Adrian Simmons delves deep into Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales to identify Saruman’s actual mission in Middle Earth and then attempts to put the white wizard’s motives, policies, and machinations into proper perspective.
Sarumon didn’t have time to build a big enough army of half-orcs to stand against Sauron, so Plan A is shot all to hell, and he didn’t get his hands on the Ring, so there goes Plan B, and thanks to the remarkable willpower of those scruffy Hobbits, he can’t take refuge under Sauron’s massive cloak (where I feel confident that Sarumon would have convinced himself that he’d affect long-term change from within the organization). His pride– something that is a key part of his very being is stung — so what does he do? Well, he goes and screws with the Hobbits because he can. Because there is no one else for him to take revenge on. In a creepy way he still won’t turn a hand against Men or Elves, and the Ents have already handed him his ass (and, well, Radagast might be a harder opponent than Sarumon’s tough talk implies).
I have no idea what Sarumon is thinking in taking over the Shire, yes he is spiteful, he is vengeful-minded, but again he has totally not turned completely from his path. He doesn’t, as far as I know, do anything to the Hobbits himself, even to Frodo. So what the heck is he doing in the Shire? What is his long-term plan? Plan D, I think, is that the new age is just starting, and that if you give him another century (and what is a century to Sarumon?), he will build a great thing, a great kingdom, the Elves and the Men will have to deal with Sarumon, one way or another.
Back to the firefighter analogy: just as the incompetent firefighter gets himself into trouble and diverts energy and materials away from the fire itself, so does Sarumon.
He refers to Saruman as being like “a bold, but incompetent fireman,” but what he is really getting at is the famous classification of officers, usually attributed to Field Marshal Count von Moltke:
Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!”
Saruman is the stupid and industrious officer.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.