have much less of a headache. Essentially, ministries like MICA are politically dispensable. They have no value to the politicians. But when a cock-up happens in a intelligence agency, in Mindef or even in an elite military unit like the Commandos, especially in a regime like Singapore where institutional checks and balances are only of face value, the political ramifications are much more complex. When a cock-up happens in ISD, which has an organisational history that is promiscously intertwined with the political history of Singapore, think Coldstore, think Marxist conspiracy, it creates a hugely delicate problem for the politicians.
The Prime Minister is sharp and recognises this fact, this conundrum he is faced with. He explains to us citizens that a demoralised ISD will be detrimental to Singapore's security. That is an equivocal statement. It is not the mob reflexively baying for the blood of Ministers and politicians he is wary of. Handling the mob is simple politics, especially the Singaporean mob which has always been fairly one-dimensional.
It is evident from this Mas Selamat escape that political savvy in Singapore remains a rare commodity. Grasping and exploiting political nuances appears to be a lost art or perhaps the monopoly of the cloistered group in the ruling regime. Rather than exploiting the interstices of this ISD cock-up, the Opposition wastes the political opportunity pursuing dead hypotheses or demanding accountability knowing that accountability will always be provided for that group of conservative stoic Singaporeans who are the electoral bedrock of the regime's survival.
In the film, Gladiator, the Roman mob in the Coliseum was silenced when Emperor Commodus slumped dead at the feet of Maximus. They were further silenced when Maximus died of the earlier dagger wound inflicted by Commodus before the fight scene.
Most viewers forget or fail to recognise that it was the Praetorians that allowed this to happen.Quote of the Day --
"Is Rome worth one good man's life? We believed it once. Make us believe it again. He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him." -- Lucilla, from the film Gladiator