There is a lot to be seen in any cult of personality. As a central point there is the overwhelming feeling, carefully inculcated in people that salvation always comes from above. What the people are led to believe in is that as far as politics is concerned that a ‘benevolent despot’ or a ‘great leader’ is all that is needed, you can then switch off and let whatever follows happen.
The nonsense of this position is that while it may represent a shortcut for some it denies to most the ability to control their own lives and destinies. The result is a catastrophic system that lives on false promises while taking as much as it can from the people who have been propagandized to believe all the lies. In a despotic country the easiest way to conformity is through force but there are limits to the number of people that can be killed, in a capitalist democracy the fight to make people conform is very much a battle for the mind.
What we see in the capitalist democracies is the penetration of the public mind with massive campaigns to implant lies into the minds of the people. Those lies are to promote the so called righteousness of the growth principle and the drive to profit making in any situation. Any attempt to interfere with these processes is met with instant condemnation, there just can be no input into a capitalist democracy that attempts to alter the fundamental imbalance and inequality needed to enrich the elite and their managerial cohorts.
It does not matter how great the difference between the haves and have nots is increasing all that matters is that the gap ensures that no leakage occurs that would see any group emerge with the ability to either question or change the system. In this article Feffer is concerned greatly with Assad and what he is doing in Syria. But whether anyone should intervene is an entirely different question.
With the so called victory in Libya shining like a light to the capitalist democracies it seems that intervention is a certainty. But the really important matter to consider is what type of intervention. Sanctions simply deprive the local population of a decent living, that combined with military actions and civilian loss creates nothing but misery and despair for the people the interveners are supposed to be helping.
More often than not intervention takes place because those who intervene can see an advantage, economic or otherwise in keeping that country on what we believe is the ‘straight and narrow’. For that reason there are always a huge amount of lies promulgated to ‘justify’ the action taken. any number of interviews with emigre locals who scream for help assists this cause. What these people may not understand is the the devil they do not know has its own agenda and plan for economic domination. George Ikners ikners.com email@example.com
By John Feffer
He is, in the words of Barbara Walters, a “mild-mannered ophthalmologist.” Indeed, the rather squeamish leader-to-be chose eye surgery because it didn’t involve much blood. He speaks fluent English and can get by in French as well as his native Arabic. His wife is a knock-out, a “rose in the desert” according to a Vogue profile. Reluctant to take over the family business from his father, he interrupted his medical training in London to return home only after his older brother died in a car accident. Then, once at the helm, he released a number of political prisoners and instituted economic reforms that got athumbs-up from the international business community. He cooperated with the United States in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even today, he uses all the right words: transparency, dignity, reform.
Bashar al-Assad has also proven to be a ruthless dictator whose crackdown on internal dissent has left more than 5,000 Syrians dead. What happened to the reluctant eye surgeon committed to modernizing his country along Western lines?
Assad is the not the first young reformer to turn out to be a fanatical defender of the ancien regime. In Libya, the London School of Economics-educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi put himself forward as a voice for reform only to become, when push came to shove, a diehard defender of his father’s tyrannical rule. To bolster claims that he was a closet reformer,“Baby Doc” Duvalier released some political prisoners when he took over in Haiti after his dictator father died in 1971, but he eventually fled the country 15 years later with the blood of thousands on his hands. Gamal Mubarak “has been the leading voice in favour of change within the government and the ruling party,” argued Lord Peter Mandelson shortly before Egyptians successfully ousted the elder Mubarak and exposed the son’s corrupt, U.S.-assisted dealings.
It’s not just the sons of dictators that fool outsider observers into equating youth with change. Meles Zenawi was only 36 when he became the president of Ethiopia in 1991. Widely viewed as a “reformer” by the West, Zenawi has been at the helm for the last 20 years, his rule marked by electoral fraud, considerable repression in parts of the country, and military intervention in Somalia. Yoweri Musaveni took over Uganda at the age of 47 and was widely heralded as part of a new generation of African democrats, but war and domestic oppression have characterized his long reign as well.
Nor are democracies immune from this particular political fallacy. Young voices for change (Tony Blair, Barack Obama) often align themselves with powerful economic and political interests (the military, the financial sector), and end up strengthening the very status quo they promised to change.
Newcomers, however committed to change they might be at a personal level, rarely have the institutional clout to make their mark. As they consolidate power, power in turn transforms them. Paradoxically, it’s often the old-timers who end up transforming the systems that produced them. The party hacks are the ones who hack apart the party. Taking down a system is easier if you know the system’s weak points from the inside. And if you rise to the top of the system, you by definition have a base of support from which to operate.
Mikhail Gorbachev was an apparatchik of long standing, a true believer who ultimately restructured the Soviet Union out of existence. F.W. de Klerk was not only an architect of apartheid but widely considered one of the more conservative National Party members, until he changed his mind, his party, and along with Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, all of South Africa. The jury is still out on Burmese President Thein Sein, but as a military man and junta leader who has so far initiated some important reforms, he may well have set out on the same trajectory as Gorbachev and de Klerk. None of these figures, of course, did it by themselves. Behind them, both inside and outside the system, stood powerful movements for change.
We ridicule countries that operate cults of personality – North Korea, Uzbekistan – and pat ourselves on the back that we reserve such embarrassing displays of adulation for guys who throw balls, gals who star in reality shows, and teenagers who sing pop music. At least our American idols don’t kill people. But alongside our celebration of celebrities, we also have a stealth personality cult: We insist, overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that only individuals, not institutions, make history. We are constantly on the lookout for the heroic leader who can single-handedly transform the warp and weave of their society. When a movement is leaderless like Occupy Wall Street or the leadership is dispersed as with so much of the Arab Spring, we’re not quite sure what to make of it. We are trapped in the personality cult that our culture of individualism has created.
So, when a transition takes place, as in North Korea, we ask all the wrong questions: who is Kim Jong Un, what are his politics, has his Swiss education influenced him, who are the individuals behind Kim Jong Un, will the young Kim transform his country? But to understand the future of North Korea, you must understand the key institutions in the society – the party, the military, and now the rising economic elite. Kim Jong Un’s possible love of fondue or American basketball is largely irrelevant. Just as the North Korean authorities are preparing the groundwork for the new leader’s personality cult, we unconsciously perform the rites of our own analytical personality cult by focusing on Kim Jong Un’s personal predilections.
We made the same mistake with Bashar al-Assad when we assumed that his personality would shape the Syrian system rather than the other way around. Now that he has proven to be a tyrant in disguise, he must go. “One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet. To all of this, the people say: enough!” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said in his recent message to Assad and Syria. It was rather naïve to expect Assad, the product not only of his father but of his father’s system, to do the Oedipal thing and kill his father’s legacy.
Some in the West have been tempted to call for a Libya-style intervention to support the opposition and remove Assad. As Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Paul Mutter points out in Salon, a range of voices from neoconservatives to liberals are beginning to raise the intervention possibility more vigorously. “It is hard for most people to watch the slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria without advocating military intervention from Western countries,” writes FPIF senior analyst Adil Shamoo in Syria’s Revolution Will Succeed. “However, even with the most morally upright intentions, such interventions are ripe with potential for abuse. An open-ended policy of military intervention is too easily exploited by those who would pursue it for political or economic ends, including not least for control of natural resources.”
It’s not just a matter of removing the “mild-mannered ophthalmologist” from his perch. Assad represents a large ruling elite aligned with the Alawite religious group, which makes up a not inconsiderable 12 percent of the Syrian population. Civil war indeed beckons, not because Assad is a charismatic leader who commands allegiance, but because his downfall could spell the loss of influence for a large class of people who can’t see how they would fit into a post-Assad order. Getting rid of the problematic personality at the top is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for change. It’s the entire Syrian political structure that must change. As an operation to save Syria, outside military intervention at this point would likely create more bloodshed than it would prevent. Assad, the squeamish eye doctor, has betrayed his erstwhile profession by spilling so much blood. The international community should not make the same mistake.
To Intervene or Not to Intervene?
The debate on Syria might seem like déjà vu all over again after the heated debates concerning intervention in Libya last year. Here at FPIF, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the NATO intervention in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall and death.
“The NATO intervention in Libya is likely to produce a more militarized and insecure world, and this will be its most enduring legacy,” writes FPIF contributor David Gibbs inLibya and the New Warmongering. “The military ‘success’ in Libya has increased the possibility of new wars. There is a widespread perception that NATO has achieved an easy victory against Gaddafi, and the resulting sense of hubris augments the risk of future military actions against Iran, Syria, and other possible targets.”
Michael Bérubé, in Libya for Libyans, has a more positive assessment of the intervention, emphasizing its contribution to Libyan self-determination. “One thing seems certain for now– the immediate future of Libya will be determined overwhelmingly by the Libyan people themselves. Critics of NATO’s intervention in Libya should explain whether this outcome is unacceptable to them, and if so, why.”
They then go head to head in Strategic Dialogue: Libya after Gaddafi. It’s an essential discussion that goes to the heart of intervention and solidarity, and what it means for the progressive community.
Things Fall Apart
The situation in Nigeria does not look good.
“Nigeria is facing a perfect storm of crises including a national strike, widespread protests, and sectarian violence in the north,” writes FPIF contributor Francis Njubi Nesbitt inNigeria’s Perfect Storm. “Although the strikes, attacks, and protests raise the specter of another civil war in Africa’s biggest oil producer, the United States and the international community should avoid aggravating the situation by seeming to encourage a military solution.”
The United States has the most powerful military on the planet. And yet still the Pentagon comes up with an assortment of new threats to keep it in business. The latest is cyber war, and, according to retired admiral and Bush administration National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, “we are losing.”
That’s a load of hooey, writes FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan. “Contrary to McConnell’s statement, the United States is more advanced in computers than other countries in the world, and the charge that the country is behind the curve sounds suspiciously like the ‘bomber gap’ with the Russians in the 1950s and the ‘missile gap’ in the 1960s,” he writes in Cyber War: Reality or Hype? “Both were illusions that had more to do with U.S. presidential elections and arms industry lobbying than anything in the real world.
- ‘Eternal leader’ Kim Jong-il’s body to be enshrined – Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
- Dear leaders, sometimes you have to lose to win (guardian.co.uk)
- The world’s enduring dictators (ddungu.wordpress.com)
- EDITOR’S CHOICE: Top 10 World Events of 2011 (mitzine.ca)
- Comparing Myanmar to South Africa (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)
- Middle East News 16 January 2012 (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- Coyne: Liberals must be something more than a leadership cult (canada.com)
- An “African Spring” in 2012? – Alemayehu G. Mariam (ethioandinet.wordpress.com)
- Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption? (ethioandinet.wordpress.com)
- Will Mikhail Gorbachev Renounce The Council On Foreign Relations: “Our Aim Is To Disarm The Americans And Let Them Fall Asleep.” M. Gorbachev. (politicalvelcraft.org)
- Gorbachev offers grave warnings for Russia (news.nationalpost.com)
- Gorbachev calls for Russian elections to be declared void Former Soviet president says Kremlin must send people to the polls again or face long-term unrest over alleged voting fraud (ikners.com)
- Tariq Ali: In Pyongyang (lrb.co.uk)
- The Cult of the Personality (kidsonboats.wordpress.com)
- The journalist as terrorist: an Ethiopian story (ethioandinet.wordpress.com)
- A democratic Myanmar? Recent events indicate that Myanmar may be emerging from its long, self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. (ikners.com)
- N.Korea official dismisses concerns about Kim Jong Un (ctv.ca)
- Kim Jong-un’s brother says North Korea heading for collapse (oyiabrown.wordpress.com)
- Kim Jong Il to be enshrined as “eternal leader” – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- Kim Jong-il’s Fat Playboy Son Totally Jealous of Cool Dictator Brother [North Korea] (gawker.com)
- 38 North: North Korea after Kim Jong Il: The Risks of Improvisation by Frank Rudiger (vtncankor.wordpress.com)
- North Korea (hotforeignaffairs.wordpress.com)
- Hemmings: New Year, new Kim, same policies (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)
- North Korea ‘cracks down on mourners who didn’t seem genuine’ after death of Kim Jong-il (dailymail.co.uk)
- Top 10 Disadvantages to Capitalism (listverse.com)
- UN chief to Assad: ‘Stop killing your people’ (ctv.ca)
- Clarkson and the faithful fascists (ikners.com)
- Stop the killing, UN chief tells Syria’s Assad (calgaryherald.com)
- Syria’s Assad Gives Amnesty for Unrest Crimes (foxnews.com)
- Syria’s Assad Warns Against Foreign Intervention (npr.org)
- Syria’s Assad Warns Against Foreign Intervention (npr.org)
- Syria: Intervention is not immoral (politicsontoast.com)
- How Much Is an Earth, and Do You Have One in Extra Large? By David Swanson (ikners.com)
- Appeasement Complex By John Feffer but should you deal with US stated hopes as if they were lies? (ikners.com)
- Michael Klare, A New Cold War in Asia? (ikners.com)
- Good times down Latin America’s way The outlook for Latin America remains positive in 2012 – despite reduced Chinese and Indian demand for raw materials. (ikners.com)
- “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life . . .” – Nelson Mandela (ikners.com)
- Witnesses: Shells fired at northern Gaza (ikners.com)