June 4, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 518

Arab Statesmanship's Fatal Flaw: Backward Political Decision-Making

June 4, 2003
North Africa, Tunisia | Special Dispatch No. 518

In an article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, liberal Tunisian intellectual Lafif Lakhdar [1] analyzed the fundamental flaw in Arab statesmanship, which, he claimed, lies in the decision-making process. [2] The following are excerpts of the main points of his article:

The Anomalies of Arab Statesmanship

"Arab statesmanship suffers from a number of anomalies, on both the theoretical and practical levels. These anomalies have underpinned its continuous failures over the past 200 years, from Cairo's fall to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, to Baghdad's surrender without a struggle in 2003."

"[The first anomaly] is the backwardness in the decision-making process. [The second] is the inability to rationally read the balance of powers before entering any given struggle. [The third is] the deluded belief that divine intervention in history will produce results contrary to the laws of the balance of powers. Finally, [the fourth anomaly] is the suicidal madness of the Jihad [war] and of sacrifice on the altar of faith as a magical religious solution to the deficiency in the balance of power."

"In reality, these four anomalies complement each other and maintain reciprocal influence among themselves. However, for purposes of illustration, it can be said in brief that the fundamental flaw in all is the backwardness of the decision-making process in the political and military spheres, as well as in economics, education, and legislation."

"Usually, behind every victory lies [a] political decision that can have a critical impact only when it is made in accordance with updated data. This is particularly [true] for our era, in which the world is more [interconnected] and complex and less predictable. This data boils down to two central areas: a precise definition of the national interest, and actual mathematical reading of the domestic, regional, and international balance of powers. [This is necessary for every leader], be he an Iraqi field marshal, a gifted Palestinian [leader], or a Syrian Bismarck of the Arabs – [as] no one man can cope with the responsibility of these two complex functions."

The State of Institutions

"Only in a state of institutions does the diplomatic and scientific establishment have fundamental, in-depth knowledge… [taken] from political, strategic, economic, and even psychological institutes, and from thinkers. In all their areas of expertise, [government] advisors show thorough knowledge of such institutes' activities and research [and rely on them] in decision-making processes."

"The position of the decision-maker – [whether it be] the president of the country or the government – is limited almost solely to endorsing a decision shaped by this gigantic army of institutions, advisors, and computers – which today are also partners in shaping decisions… along with the thinking minds."

"These institutions identify the desired goal and sketch out the appropriate scenarios and the purpose. The intervention of the decision-maker is manifested [only] in choosing this or that scenario from among the scenarios [presented to him] that are aimed at implementing the national interest."

Calling in the Presidential Dream Interpreter

"Such a decision-making process does not exist in Arab countries. In at least nine out of 10 [cases] in these countries, the leader is not aware of the need for his advisors, [who] quake in their boots at [the thought] that they might tell him something incompatible with his decision. He makes the decision by himself, sometimes in a daydream and sometimes in his sleep!"

"[Thus, for example] in 1964, I read a story about the president of Iraq, Abd Al-Salam 'Aref, who during his afternoon nap during the Ramadan [fast] woke up in a panic because he dreamed he had broken his fast. He called in the presidential dream interpreter, who reassured him and told him that that day he would receive joyful news. 'And,' the president said, 'before the meal breaking the fast, I received word of a ceasefire with the Kurds!'"

"[Similarly,] Ahmad Madani, the Iranian Chief of Staff, fled abroad during the Iran-Iraq war because Imam Khomenei rejected the Iranian army's [battle] plan. For 40 years, this plan set stipulated pursuing the Iraqi army, which was defeated in 1982, all the way to Baghdad so as to topple the regime. [Khomenei had a different position, and justified it] by saying that the Hidden Imam said to him in a dream: 'Fight within the borders of Iran and then an Islamic revolution will take place in Iraq.'"

"And how did Commander Saddam reach the decision to invade Kuwait…? On August 10, 1990, Saddam met in Kuwait with his intelligence services head and half brother Sab'awi Ibrahim, and with a large number of senior officers and directors of this apparatus. [Saddam] talked with them at length about the motives for entering Kuwait, and said: 'Do you think that the decision to restore Kuwait to Iraq was my decision? Not at all. It was a dream [revealed to me] in my sleep, and I found myself obligated to comply. It is the will of God, and our role is to execute it, and nothing more' (Sa'ad Al-Bazaz – The Generals Are the Last to Learn, p. 101) [reference in original]."

"In 1999, the spiritual leader of the Hamas organization, Sheikh [Ahmad] Yassin, declared that according to the Koran and the Torah, Israel would disappear by the year 2027, 40 years after the outbreak of the 1987 Intifada. At this time, a Palestinian state would arise on all Palestine's [territory]. During an argument I had with the [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad leader Abdallah Shalah … [on Al-Jazeera television], he said that Hamas members do not share Yassin's vision. But when in 2001 a British expert on Palestinian matters returned from Gaza, he expressed amazement that all the leaders of Hamas were convinced of the inevitability of Israel's disappearance in 2027…"

"[Also], the decision of Abd Al-Nasser that led to the defeat of 1967… was made in a way no less backward. In response to accusations by the Syrian Ba'ath regime that [he was] cowardly, and that he feared fighting Israel and was hiding behind the UN soldiers stationed in the Straits of Tiran, [Nasser] demanded that the UN withdraw its forces stationed [in the Sinai Peninsula]. Israel grabbed the chance, and struck him an overpowering blow."

"This process of political and military decision-making according to dreams, or impulsively so as to [eradicate] the mark of shame of [an accusation] of cowardice is familiar in psychology. But in the political lexicon, such a process is unknown, and will never be legitimized. Such a tragic political rationale that is completely incapable of defining the national interest and analyzing the balances of powers in a considered fashion has failure written on its forehead."

The Religious Roots of Delusional Decisions

"What are the religious roots of these delusional decisions? It is superstition about divine intervention in history, which derives directly from the concept of witchcraft that asks reality to produce results that directly contradict its [own] laws!"

"When the hidden world, the religious text, and divine intervention in history are the sources [that shape] the decision making process in the political and military sphere – it is no wonder that [ideas such as] 'Jihad and sacrifice for the sanctification of the faith' [Istish'had] are considered an exemplary way of making such decisions come about."

"[Thus, for example,] in 1830, the commander of the French army that conquered Algeria proposed to the Emir, Abd Al Qadr, that Algeria be divided into two countries. The Algerian emir consulted with the mufti of Fez about the proposal. The mufti's answer, which arrived in a lengthy Fatwa, was that if the emir let the infidels get a foothold on the land of Islam [Dar Al-Islam], Jihad would become a commandment applying to every capable adult Muslim. Thus, based on a Fatwa, the emir rejected the [French] proposal!"

"[In contrast], when in 1853 the American Navy [under the command of Admiral Perry] blockaded Japan and then gave the emperor an ultimatum of 24 hours [to choose between] opening the borders of Japan to American trade or war, the emperor consulted with his advisors. The answer of his advisors was: 'According to the balance of powers between us and them, [choosing] war means suicide. Thus, let us open our land to them and imitate them in order to surpass them.' This, in a nutshell, is the difference between the situation of Algeria and the situation of Japan today!"

[1] See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 95 – 'The Future of the Armed Struggle: An Arab Debate.' The Future of the Armed Struggle: An Arab Debate, May 23, 2000; Special Dispatch No. 401 – 'Liberal Columnist Calls on Hamas to Stop Terrorism' Liberal Columnist Calls on Hamas to Stop Terrorism, July 21, 2002; and Special Dispatch No. 404 – 'Liberal Arab Columnist: Why the Palestinians Miss Opportunities' Liberal Arab Columnist: Why the Palestinians Miss Opportunities, July 29, 2002.

[2] Lafif Lakhdar "The Fundamental Flaw in Arab Statesmanship: Backwardness in the Decision-making Process," Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 18, 2003. The article was also posted on May 17, 2003.

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