Political Impulse to Create Emotion-Driven Public Policies Doomed to Failure on Display in Paris Terrorist Attacks
Public policy is based far too often on emotion-driven reactions, which is no more self-evident in the wake of tragic events like the Paris Terrorist Attacks. Panic, fear, and anger are very powerful emotions that blind people to the necessary cold calculations of fact, logic, and strategy. Unfortunately, it is when people are most vulnerable that political figures use emotions to further their political agendas and careers by manipulating public policy to their benefit.
The Paris Terrorist Attacks, Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the Ukraine Crisis reveal the weaknesses of European leadership when it comes to addressing unsavory foreign policy and national security issues. The blunt truth is that European leaders have failed on these and other fundamental responsibilities of governance. The impulses of American politicians and global influencers in general are no better. Saving face, these politicians simply shift blame onto others or react to distract from their failures, which is a dangerous cocktail when it comes to public policy.
Most politicians are followers, not leaders.
The reason there are more political followers than leaders in the democratic governments of the world is that people have tended to support those who say what the public wants to hear over what they need to hear. The consequence of this is that thoughtless politicians have been empowered by loudly trumpeting superficial rhetoric. This is no more obvious than in the 2016 US Presidential Election Primaries where a lengthy series of Republican “debates” resembles less a platform for meaningful public policy discussion and more a beauty pageant aimed at giving GOP voters a chance to pick out who sounds more genuine when regurgitating “conservative” talking points.
Given the likes of Russia, China, and Middle Eastern governments prefer to blame their woes solely on Western conspiracies, it is clear the West has successfully outsourced this political mentality to the rest of the world. It is true that all nations have shared-responsibly in our global community while the wrongs of others affect us all, but a failure to take any responsible is a failure to lead, i.e. solve-problems. Because there are so many opportunists in power who will only follow, it is the duty of social leaders and individuals to lead by holding public officials accountable for their lack of leadership.
This means moving beyond the blame game. Outside of preventing future problems, the need to identity who shares what blame in a situation is only useful when trying to understand and stop an ongoing problem. Beyond that, it is solely about avoiding blame. Although blaming others can be comforting as it draws scrutiny away from us and those political leaders we favor, it also rewards those in power who use the blame game to avoid solving problems. Quite frankly, leadership is not easy, because there is always intense criticism, whether valid or not. When it comes to solving problems without any obvious or good answers, it is particularly difficult.
The rise of the Islamic State, for example, is often blamed on the Bush Administration. Others blame it on the Obama Administration for, in part, withdrawing from Iraq and his alleged lack of a Middle East strategy. Although there is a connection to the decisions of both Administrations, the Islamic State was able to overrun much of Iraq and steal game-changing military hardware, because of Iraqi political corruption and incompetence. Instead of using years of American military aid and support to build a solid military, political leaders used the opportunity to enrich and empower themselves by creating a perpetual dependence on the US funding.
Frankly, the Bush Administration chose to invade Iraq under false pretexts with the short-sighted, flamboyant tactic that was “shock-and-awe,” yet the few European powers that were helping stabilize Iraq decided to withdraw. The US could not handle the burden of nation-building alone, especially after more than a decade long struggle with countries like Iran fueling attacks on American forces, so the United States needed to withdraw from the perpetual, futile cause.
Reengaging is, of course, a strategic mistake, because American forces are preoccupied with keeping aggressive powers like China and Russia in check while the Middle East is filled with instability that will quickly undermine any success US forces would have in Iraq and Syria. More importantly, the infighting of Middle Eastern powers has been cultivated by the United States subsidizing regional security. Unless Middle Eastern powers commit blood and treasure to the fight against the Islamic State instead of each other, any number of terrorist groups will simply take their place.
As for the Arab Spring Revolutions, discontent had been building for decades due to self-serving policies of oppressive, unresponsive Middle Eastern governments. Although regional civil unrest was predictable, it was the impulse of regional dictators to suppress dissent that encouraged the instability and violence. Consequently, the Islamic State exists for a variety of reasons.
Furthermore, the Paris Terrorist Attacks happened for a variety of reasons as well. Part of the reason France was targeted is that the French government has been extremely intolerant toward Muslim culture, e.g. banning the burqa, and Muslims living in France, which is the same rationale Russian President Vladimir Putin gave for his involvement in the Ukraine Crisis. Not only does the targeting of anti-Muslim identities help terrorists overcome the changes of recruiting suicide-bombers, it helps groups like Al-Qaeda gain popular support in the Muslim world. The 9/11 terrorists attacks also resonated favorable in the Middle East due to the wrongs of the US government in the region.
Instead of European leaders recognizing their failure to confront global issues like the rise of globalized terrorism and the public’s long-term unwillingness to spend money on national security, they are simply reacting with whatever option is easier, e.g. undermine civil liberties with national security measures and try to drag the US into fighting a ground war against the Islamic State. Right-wing American politicians, for their part, are doing the same thing. Instead of reacting to the emotions of distraught voters, those in power need to lead. Leading starts by openly discussing public policy solutions that are fact-based, logical, and strategic when they are needed, not just in secret or in the heat of the moment.
Read old posts