Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Cult of Personality Assassination

Sociologist Amitai Etizioni suggests that Americans tend to obsess about personalities of leaders which leads us to ignore the more complex dynamics involved in politics (and the required complexity of political solutions).

Blaming a single person allows one to avoid the difficult task of understanding the often-complex underlying factors that caused the mess, as well as the even more challenging task of figuring out ways to change these factors. It is much easier to just call for replacing the non-leading leader. It fits well into the American predisposition to psychologize everything and sociologize nothing.

Take Iraq. It is a territory that was occupied by the Brits after WWI, who took a bunch of tribes that had little in common and boxed them into one state. It took a brutal dictator to hold them together. Saddam oppressed the two major tribes (Kurds and Shia) by drawing on the smallest of the lot (Sunni), who knew damn well that they would lose everything if they did not support him. The US came in and kicked over this structure, but failed to replace it with any viable alternative. It does not side with the Shia majority, because it tends to ally itself with Iran, and might impose a theocracy and kill many thousands of Sunnis. Nor does the US ally itself with the Sunnis, because they are a minority, and many Sunnis are former supporters of the Saddam regime. Instead, the US clings to a fantasy in which Shia, Sunni and Kurdish militias become loyal national forces, and a Shia leader acts as if he was a national one. Fat chance.

In contrast, if the US forces allowed each tribe to rule itself in its own territory, and the tribal chiefs to negotiate with one another as representatives of semi-independent states, effective leaders might emerge.

Alternatively, take the matter of oil revenues, the number one source of income for the Iraqi government. Most of the oil is in the Shia areas. The Sunnis have a thirty-year history of siphoning off major portions of these revenues. In the new Iraq, they will have to do with much less. Surprise, surprise: they're having a hard time accepting their much-impoverished lot. If, instead of blaming Maliki for not working out a deal with the Sunnis, the US would get the oil companies or Saudi Arabia to step in to make up for the Sunni shortfall, Maliki would suddenly shine (at least for a while)....

We should stop blindly pinning the tail on whoever is the current head of state and instead try to expose the underlying forces at work. We should see if we can work with others to support or even fashion new historical forces that will make it possible for those who are supposed to lead us to do their jobs right. |Pin the Tail - Huffington Post|
I think Etizioni makes some good points, however if our leaders refuse to live in reality and acknowledge the complexities of the situation and instead insist on a simplistic good versus evil scenario, then the first step (of many) in making progress is to replace the buffoons with serious leaders.

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