The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why US Leadership Stinks and Drone Assassination Doesn’t Matter (Leadership in Organizations People Believe In)

The assassination strategy the US pursues is interesting, not in what it says about the US’s foes, but what it says about the American leaders. Al-Qaeda’s “No. 2 Man” has been “killed” so often that it’s a running joke, and Taliban leadership is regularly killed by assassination. Bush did this, Obama really, really did this. Probably a lot of these stories are BS, but it’s also probably safe to assume that a lot of leadership has been killed.

The Taliban is still kicking the coalition’s ass.

Leadership isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be–IF you have a vibrant organization in which people believe. New people step up, and they’re competent enough. Genius leadership is very rare, and a good organization doesn’t need it, though it’s welcome when it exists. As long as the organization knows what it’s supposed to do (kick Americans out of Afghanistan), and everyone’s motivated to do that, leadership doesn’t need to be especially great, but it will be generally competent, because the people in the organization will make it so.

American leaders are obsessed with leadership because they lead organizations in whose goals no one believes. Or rather, they lead organizations for whom everyone knows the leadership doesn’t believe in its ostensible goals. Schools are led by people who hate teachers and want to privatize schools to make profit. The US is led by men who don’t believe in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Police are led by men who think their jobs are to protect the few and beat down the many, not to protect and serve. Corporations make fancy mission statements and talk about valuing employees and customers, but they just want to make a buck and will fuck anyone, employee or customer, below the C-suite. They don’t have a “mission” (making money is not a mission, it’s a hunger if it’s all you want to do); they are parasites and they know it.

Making organizations work if they’re filled with people who don’t believe in the organization, or who believe that the “leadership” is only out for themselves and has no mission beyond helping themselves, not even enriching the employees or shareholders, is actually hard. People don’t get inspired by making the C-suite rich. Bureaucrats, knowing they are despised and distrusted by their political counterparts, and knowing that they aren’t allowed to do their ostensible jobs, as with the EPA generally not being allowed to protect the environment, the DOJ not being allowed to prosecute powerful monied crooks, and the FDA being the slave of drug companies and the whims of politically-connected appointees, are hard to move, hard to motivate, making it hard to get to anyone to do anything but the minimum.

So American leaders, and indeed the leaders of most developed nations, think they’re something special. in fact, getting people to do anything is difficult, and convincing people to do the wrong thing, when they joined to actually teach, protect the environment, make citizens healthier, or actually prosecute crooks, even more so. Being a leader in the West, even though it comes with virtually complete immunity for committing crimes against humanity, violating civil rights, or stealing billions from ordinary citizens, is, in many respects, a drag. A very, very well-paying drag, but a drag. Very few people have the necessary flexible morals and ability to motivate employees through the coercion required.

So American leaders, in specific, and Westerners, in general, think that organizations will fall apart if the very small number of people who can actually lead, stop leading. But that’s because they think that leading the Taliban, say, is like leading an American company or the American government. They think it requires a soulless prevaricator who takes advantage of and abuses virtually everyone and is still able to get people to, reluctantly, do their jobs.

Functioning organizations aren’t like that. They suck leadership upwards. Virtually everyone is being groomed for leadership and is ready for leadership. They believe in the cause, they know what to do, they’re involved. And they aren’t scared of dying, if they really believe. Oh sure, they’d rather not, but it won’t stop them from stepping up.

So Obama kills and kills and kills, and somehow the Taliban is still kicking his ass. Al-Qaeda, in whatever country you care to name, has its #2 killed every few weeks, and somehow there’s always another one. Because these people believe. There’s always another believer, if it’s a functioning organization, so on it goes.

The declaration of the Haqqani network as terrorists made me laugh. You read about them, and this is what you discover–the founder was a minister in the Taliban government. So, let’s get this straight. His country, in which he was a minister, was invaded, and ten years later he’s still fighting–and he refuses to negotiate with the US, because hey, he figures he’s winning.

Imagine if the US was invaded, occupied, and a puppet government was set up. A cabinet minister escaped, went underground, and set up a resistance network. What would you call him? A terrorist? Sure, if you’re the occupying power. If you’re a citizen? Well, maybe not, eh? Sure he fights nasty, but the nation which kills so many civilians with drones can’t really cast the first stone, can it?

And one day, they’ll probably kill him.

And it won’t make any damn difference.

Originally published Sept 11, 2012. Back to the top August 13,2018.

Back to the top again, January 4th, 2020 because of Qasem’s assassination.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Open Thread


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 5, 2020


  1. “Bureaucrats, knowing they are despised and distrusted by their political ma[s]ters, and knowing that they aren’t allowed to do their ostensible job, as with the EPA generally not being allowed to protect the environment, the DOJ not being allowed to prosecute powerful monied crooks and the FDA being the slave of drug companies and the whims of politically connected appointees, are hard to move, hard to motivate, hard to get to do anything but the minimum.”

    That last part is all wrong. People will do more than the minimum, but what you get in the federal government is quotas you are measured on. They constantly want you to do more with less, while at the same time setting you up for failure, making you jump thru more and more hoops before taking effective actions so that it becomes almost impossible to accomplish in the timeframes given. So if you are in some kind of enforcement, you may end up essentially doing catch and release work, where you and/or your organization are measured on the catching part, but your overall effectiveness isn’t measured, so no one really notices or minds that your efforts are just a little slap on the wrist at worst. You work more and more cases, thus “touching” more of the target industry or group, and supposedly that makes them feel like they better watch their steps. But the reality is that once they see what ineffective pushovers the government agencies are, it really just emboldens them to flout the laws and regulations even more.
    Of course the antigovernment types in both parties know very well that they are making government less effective and thus helping to ensure a vicious cycle of weakening government.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Fair enough. By more, I mean more stuff that should be done, as opposed to more makework. We all know they aren’t doing the jobs they should do. And that is a result of bad leadership, because the leadership doesn’t want them to actually do good.

  3. John Puma

    All the No.1’s are CIA.

  4. brian

    Your description of the corporation being a parasite gave me vivid images of the ant parasite Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This parasite infection alters the behavior of the ant, such that the final act of the infected ant is to climb over it’s colony, attach itself, and be the host of the sporulating body promoting further infection by raining spores on it’s colony mates.

    Regarding your main point, Al-Queda is fulfilling a need for these people, and as long as we apply pressure it will probably stay true to that need, and be functional. If we just got out, over time I would expect them to succumb to the same problems as our successful organizations suffer from. Loss of the one clear goal, leading to general apathy, letting the less virtuous exploit the former good intentions for their own personal gain, not that of the whole. Why is it that success seems to be the worst thing for any cause?

  5. There’s something wrong with claiming that the Taliban is a “vibrant organization people believe in.” You are talking about one of the most brutal and sexist political factions on earth.

  6. “Schools are lead by people who hate teachers and want to privatize schools to make profit. The US is lead by men who don’t believe in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Police are lead by men who think their job is to protect the few and beat down the many, not to protect and serve. Corporations make fancy mission statements and talk about valuing employees and customers, but they just want to make a buck and will fuck anyone, employee or customer, below the c-suite. They don’t have a “mission” (making money is not a mission, it’s a hunger if it’s all you want to do), they are parasites and they know it.”

    Nicely put. David Graeber would talk about the three ways of organizing; communism, hierarchy and the market or direct exchange. Most people live on an everyday basis communally. You are building something and you ask for the hammer. You don’t expect to pay rent for it or give the person with the hammer a hot dog in exchange. Anarchists say that organizations should be self-organized, voluntary and temporary in order to get the task done. He says that anarchism is not a theory but a way of living. It’s an attitude, a set of practices and a vision. An anarchist moves back and forth between the three. All, of course, based on a non-hierarchy and egalitarian concept of organizing.

  7. nihil obstet

    “[Western leaders] think [effective leadership] requires a soulless prevaricator who takes advantage of and abuses virtually everyone and is still able to get them to, reluctantly, do their jobs.”

    I have two reservations about a statement like this: first, Western leaders depend on the ideology of the very rare, genius leader to justify the enormous rewards they grant themselves. It’s why they’re determined to put financial incentives into every job, despite evidence that financial incentives are counterproductive in complex tasks. Second, Western leaders don’t give a rat’s ass about getting people to do their jobs, unless you define their jobs as deference to their supervisors. The leaders are happier if they aren’t inconvenienced by their workers or any obvious failures on their part (like Brownie’s FEMA and Hurricane Katrina), but as you say, they don’t believe in the organization’s goals and don’t care what their employees do.

  8. Ian Welsh

    The Taliban is a vibrant organization people believe in is not a not a statement of approval or disapproval, it is a description. At one time, so were the Nazis.

  9. Radical Livre

    That was beautiful. Seriously, tears in my eyes.

    That being said, I think it’s an exaggeration to say Western institutions aren’t functional. It’s just that their primary function is facilitating and protecting the ever greater concentration of wealth by a increasingly tinier proportion of people.

  10. StewartM

    Ian Welsh

    American leaders are obsessed with leadership because they lead organizations where no one believes in the organization’s goals.

    I think a simpler answer is: they believe in John Galt.

    They believe that the few elite create and are the movers and shakers, and the 99 % just turn food into crap. That idea if so transparently wrong–any review of the history of just about anything reviews that all “great ideas” and inventions are the result of many small hands and minds, not the isolated acts of one or a few geniuses. But the elites believe it, because they want to; believing it justifies their wealth and power.

    As for schools and demotivating people–gawd, who worth their salt would want the soul-destroying job of being a public school teacher today? All you do is to teach the standardized test. You don’t control the curricula at all, and hence you don’t inspire anyone and get the feedback rewards from that.

    Schooling has become way too vocational; we’ve let employers dictate way too much what goes into it. The idea that the idea of education is to produce a better-informed and -rounded human being who has basic familiarity with key topics has been lost in the drive to make the perfect employee hire (and let me tell you, as someone who has sat in hiring committees, our current system doesn’t produce that either. More like resume-padders).


  11. Ian,

    People may or may not agree with your politics, but I want to assure everyone you are dead right on about leadership principles. The biggest proof: I heard General Stanley McChrystal a few months ago talking about leadership, and his point was exactly yours.

    Al Qaeda and the Taliban have learned to substitute values for command and control. As McChrystal told it, that was somewhat new to the US military, and they found they were being outmaneuvered. Good soldier that he is, he wouldn’t let politics get in the way of recognizing a powerful tactic that worked, and quickly recognized how much more efficient and effective it is to have a cadre of shared beliefs. As he noted, you can complete far more missions with far more certainty operating that way.

  12. Daniel De Groot

    Speaking of Nazis, Charles H. Green’s comment reminds me of one of the prime innovations of the German Army in the WW2 era: They empowered subordinates to complete the mission with or without direction from above (very ironic for the army of a fascist state). They have a term for it “Auftragstaktik.” The leader states the broad intent, and generally leaves subordinate leaders as much latitude as possible to determine how the mission will be accomplished.

    Americans know they have trouble with this:

    I suspect guerrilla groups and terrorist cells almost automatically operate under this sort of decentralized philosophy – top down micromanagement just isn’t possible in this kind of organization where the need for protection from air strike makes it very risky to transmit orders to subordinates. So when your cell’s next up leader is killed, you just keep doing what you were already doing. Eventually some new leader will provide new instructions but until then, you know the mission and can keep working to it.

    Ian’s insights into how subordinates behave in organizations where the true goals and missions are never communicated are valuable. Never mind the multiple ways that initiative is intentionally squashed in the US government (you can be fired by text message just on the rumour that the right wing press is about to write about you, as Shirley Sherrod found out), even if you wanted to display initiative, how can you when you don’t actually know what your leadership actually wants to do?

  13. Al-Qaeda’s “#2″ man has been “killed” so often that it’s a running joke, and Taliban leadership is regularly killed by assassination. Bush did this, Obama really, really does this.

    Actually, I seem to remember that the Bush Administration made a habit of killing the Number Three Al Qaeda guy. I believe that was because, back then, we knew that Osama was No. 1 and his buddy the priest (can’t remember the guy’s name) was Number Two. Once the known Number Two died, it was possible to kill the number two guy on a weekly basis.

    Other than that, though, I find nothing to disagree with.

  14. David Kowalski

    History shows not only that genius leadership is rare but that its success is fleeting. What remains, if anything does, is due to more broadly based skills and talents. Take the history of the Greeks. The Spartans had some staying power due to the success of their training system but the success was limited because the cadre of Spartans was so small. We remember what Leonidas and 300 Spartans could do but it was Athens that won the battle of Marathon. Later, Spartan “genius” under Lysander triumphed but was unable to hold falling to a Theban genius and then the Athenians and finally the Macedonians. The core of Alexander’s empire lasted for 200 years just as the core of Genghis Khan’s empire lasted but the huge domains won by genius were fleeting.

    Marlborough, Nelson, and Wellington had genius but it was the depth of British sea power, manufacturing and trade that maintained the empire and when the depth faded so did England’s colonial star.

    Look at the native American peoples and their resistance. Top down leadership failed (see the Aztecs or Incas). Brilliant leaders shone like the sun but set quickly often due to treachery (Pontiac, Tecumseh, Osceola, Crazy Horse). Broader based, less spectacular resistance held out and struggled giving ground grudgingly.

    When leaders and followers believe in the same mission, leaders are far more willing to risk their own lives. When only the leaders believe they are setting themselves up for a fragging if they do indeed follow the same behavior. Some truly great leaders are able to craft a mission and a unity that goes beyond themselves (Lincoln transformed “union” into “freedom”).

    This is a great insight extending, as you say, Ian, beyond the military to the society as a whole. It is little wonder that the unified U.S. and its economy performed far better in World War II than it does in the war on terror both economically and militarily.

  15. Charles H. Green writes:

    As he noted, you can complete far more missions with far more certainty operating that way.

    I think the Army has recognized this for some time. They study how staffs and commanders work, and that’s a principle that quite few former officers I’ve met have said, that this is the way things work best – when people don’t always have to be told what to do, because they understand the goals, the plan, and the basic parameters already.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s widely recognized by American leaders generally.

  16. Morocco Bama


    The answer is obvious. We need to make Horror and Moral Terror our friends, otherwise, they will be our enemies…enemies to be feared. You want to retain Top Executives. Train them to embrace Horror and Moral Terror. Oh, wait…..


  17. Notorious P.A.T.

    Some leaders think their employees are there to make them look good. Good leaders think they are there to give their employees what they need to succeed.

  18. OT, but I know this will be of interest to some of the denizens of this fine blog. Chris Hedges is to be debating violence with CrimethInc. at CUNY today, livestreamed at 6:30 pm. Link (scroll down for livestream link):

    CrimethInc. to Debate Chris Hedges in NYC

  19. (Sorry – that’s 6:30 Eastern Standard Time.)

  20. David

    A nice insight which also explains the converse, namely the futility the “more and better democrats” meme. For just like a good and effective organization does not need geniuses to work, “more and better democrats” won’t matter that much if the organization is corrupt.

  21. Patrick

    Mr. Welsh’s analysis of leadership in the United States is spot on. In the private sector, it does not take long to learn your real role as cordwood for someone else’s profit furnace. This realization undercuts the natural enthusiasm that arises when participating in a mission as an organization. My experience in the Marine Corps was different. Although severely hierarchical, they believed in building leadership from the bottom ranks up. They stressed initiative as means to do that. The Marine Corps is by no means perfect, or a vibrant organization in the sense that I think Mr. Welsh means, but it’s pretty good. History offers another example, perhaps even better than Mr. Welsh’s, of a vibrant organization: The Viet Cong.

    Thanks for that post. It made my day.

  22. Rob Grigjanis

    Ian, aren’t you describing almost every government which has ever existed, and almost every rebel/insurgent movement which has ever existed? If the rebels win, they float into power on clouds of hope, and in a generation it’s back to square one. Naked apes with too much power don’t tend to behave well. Someone said something about that once.

  23. Ian Welsh

    No, I’m not. It has not always been so, there have been periods and places where government definitely worked. Certainly there are cycles, but we are in the extreme phase of one. Same with corporations, it’s trivial to see that corporations in the 50s and 60s, whatever their problems, were not as dysfunctional as those today (start with CEO and C-suite pay.)

  24. Greetings Ian,

    Do you remember Mohammed Ibn Laith?

    Gorilla’s Guides » 2007 » February » 15:

    I am a Muslim I am Iraki maybe you believe that God told you that must turn aside when you have been struck.

    That is not what God tells me.

    What God tells me is what he tells every other Muslim when you are attacked you defend yourself and you keep on figthing until your attacker is in such pain that they offer truce or surrender. You attack back and you continue attacking relentlessly, never ever giving any respite, until the invader flees worn out with grief and horror and pain. Any sacrifice is warranted to expel the American I feel no grief when I see an American soldier die. I feel only relief that this one less barbarian to kill innocent Iraki children.

    And then there’s this from Colonel Iihsan:

    Gorilla’s Guides » Blog Archive » It is not only Americans who can say “Mission Accomplished”:

    The Resistance’s Tactics Were Successful

    This is the lesson of the Iraki Resistance’s war on the American invaders. The goal was not just to inflict death and physical wounds they goal was to drive American troops into mental and moral breakdown.

    The tactic was to attack American troops relentlessly — to force the American invaders to live in a situation where they never ever had any respite.

    The American invader was never to be able to relax they must be denied any respite, they were denied meaningful rest.

    The resistance consciously set out to inflict constant tension,constant sleeplessness, constant mental pain, and constant uncertainty, and fear upon the American invaders. The idea was to do this until a large proportion of the invaders were worn out with fatigue, grief, horror and pain.

     The Resistance’s intent was to not just inflict pain and horror on the invading troops for the sake of doing, the object was to shatter their minds so that while they were still in Irak they turned on their comrades. And then after they returned to America that they turned on the American civilian population at large.

    This tactic was, one resistance commander told me, far more successful than they had dared hope.

    The American high command, and American civilians are only now beginning to appreciate what the resitance did to them. They are only now starting to realise that they are not the only ones who can inflict “collateral damage” and that there is more than one form of it.

    It is not just Americans who can say “Mission Accomplished”.

    As you no doubt worked out a long time ago the murder of first his grandfather, followed by the murder of his parents, and the murder of his younger brother all by American forces decided Mohammed to join the resistance. He was a very successful commander who ensured that in his sector no Americans ever set foot outside their FOB’s other than in heavily armed convoys. He made sure that PRT leaders went home dead or wounded he made sure that civilian PRT members never ever got to leave their compounds. The Iraki resistance won their war – America ran away from Irak leaving its “enduring bases” and an awful lot of TOE behind them. All of which is a long-winded way of saying you’re right. Napoleon used to talk about “moral force” as a force multiplier which is what you’re discussing above.

    Hope you’re well. I very very very rarely comment here (I think this is my third) but I read you regularly.

    Keep well.


  25. Ian Welsh


    yes, thanks for the comment. I do remember Mohammed.

    I haven’t written about it, but I have discussed with friends, the collateral damage. I’m especially noticing it in police departments. The vets come back, join police departments and the results are ugly. They have no fire discipline, act as if they’re in a war zone, blowing away civilians indiscriminantly if they feel in the least danger (the guy who killed his boss in NY comes to mind) and often when they clearly aren’t (a man running away from them). They also have a taste for brutality, and the only people they have fellow-feeling for are their mates, certainly not anyone who isn’t in their “unit”.

    Then, of course, there are the homeless veterans, the suicides, the wife and child beaters, and the rapists.

    A lot of these people are VERY badly damaged. Occupation is always brutalizing, for everyone involved, but this bunch has been particularly brutalized. One of my friends is an ex-US military officer, out before Iraq, and to say that he is livid is a vast understatement.

    The same thing happened to the Israeli army, over time. And Americans went and copied failed Israeli tactics.

    We saw it happening at the time. Not just immoral, and unethical, but a mistake.

    But the resistance did not win much of a victory. Brutalizing your brutalizers is all very nice and I have no moral qualms against it. If Canada was invaded, I would fight, and I would join the resistance, and if the invaders were American (and who else could it be) I would rejoice at every dead American soldier.

    But at the end of the day, Iraq is in shambles, appears to be essentially a protectorate of Iran, has a huge Kurdish problem (or the Kurds have an Iraqi problem, depending on where you sit), violence is ongoing, and so on.

    Iraq was never a war anyone was going to “win”, that’s why people like me were against it from before the beginning. All anyone can claim, at best, is a Pyrrhic victory.

    As for America, as I’ve said in the past, the first great man of the 21st century (great is not a synonym for good) was bin Laden. He wanted to draw America onto the ground, and bleed them like the USSR was bled, costing them so much treasure that their economy could no longer bear the costs of empire. He, essentially, succeeded, thanks to the sublime stupidity of his enemies. He must have gotten down on his knees every day and thanked God for George Bush and American high command and the NeoCons. And now the Muslim brotherhood is in charge in Egypt and that is a direct result of food inflation, which is a direct result of the costs and opportunity costs of Bush’s idiot eternal wars, and the mandate that 9/11 game him to be an evil moron.

    The far enemy (US) is blowing up its goddamn satraps with its insane financial and economic policies. That strain is exactly what bin Laden wanted, he says so in his writing.

    He’s dead, but he’s winning. And I think that’s a deal he would have happily taken if offered to him September 10th, 2001.

  26. S Brennan

    Good to see Mark from Ireland comment again.

    Actually Ian,

    I see the drone program as having the opposite effect intended for a very simple reason, most people who seek societal rank do so not to effect policy, but rather to enrich themselves at the expense of others….such people are invariably bad leaders.

    The US drone program insures that only those willing to run the very real risk of death, [as opposed to Mandos’s hypothetical conjectures] are made leaders. Leaders who take PERSONAL risk to enact policy are far more likely to do so for the “right” reasons. DC, through it’s drone policy aids it’s opponents by preventing grifters from seeking leadership positions. I add, that in a city chocked full of grifters, it is impossible for them to understand that “leaders”, such as themselves, are not in this nation’s interest and were the drone program reversed, to point at US leaders, our nation would be far better off.

  27. There are millions of people around this planet, if you asked them what happened to their mother, father, sister, brother, aunts, uncles and family dog, they would say that the Americans killed them. This will not stop until Americans “feel the hard hand of war” as William Tecumseh Sherman once said.

  28. Ian Welsh

    That’s a good point, Brennan. I hope you don’t mind if I incorporate that in the future.

  29. Adam Eran

    I’m a little more sympathetic to leaders. After all, by the time problems rise to the level of leadership, there may not be any answer but the least worst.

    Meanwhile, I still remember kidding a friend about his rise to management, and he responded like this: It’s impossible for leaders to know the level of technical detail available to those they manage. The higher one rises in management, the more ignorant one is of this detail. The real trick is managing one’s ignorance.

    Pretty wise words, if you ask me, but they hint that humility is not optional for effective leadership.

  30. bruce wilder

    Brennan’s comment is delicious.

  31. atcooper

    There are so many good comments here. So much to ruminate on even now.

  32. Tom

    Erdogan has struck back at the dollar. He called upon Turks to dump the dollar for Liras and they did. The dollar fell against the Lira which firmed up. Dollar transactions within Turkey for Turkish Products are set to be banned.

    The opposition has banded behind Erdogan as well and called for Trump Properties in Turkey to be seized as well.

    All this over a blatantly guilty pastor.

  33. DEAR IAN:

    One of the better lefty bloggers that I follow, from time to time (and have referenced on your blog) has had his wordpress site “deleted” (actually blocked). See my post:

    “(TRUMP RELATED) Stellar lefty blogger is Alex Jones’ed (or Phil Donahue’d) ; Facebook may be driving the expanding censorship”



    I have long berated “activists” (who I typically find compelled to use scary quotes with) for being so clueless, strategically. (You can google “metamars” and “the plutocrats are laughing at you” for some of my posts on this subject.)

    The digital existential threat could be a blessing in disguise.

    I re-emphasized the point to the mostly lefty audience at correntewire that there was a significant “meme vector” that they were not exploiting, and it involved dead trees:
    “How Sanders Supporters can Up Their Game (or, Why Sanders Lost NY)” @

    I have advised churchdog42 to exploit the fact of his censorship, and for him and his followers to use dead trees, also.

  34. Sandra

    You can actually see this concept at play with regards to elections. Candidates must spend millions or billions to convince you to accept their BS. This leads to the incorrect conclusions that any left candidate will need to do the same. The problem is their visions suck. Nothing truly inspiring.

    We see no one offering a radically different world and way of being and seeing. The type of vision that inspires others to great effort, sacrifice, even death. The type of vision that spreads itself, for free.

    We face extreme threats, extreme actions are all that can save us. Abandon incrementalism, abandon the idea of compromise always being a good thing.

    Want change? You’ll need a story for which millions are willing to die making it reality.

  35. Sandra

    And we must remember. We are not choosing violence, destruction, death over peace, construction, life. This is a myth many liberals and even leftists like to believe. Each day the status quo exploits, tortures, enslaves, murders millions. An absolutely unfathomable body count.

    Individuals like Sanders or Ocasio want nothing more than to widen the dimensions of your cage, to make the exploitation, torture, enslavement, murder more humane. How pitiful and immoral such imaginations are.

  36. Willy

    Back in the day, the quickest way to gain believers was to persuade them that you were a god. Then came the “on a mission from God” phase. I’m hopeful that we’re entering into a “John Galt plutocrats are on a mission from Satan” phase. Many of the adults still appear pretty confused, but some of the children appear to be acting differently…

  37. someofparts

    “one of the prime innovations of the German Army in the WW2 era: They empowered subordinates to complete the mission with or without direction from above (very ironic for the army of a fascist state). They have a term for it “Auftragstaktik.” The leader states the broad intent, and generally leaves subordinate leaders as much latitude as possible to determine how the mission will be accomplished.”

    Actually, back then at least, Americans had the same idea.

    “… in July 1929, the “Benning Revolution” under Marshall’s impetus was in progress. The object of the revolution was to teach by practical experience instead of by the field manual and the classroom battle. Tactics, as the heart of the military art, the area where a man must think on his feet, was the key faculty.

    Benning was the basic tactical school of the Army. … Once in charge, he [Marshall] threw out the book in favor of realistic exercises that would train for initiative and judgment rather than for the correct solution.”

    – B. Tuchman, Stilwell and the American Experience in China

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  39. GlassHammer

    For large western organizations the problem is not that no one believes in the goals, the problem is that too many goals are pursued and many of them conflict with each other.
    You can see goals go to war within organizations if you are just a little observant.

    This is why western organizations are obsessed with leaders, they need someone to end the chaotic war of goals and pick “the goal”. But if you already have “the goal” then anyone can fill the role of leader and the role itself matters little.

    Not every culture is as inept and managing goals as we are.

  40. Herman

    I think you are spot on here. Faith in institutions has declined drastically. In America, the country I know best, I believe that the military is the only major institution that is still seen positively by a majority of citizens. I have mentioned this in the context of political movement building but one of the problems facing the left is the lack of faith in an emotionally engaging ideology that people believe in. At one time liberalism and socialism filled this role on the center-left and left but not anymore.

    I do wonder, though, if the people are partly to blame and not just the leaders. I don’t know how true this is in the rest of the West but in America there is a general cynicism about life that seems to fit with the rise of individualism and consumerism. As the old N.W.A. rap song went “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money.” I am afraid that a lot of people see life that way. How do you build an organization or a movement with people like that?

  41. gnokgnoh

    Thank you GlassHammer.

    Ian seems to be advocating for leadership as less important than ideology in organizations, where, the leadership does not matter. Everyone shares and believes in the ideology, so leaders are interchangeable. This seems to work well for theocratic organizations. This does not work that well for scrappy and fractious and very large organizations like the U.S. (327+ million people).

    We have a really bad leader. Is he the same as previous recent leaders (presidents) of our fractious organization? No/yes? Should we have a unifying ideology to the point that our leader (president) is irrelevant? Hmmm, you’re saying we do not, so every leader cares about being leader. But then everyone seems to think that all our leaders are interchangeable (they all equally suck), because we have a unifying ideology….neo-liberalism, wealth. Cannot have it both ways. I’m sorry, these arguments feel lazy and reductive.

  42. gnokgnoh

    Ian’s post about leadership and most of the ensuing comments are bewildering. I simply cannot relate them to my experience working with local and state-level organizations in government. Broad generalizations seems to titillate everyone, but the reality is not that simple. They mirror the transformation of all my Republican friends with brains in the face of the Trump onslaught, “all politicians are bad, all leadership is bad.” They have all, to a man (most are men), declared themselves libertarians. This is the refuge of the hopeless.

    Most importantly, in his most recent comment, he actually refers to organizations/companies in the 50’s and 60’s as better. Really? Seriously? No organization or company in any past generation was any better than their workers/unions or their community forced them to be. Did you know that William Vanderbilt in 1870 grew his father’s, Cornelius’s, fortune to $200 million? Today, that would be worth $3.8 trillion. Today, Bezos and Gates would be pilloried if one of their kids had built the Biltmore Castle (George Vanderbilt) on a 1/8th inheritance of the equivalent today of $500 billion.

    I am not a proponent of the other trope about progress that we are getting better. We face horrific challenges, and we live in a country with too much power. We are an empire, and we are doing what any dying empire does, lash out. That is what Trump is doing. He does not represent or stand for a model of leadership in any fashion.

    Ian’s observations are relevant about warfare. I refuse to litigate Obama’s atrocities, but I don’t recall warfare being conducted honorably by any leader in history. It’s hard to describe a warfare model of leadership that anyone should emulate. Go forth and kill.

  43. Stirling S Newberry

    Still a good reminder.

  44. GlassHammer

    I think the tendency to pursue too many goals comes from an inability to admit/accept that some of the goals could never be achieved. This lack of acceptance is a byproduct of never admitting failure and that is a byproduct of abdicating ones responsibility.

    So what we see is leadership without responsibility which makes sense in a culture that only sees leadership as a way to enrich yourself. (Everyone wants to be a King not a caretaker)

  45. realitychecker

    Maybe part of the solution is for everyone to play more chess? So they can think beyond the very next move, maybe three or four or, gasp, even five moves ahead?

    My impression is that followers always wind up underestimating the qualities required for good management of anything, while leaders always underestimate the extent to which the followers are entitled to share in the benefits of group successes.

    Thus, my constant urging to do more reality checks. Followers and leaders alike.

  46. I do not think USA has always been this bad; there has been a shift in USA culture since World War 2, fostered by the embrace of neoliberalism, as Yves Smith discussed at Naked Capitalism last week.

    I offer the following two historical examples. The capture of the Ludendorff bridge across the Rhine, before German demolition could be completed, in March 1945 by USA 9th Armored Division, was done entirely at the initiative of subordinate commanders, without orders by higher command. Beginning with the company commander — who was astonished to find the bridge intact, and moved forward on his own initiative — each level of higher command acted quickly and without orders from higher commands, to support and exploit the initiative of their junior commanders. The story is told by Charles B. MacDonald in the history he wrote for the Army History Center, The Last Offensive. This is the same MacDonald who wrote Company Commander, widely recognized with the Army as the best memoir by a small unit commander in the World War 2.

    Contrast the initiative and trust in, and support for subordinates, evinced in the Ludendorff bridge capture, with the failure to capture bin Laden in Tora Bora in December 2001. The CIA and 5th Special Forces Group team that had pinpointed bin Laden repeatedly explained the situation and requested the aerial dropping of mines and insertion of a Ranger company to close off bin Laden’s possible avenues of retreat. These requests were repeatedly denied by higher commands. The story is told in by the CIA team leader, Gary Berntsen, in his 2006 book, Jawbreaker. There is no mistaking Berntsen’s anger in his book.

    The capture of bin Laden at the end of 2001 might have derailed Cheney’s and the neo-cons’ plans for war against Iraq. Probably not, but considering the possibility helps to see how much history might have been changed.

  47. You left off one example of western leadership: Senior military officers no longer work for the interests of the nation, but instead to further the possible lucrative sinecures with defense contractors in their retirement.

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