Posts Tagged ‘power corrupts’

From Petraeus to Betraeus: how low will this story go?

November 11, 2012

As new information floods into the public arena, it now appears likely that David Petraeus has been living a double-life, violating military justice and violating a CIA code designed to protect the nation from interference through blackmail.  A man who clearly courts public adulation – one has only to see the volume of all those military medals  dragging down his army uniform to know that a narcissist is center-stage – is now exposed to investigations that surely will destroy forever the reputation that he has forged. Now, perhaps, is the moment for David Petraeus to fall on his own sword in order to protect Army,  CIA, and two Presidents from significant additional reputational harm.

From the very beginning of his career, it appears that Petraeus was set on a path designed to serve his narcissism.  Petraeus first met his wife-to-be, Holly in 1973, when he was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Holly was the daughter of the West Point superintendent,  a four-star general, who could trace his family’s military service right back to the Civil War. Was this a marriage designed to vault an ambitious young cadet onto an career path otherwise beyond his reach?

Holly surely did not think so when interviewed in 2008:

“I’m not stupid.  I wouldn’t have married someone on the make.”

One wonders how she might now re-address that insightful question as she confronts the likelihood of serial infidelity on the part of her cheating  spouse!

The adultery between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell seemingly began a year or so after a casual 2006 meeting at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government,  where Broadwell studied as a graduate student. Twenty years younger than the General, strikingly attractive, and skilled more for her athletic than for her journalistic skills, Paula Broadwell hooked up with Petraeus  during a run along the Potomac River. Seemingly David Petraeus caught a common form of a devastating Potomac fever that has felled many an aspiring politician.

‘I think I passed the test,’ she would later say, ‘but I didn’t bother to transcribe the interview.’

In that respect, at least, she displayed a modicum of wisdom and common decency!

With the blessing of Petraeus,  Broadwell decided to write a case study of the General’s style of leadership. To this end, she made a half-dozen extended trips to Afghanistan in order to to spend time with her lover, while interviewing members of his senior staff and field commanders. Those she encountered on this mission – other than the General – were unimpressed by her abilities:

“‘Her credentials didn’t add up,’ said a former Petraeus staff member who was interviewed a number of times by Broadwell. ‘I was underwhelmed. It was surprising to me that she was his official biographer.’ Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer on Petraeus’s staff, said he thought the general’s uncharacteristic confidence in an untested writer was  ‘strange.’  ‘My gosh, if you are going to have someone interview everyone who has ever touched you in your life, choose someone who has written a biography or at least a history book,’ he said in an interview Saturday.” Joby Warrick, Ernesto Londono and Kimberly Kindy, ‘With Broadwell, general let his guard down’, The Washington Post, November 11, 2012

The General’s downfall was triggered by a growing suspicion on the part of Paula Broadwell, that her lover’s eyes had wandered to another target. In an attempt to close down the new relationship, Broadwell sent threatening emails to the other woman whom she deemed had moved too close to David Petraeus.  The recipient of those messages felt sufficiently threatened as to seek FBI protection.  The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell. and uncovered sexually explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus saved into her files.

And the rest is now part of a developing story that will damage several lives as it fully unfolds. At least David Petraeus will fulfill a lifetime ambition. His name – like that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – will be known world-wide, and he will be recognized wherever he goes. Whether he becomes known simply as DP is an issue that is yet to be determined.





Recep Tayyip Erdogan leads Turks down the road to serfdom

September 22, 2012

In January 2004,  Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of   Prime Minister Recep  Erdogan, hosted a major conference in Istanbul on the theme Conservatism and Democracy.  AKP, through its leader, expressed a desire to pursue a conservative policy platform and to shift Turkey into a conservative democracy. So interested was Recep Erdogan  in opening up  such a new direction for Turkey, that he brought his entire cabinet to this two- day conference.  I was one of three keynote speakers at that conference. My presentation on conservative economics* was very well-received.

Now, almost nine years on, it is sad to note just how deeply power has corrupted this once-honorable man and his one-time forward-looking administration. Little did I then realize that for much of the decade following that conference, Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP would become pre-occupied not with the pursuit of conservative policies, but with a statist program of incarcerating critics of his administration on the basis of trumped up charges and forged documents.

On September 12, 2012, after a patently sham trial, a corrupt (AKP-controlled)  Turkish court handed down lengthy jail sentences to 300 military officers convicted of planning a coup d’etat code-named Sledgehammer, in 2003  (well before the Istanbul conference had been organized).  Prosecutors allege that the plotters  planned to bomb mosques, down a Turkish fighter jet, take over hospitals and pharmacies, close non-governmental organizations, arrest journalists and politicians, and ultimately appoint a hand-picked cabinet.

All the documents used to prosecute the plotters are forged. Independent forensic analysts from Germany, the United States and Turkey have unanimously attested to this fact.  Prosecutors have used unsigned documents on compact discs as evidence of coup planning.  These documents are supposed to have been created in 2002-2003. Yet, they contain references to fonts and other attributes first introduced by Microsoft Office 2007!

The evidence presented to the court indicates that the alleged coup was fabricated by AKP.  In response to the mass arrests of their colleagues, the chief of Turkey’s armed forces and the heads of Turkey’s army, navy and air force, resigned together on one day during the summer of 2011. The case is widely viewed as the means by which the Prime Minister has decapitated the military, a powerful institution that has long opposed Islamist forces in Turkish society.

More ominous still, is the evident complicity of the Turkish court with the forgeries. In violation of both Turkish and international law, the court rejected all defense requests for independent authentication of the evidence.  Additionally, the court lodged criminal complaints against defendants and their lawyers for statements made during the trial.

“The prime minister has been criticized for jailing more journalists than China and Iran, silencing the media and using the courts to go after the opposition, even while he has been hailed for expanding civil rights as part of Turkey’s effort to join the European Union.” Emre Peker, ‘Hundreds Convicted in Turkish Coup Trial’, The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2012

This is not at all something that I anticipated in January 2004.

* Charles K. Rowley, ‘Conservatism and economics: a sweet Turkish delight’, Public Choice April 2004, Volume 119, Nos. 1-2, pp. 1-12

Middle Kingdom choice: Taiwan or Romania?

September 11, 2012

“External challenges to the CPC have also increased.  Activists say the claim that there is nothing to replace the Communist party no longer holds.  ‘The legacy of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao is the emergence of a pluralist society,’ says the head of an unofficial Beijing Christian house-church.  ‘Civil society is booming and we will see NGOs gain influence in politics.’  This is not what Mr. Xi and Mr. Li have been groomed for.  But some observers believe they have a chance to survive the political changes ahead if they follow the path of  Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.  As Taiwanese president, the younger Chiang paved the way for democratisation in Taiwan in the 1980s with steps such as lifting a ban on independent media and political parties.  ‘People here don’t want a revolution,’ says the dissident. ‘It is up to the Communist party itself if China goes down the path of Taiwan or of Romania.’ Kathrin Hille, ‘The ascent of the bureaucrat: China in transition’, Financial Times, September 11, 2012

Not a difficult choice to make, one might think. Seven bloodied heads on poles or seven fat ex- autocrats living lives of luxury in the South Pacific?  Still, one never knows. Power is a drug, not a gene.  Unlike the selfish gene,  power has no incentive to transform itself  in order to survive.

Why the worst get on top

December 4, 2010

Very  frequently, politicians and public officials who rise to key positions at the pinnacle of their collectivist organizations fizzle out like dying Roman Candles, leaving behind a trail of corruption and failed promise. In U.S. Presidential politics, Richard Nixon ranks high among such collapses. In the U.S.  House of Representatives, the Chairmanship of Ways and Means is a sure-fire signal of impending disaster, as Wilbur Mills, Danny Rostenkowski and Charlie Rangel no doubt would admit. In the U.S. Senate, simply being in the chamber overly-long will take its corruption toll, as Robert Byrd clearly demonstrated. Even the heads of powerful federal government departments, like Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, quickly adopt the robes of absolute power, robes that always seduce their occupants into absolute corruption.

Why does this occur so systematically across time?  Friedrich von Hayek, in his 1944 masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom tells us why in Chapter 10, which is entitled:  Why the worst get on top.

The key insight that Hayek offers is that accessing power is the key motivation for anyone who seeks high public office. A desire to organize social life according to a unitary plan itself springs largely from a desire for power:

“It is even more the outcome of the fact that, in order to achieve their end, collectivists must create power – power over other men wielded by other men – of a magnitude never before known, and that their success will depend on the extent to which they achieve such power.” Hayek, 1944, 159

As Hayek observes:

“The principle that the end justifies the means in individualistic ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule: there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole’, because the ‘good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.’ (Hayek 1944, 162

If amorality is essential at the top of the collectivist pyramid, as Hayek suggests , then it becomes equally essential for all those who enter the pyramid at its base, and who aspire to rising to the top themselves:

“Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own.  They must, above all, be unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of anything.  They must have no ideas of their own which they want to realize; no ideas of right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader.” Hayek 1944, 166

As Hayek notes, this offers overwhelming incentives for the very worst individuals in society to enter  into such collectivist pyramids:

“there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and the unscrupulous.  There will be jobs to be done about the badness of which taken by themselves nobody has any doubts, but which have to be done in the service of some higher end, and which have to be executed with the same expertness and efficiency as any others.  And as there will be need for actions which are bad in themselves, and which all those still influenced by traditional morals will be reluctant to perform, the readiness to do bad things becomes a path to promotion and power.” Hayek 1944, 166

Naturally, those who supply their services to collectivist organizations will manifest the talents required for their task:

“the probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping-master in a slave plantation.” Hayek 1944, 167 


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