Sunday, October 14, 2007

Poor Leadership, Poor Leadership Selection and Consistent National Humiliation

From the title, this can only be an essay about the state of the Arab world.

Some countries in the world have leadership selection processes that elevate the most effective political leaders in their society to the highest leadership positions. Putin, for example, before he became Russia's president, had independently demonstrated that he is one of the most effective leaders in Russia. China's leadership is chosen by a competitive process that elevates the winner of a national contest in political effectiveness.

Democracy, or direct elections, is one way to create a competitive process for leadership. The important element is not the direct elections though, the important element is the competitive process.

The United States currently has a president more or less chosen by direct elections, but he was not one of the Americans before becoming president who had demonstrated the most political effectiveness in the country. The political machinery assembled by his father, largely at least at first on the strength of continued loyalty to the father, coalesced around the son and gave the son a tremendous advantage in the US competition for political leadership.

There were still direct elections, more or less, but factors other than demonstrated individual political effectiveness became decisive. The competitive process in this case was compromised and the United States, for 8 years of its history, had leadership comparable to that of the Arab world. Fortunately for the rest of the world, unfortunately for the United States, rivals of the US have been able to consistently outplay the US during this period.

One example is that the attacks of September 11, 2001 likely would have been detected and prevented by any of the previous US presidents at least since Franklin Roosevelt. More generally, a cascade of bad decisions, including but not nearly limited to the invasion of Iraq has seen nearly every significant rival of the US improve its position relative to the US during this presidency.

Fortunately for the United States, unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States has a limited term for its presidency and will return to a competitive process based more on demonstrated individual political effectiveness. Unless Hillary Clinton is elected as the next US president.

Hillary Clinton is certainly more intelligent than George W. Bush and somewhat more notable for her abilities outside of her connection with a previous presidency. But she also certainly has a pre-assembled political machine based largely at first on the strength of continued loyalty to her husband without which she would not be mentionable in any contest for the US presidency.

But this essay now returns to the Arab world, which can be thought of as a collection of local George W. Bush's without the term limits.

There are two problems with leadership selection mechanisms in the Arab world, the first is hereditary leadership. Assuming somewhere in the past that a person reached the top leadership position in his country by winning a contest of political effectiveness, the children of the winner of that contest are nearly guaranteed not to be the people who would win fair contests among their contemporaries throughout their societies.

It is very unlikely that Bashar Assad is his country's Putin. He is likely, in terms of political talent, closer to some guy chosen at random from Russia's educated class. Maybe closer to some of Stalin or Kruschev's relatives who are now unknown somewhere in Russia.

If Russia chose as its leader a random guy from its educated class as leader, it would consistently make bad decisions, and would consistently be outcompeted by the talented political leaders elevated by its rivals, say China and Germany.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Jordan and Syria suffer from hereditary leadership. It is an objective if uncomfortable fact that these countries would consistently make better political decisions, and consistently perform better at at advancing their national interests if they had leadership selection processes that were competitive.

The second problem is the influence of rivals in the leadership selection process. Mubarak is not the son of a previous leader. Abbas of Palestine and Seniora of Lebanon are also not hereditary leaders, but they were aided into power by the political machinery of the United States, whose primary loyalty in the Middle East is to Israel.

These two problems, for as long as they last, will ensure that the Arab world will permanently suffer from poor leadership. The national interests these leaders are tasked to advance will be at a permanent disadvantage to those of the competitively selected leaderships of Israel and eventually the United States.

Turkey's effective leadership, before Gul, was more pro-Western than its population, but it was Turkish and its was competitively selected from within the ranks of the military. The population has begun the process in Turkey of regaining its influence over policy. Turkey, by its people's identification with Muslims, will eventually, unless there are reforms in the Arab world, be a more effective advocate of Arab interests than the leaders of Arab countries.

Iran's clerical leadership and its directly elected president are the winners of competitive leadership selection processes. Iran's supreme leader was elected by his peers after winning an individual contest of political effectiveness that had little or no non-Iranian influence. In Iran's competition with Israel, the less politically talented leaders of the Arab would are, even if they are well intentioned, a hindrance compared to what competitively selected leaders would be.

Libya still has its first-generation post colonial leader. Libya may be more effective if there was more of an active contest for leadership, for example if either there was time limit to his term or there otherwise were regular opportunities for leadership change decided by a contest without outside influence.

The reform of Arab leadership, which can expect vehement opposition from Israel and the United States which are strategic rivals of the Arab world, is the only alternative to continued poor international performance of the Arab world as a group.

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