Mo Yan, in his book The Garlic Ballads, depicts a farming village where the locals have been growing garlic for years–garlic which is bought faithfully every year by Communist Party officials. Their idyllic lives are shattered in an apocalyptic riot after the bumper crop to end all bumper crops fills all the warehouses with the result that the Party only buys garlic from about one-quarter of the famers; then closes the warehouses. The first farmers lucky enough to sell their crops make fortunes, but everyone else watches their crop rot in the fields. Even worse, these unlucky peasants are mistreated by the Party officials, who all seem to have opulent offices and no appreciation of the horrors of having literally nothing to eat but garlic.
The economic catastrophe which befalls the farmers of Paradise Valley arose from the authoritarian mindset. In particular, when authoritarians have too much faith in their ability to shape the world by the power of their pronouncements, disaster follows.
Authoritarianism is at the heart of many of the diplomatic impasse between America and much of the Middle East. This mindset appears to be prevalent in diplomatic and geopolitical advisers.
The authoritarian mindset can get things done in certain settings. If you are an officer, you may declare that, for instance, tomorrow the barracks will be bright pink. And in response, before the morrow, someone will have requisitioned an adequate amount of pink paint and covered the barracks with it.
The ability to change the world simply by stating a desire works in the military, provided that your statement is one which can be realistically accomplished. It becomes an issue if it drives you. This godlike ability becomes an issue if you later declare “We will go into Iraq, and the people there will come out of their houses and greet us as liberators,” especially when your prediction doesn’t come true.
How could anything go wrong? Doesn’t human nature follow the arbitrary whims of authority? Any failure can be very confusing to the authority, who doesn’t understand why the Iraqis don’t greet his soldiers as liberators on his say-so. After all, the barracks turned pink.
(I will use the generic ‘he’ throughout this article even though I acknowledge that women may have an authoritarian mindset as well).
Because the authoritarian’s mindset predicts that reality will alter itself to his demands, he does not need to actually try to predict foreign responses to his actions. He can dictate them! If the Iraqis, or the Afghans, or the Japanese do not act in conformance with the authoritarian’s statements, well, they are criminals, or terrorists, or simply wrong. Decent people would act as the authoritarian says.
Let us consider some examples.
In 1953, Americans began to offer arms and support to extremists in Iran, with the goal of overthrowing President Mossadegh. Some years later, there was an unforeseen consequence–the Shah was overthrown, and the American embassy was attacked and taken by extremists. Imagine their surprise to find themselves attacked by their one-time allies!
In 1979, America began to arm Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, in order to draw Russia into an invasion predicted to weaken her. That this bit of geopolitical strategizing would lead to enormous suffering by millions of people did not dissuade the architects of this masterful stroke. After midwifing Al Qaeda, imagine their surprise when Al Qaeda turned against them!
Israel created Hamas, by arming and organizing a group of Islamic extremists with the goal of weakening moderate secular Palestinians, and supporting the narrative that “we have nobody to negotiate with”. Imagine their surprise when the arms they supplied Hamas were turned against them!
More recently the US helped arm and organize Islamic extremist groups participating in the overthrow of Libya’s government. Imagine their surprise when extremist militants attacked their consulate in Benghazi, killing the ambassador and members of his staff!
The authoritarian has his choice of responses to this barely representative list. A common one is: “I won’t listen to anyone who blames the victims!” If a child places his hand on a hot stove, and is burned, I have sympathy for him. If the child does it over and over again, at some point I begin to wonder about the perversity of the child. If I query him and he cries, “you shouldn’t blame the victim!” The victims are those killed by these foreign policy disasters. The US government, as a whole, is not the victim.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity. That, combined with their delusional view of reality marks the authoritarians as insane.
But I’m willing to give it a try. As soon as I post this, I will walk over to the mailbox and retrieve the million dollar cheque that is waiting for me.