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Masters of Illusion: American Leadership in the Media Age

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Overview

The United States will confront a series of fundamental challenges through the middle of the twenty-first century. Using a theory of economic systems to gauge present and future global conflicts, Steven Rosefielde and D. Quinn Mills see the challenges as posed sequentially by terrorism, Russia, China, and the European Union. In the cases of terrorism, Russia, and China, Western leaders appreciate aspects of these perils, but they are crafting unduly soft policies to deal with the challenges. The authors believe that 'globalists' notwithstanding, such views are myopic in an era where nuclear proliferation has invalidated the concept of mutually assured destruction. What America requires is a new security concept that the authors call 'strategic independence' to enable keeping the peace in dangerous times and foster new generations of leaders capable of acting sanely despite a current public culture addicted to wishful thinking.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"While too many writers offer the public mixed cocktails, Rosefielde and Mills have given us a cold glass of pure spring water. Numerous sacred cows are slaughtered with relish and many idols of the tribe are gleefully smashed. On every page readers will be delighted, provoked, aroused, or enraged, but most of all stimulated to think. This truly iconoclastic work is a book that will provoke what hopefully will be a long lasting debate here and abroad."
Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College

"Government think tanks around the world are working on policies how to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Professors Rosefielde and Mills' book addresses the need for a new American agenda for strength and security for the beginning of this century. It is provoking and challenging, and necessary to read!"
Jan Rylander, Chairman of Research and Technology of WEAO, Western European Union

"Masters of Illusion is an exceptional achievement and a fascinating read. It presents a compelling analysis in depth of world affairs and political-economic-strategic trends that greatly challenge the security and well-being of the United States. It also contains a cogent critique of American leadership and certain illusions that often misdirect policy. This is the best single book on international trends that I have read in a long time."
William Van Cleave, Dept. of Defense & Strategic Studies, Missouri State University

"Coming from outside the mainstream of conventional political-science discussions, Rosefielde and Mills offer what might be called a post-neoconservative book: Rejecting both the Bush Administration’s neoconservative foreign and defense policies and the liberal alternatives, the authors advocate a strategic posture which they argue is ’best in future prospect for ourselves and the world.’"
J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, The National Interest

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521857444
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 568
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Rosefielde is Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Adjunct Professor of Defense and Strategic Studies, Center for Defense and Strategic Studies, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield. The author or editor of eleven books on Russia and the Soviet Union, including Russia in the 21st Century (Cambridge University Press, 2005), he is also a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Science. Professor Rosefielde has served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and advised several directors of the US Central Intelligence Agency and the US National Intelligence Council. Professor Rosefielde has also worked with the Swedish Defense Agency and the Central Economics and Mathematics Institute (Moscow) for more than a quarter century and with the Center for Defense and Foreign Policy (Moscow) for more than a decade.

D. Quinn Mills has held the Albert J. Weatherhead, Jr. Chair in Business Administration at Harvard Business School since 1976. He was previously a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Professor Mills is the author of more than 25 books on leadership and management, including the forthcoming Human Resources Management (2006), Principles of Management (2005), Wheel, Deal, and Steal: Deceptive Accounting, Deceitful CEOs, and Ineffective Reforms (Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2003), and Buy, Lie, and Sell High: How Investors Lost Out on Enron and the Internet Bubble (Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2002). He has been a corporate or executive education consultant to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and in nearly 20 countries, as well as to the US Government's Fannie Mae program.

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Read an Excerpt


Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-85744-4 - Masters of illusion : American leadership in the media age - by Steven Rosefielde and D. Quinn Mills
Excerpt

PART ONE

NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE NEW AGE





ONE

A World Wounded

I speak of peace while covert enmity under the smile of safety wounds the world.
Shakespeare, Henry Ⅳ, part 2, lines 9–10.

THE POST–COLD WAR SECURITY ENVIRONMENT

For a brief moment, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that the great powers had agreed on a desired outcome: a world characterized by democratic free enterprise with social justice. And it appeared to follow that this new world order could be speedily achieved by liberalization and disarmament. The objective remains, but the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, Russia’s failed transition to democratic free enterprise, China’s military modernization and internal political repression, the persistence of hidden agendas among the great powers that cripples the United Nations and the specter of accelerated nuclear proliferation have undermined the high hopes. The new situation has raised the possibility that the United States will explore the possibility of a very different path to its long run objectives – that is, a different short- and middle-term defensestrategy. The different path includes the willingness to fight conventional wars and preemptive attacks. This is a very different agenda than liberalization and disarmament. This change has generated much controversy because many prefer trying to build the new world with the previous methods. Such a preference remains a tenable position insofar as it is based on an objective assessment of the risks, but too often the preference is dogmatic, raising serious problems for responsible leaders.

   The issue with which this book is concerned is the defense of America; it is not limited to military response only, but in the broader perspective of our foreign policy – how do we defend ourselves in a world full of current and potential antagonists. We are not focused on public relations (winning hearts and minds abroad) or on crusades for democracy abroad but, rather, on the combination of diplomatic and military activities that constitute a national security strategy.

   Our topic is the international relations of America with special emphasis on our defense policy. To discuss the topic adequately, two major concepts are introduced: our nation’s public culture (the patchwork of beliefs and managed attitudes governing public debate that often allows policymakers to find consensus through trans-partisan wishful thinking), which constitutes the key political context of defense policy; and the concept of strategic independence (the ability to protect America without extraneous multilaterallist constraints imposed by others) toward which our defense policy is evolving. Unfortunately the two are in conflict.

   In this book, we survey the new security environment including the possibility of a successful change in America’s short- and middle-term strategy. At the core of the difficulty of such a shift in strategy is a daunting problem of combating disinformation provided by apparently reliable sources in an effort to distort public perceptions and exploit public cultural wishful thinking for commercial or partisan reasons.

   Consequently, there is an urgent need for sophisticated leaders capable of effectively pursuing the new strategy with methods that take account of the ways obstructionists coopt public culture and impair global security for private purposes. While little is entirely new, modern communication technologies and informational warfare tactics seem to mark a quantum change from the past.

   The requirements of an American President in international relations are to

  • see the big picture objectively;
  • appreciate the complex interplay of factors;
  • actively and purposefully learn;
  • integrate hard and soft information, with the help of intelligence agencies but not relying on them slavishly;
  • create novel scenarios and approaches for our policy; and
  • set our national goals with imagination and insight.

   Logic and decency can prevail in the current international setting, but for this to happen opportunists and those with ulterior motives must be beaten at their own image management game. This is why a president must master the illusions with which the minds of people are filled.

   Richard Neustadt and the scholars who follow him make sophisticated excuses for weaknesses in presidential leadership. They describe a president who is captive of others in government and of the limited powers of the presidency. This they describe as due to institutional constraints, and proceed to recommend different methods by which a president might loosen the constraints. Neustadt in particular recommends that presidents master the art of persuasion, not that much different from the view expressed here that effective presidents must master the illusions of those they should lead.1 But it is proper to have higher expectations of leaders than do these presidential scholars. Leadership is not simply about holding office and developing policy. This is an old view of leadership that confuses office (which is no more than an opportunity to exert leadership) with leadership. Leadership has been much more studied in recent decades in the context of business than of politics, and the insights from that study have yet to be fully applied to the political context. The study of leadership in business has concluded that leadership is not administrative, nor even managerial, in its essence, but is different Ð leadership involves inspiring others to exertions in a direction that is the leader’s vision. Leadership is about managing change. As Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric, once put it to a group of GE managers, “No matter how good a manager you are, unless you can energize others, you are of no use to our company as a leader.” Note that Mr. Welch did not presume that there was only one leader in GE, the CEO, nor did he presume that there could not be leadership demonstrated at many levels of the company. Leadership in his view and that of most management scholars is a function, not a position or office. This basic distinction, which allows clear thinking about leadership and its role in organizations, is currently not common in the literature that studies American presidents.2

   When the modern managerial concept of leadership is applied to American presidents, then the institutional constraints they face are recognized to be real, but also to be challenges to their effectiveness as leaders Ð not simply excuses for their failures, as Neustat sees the institutional constraints. This is why mastering illusions is so important Ð it is crucial to persuading people to loosen the institutional constraints on a president. Loosening constraints is part of the task of a leader, not an excuse for failure. Focusing on institutional constraints is at best only part of the story, and not it’s most fundamental part, and is at worst an excuse for ineffective leadership.

   Effective presidential leadership involves the loosening of institutional constraints. Examples can be found in American history of this. For example, Abraham Lincoln rode roughshod over legal and congressional constraints to win the Civil War, including suspending the writ of habeus corpus during much of the war. Harry Truman seized the nation’s steel industry during the Korean War to keep production going in the face of a strike. When the Supreme Court told him that was illegal (which he probably already knew), he gave the steel mills back to their owners. About this episode George Taylor quipped, “The President has saved the country, and the Supreme Court has saved the Constitution.” That there may be only a few such examples is a comment on the poor quality of presidential leadership in America, not evidence of an intractable situation in which presidents are allegedly placed. Why then does scholarship so often explain away presidential incapacity? First, presidents who try to lead and fail do not like that pointed out. They don’t see it that way, and neither do their followers and adherents. Second, our electorate generally is very forgiving, having low expectations of presidential leadership. Third, academics rationalize presidential failures and describe their rationalizations as explanations. It requires much self-discipline of academics to avoid this trap, in presidential studies and other fields.

   Samuel Kernal describes an “institutional pluralism” in which president’s are successful by meeting the needs of interest groups, to which they appeal via the mass media, and in which public opinion or public pressure has little impact on politics.3 This is a largely valid model of the functioning of the presidency in day-to-day politics, but it overlooks fundamental elements of the context of public discussion, including most importantly, the public culture, which presidents must either master or to which they must pander. The public culture puts bounds on political action, most important in foreign policy that of the president, in ways that are not inconsistent with Kernal’s conception, but have a much greater impact on what happens than he appreciates.

   The difficulty of a president mastering the public culture has been noted by researchers who study the presidency. “Even ‘great communicators’ usually fail to obtain the public’s support for their high-priority initiatives,” wrote George C. Edwards. As a prime example of his point, Edwards quoted Ronald Reagan about his presidency: “One of my greatest frustrations was my inability to communicate to the American people...the seriousness of the threat we faced in Central America.”4 In fact, Reagan was unable to overcome the public culture in this matter, and it left his presidency permanently soiled via the Iran-Contra affair.

   It is significant not only that there is a public culture (which is anterior to and helps form public opinion), but also that it is a set of significant propositions that are often factually incorrect. Because they are wrong, a president is not only constrained by them but gets entangled in their unreality – unable to do the things he or she believes are crucial for the country because the public generally does not recognize the problems the president is confronting.

   Presidents have potentially more accurate information about developments and dangers in the world than others, but only if certain requirements are met. The information they receive must not be:

  • too filtered
  • too condensed
  • too edited

for the reality of situations to emerge to the president’s view; and the President must have a valid framework in which to interpret information.

   These are not readily achieved requirements. In fact, many presidents have received overly filtered, overly condensed, overly edited information and have lacked a valid framework, meaning an understanding of the dynamics of international rivalries and interests, to correctly interpret accurate information when they receive it. The result is that more and better information about current events hasn't been enough for them to grasp the reconfiguration of global wealth and power that is evidenced in this book.

THE NEED TO ADJUST ILLUSION TO REALITY

We Americans are making our way through a very difficult period in international affairs, risking conflicts of a major nature because of a basic inability to see the world objectively. We dream of peace while enmity endangers the United States and the world. Ironically, enmity is overt from the least potentially dangerous of our antagonists, Islamic terrorists, and covert from the most potentially dangerous, the Russians and Chinese. At the heart of our danger is a public culture that distorts information and a political process that panders to it. A significant consequence is that the nation’s leadership, in particular the President of the United States, must deal with public illusions in order to effectively lead the nation’s defense policy.

   We need to understand this aspect of the presidency because our survival in the nuclear age depends on correctly identifying the true threats to our national security. In this book the case is made for a revolutionary reconceptualization of American international security policy in which a foreseeable sequence of threats is addressed adaptively without the illusion of a panacea of idealized democratic free enterprise the world over.

   This book is an attempt to help our country toward a constructive objectivity about international relations. Attaining objectivity requires these six key elements:

  1. The concept of public culture, a key to understanding why America acts as it does in the world arena;
  2. A description of the striking disjuncture between the real issues of the day and what is featured in public debate and by the popular media;
  3. Empirical findings regarding the limits of attempts to create market democracies, with examples from Russia and Iraq;
  4. Examination of the widespread coopting of public needs for private purposes in this country and abroad;
  5. A rigorous critique of both neoconservative ideology and current practice and that of their opponents – a critique grounded in a cross-disciplinary collaboration of the study of leadership, national security policy, and economics; and
  6. The concept of a peaceful global community accommodating diversity among nations that is reflected in different economic and political systems.

That the great challenge of international policy is to adjust illusion to reality is increasingly evident to observers. “For the past generation and more,” wrote political observer Anatol Lieven, “western democracies have been engaged in a great experiment, with unregulated television and the tabloid press as the chief instruments. We are testing how long liberal democracies can survive if their peoples...become ever more lazy, ignorant and prone to irrational beliefs...”5

   There are two ways for the experiment of which Lieven speaks to have a good outcome. The first is to weaken the illusions that dominate the mosaic of partisan beliefs and trans-partisan wishful thinking that constitute our public culture. The second is to find presidents who are masters of illusions – who take our country in the right direction despite the confusion of the public.

   Public culture is not pop culture, which is primarily entertainment centered. It is a crazy quilt of beliefs, elements of which are shared by a large number of people that is informally managed by the media, governs the content of public debate about national issues (dissenters are ostracized), allowing political leaders (not “policy makers”) to build bipartisan support by appealing to popular wishful thinking. Examples of the latter include faith in the miraculous power of democracy, globalization, nation-building, reason, and goodwill. Public culture is a collective public mind, which like the minds of individuals is often divided, carrying on an internal dialogue, but in the end conforms to strong behavior regularities. Pop culture is a parallel culture which is not primarily news- and politics-centered. Public culture is ordinarily expressed in local and national newscasts, newspapers, Sunday morning talk shows, internet blogs, and the statements of pundits and politicians. Pop culture and public culture sometimes overlap, as in Hollywood-produced motion pictures and television series with political settings or in popular music with political messages.

   Because illusions play such a great role in the political process there are three major consequences for the citizen who wants to be knowledgeable:

First: People who rely on popular media and cocktail conversations are usually misled, and when they have strong feelings about national security issues, they appear foolish to those who gather information in more sophisticated ways;
   Second: People who want to be objectively knowledgeable will be in a more uncomfortable position than adherents of the public culture because the public culture provides refuge from thought and the effort of getting real information; it assures people that they know and understand, when they do not; and
   Third: People who want to be really knowledgeable must work at getting information; they must go beneath the public culture and avoid partisanship; this can be done, but only with effort.

   Furthermore, the dominant role of illusions in the nation’s political process has three major consequences for our presidents:

  1. Public culture encourages piecemeal problem solving, disregarding the interrelationships of threats believing its wishful thinking, so that a president almost never gets to the bottom of the problems he or she addresses.
  2. The success of a president depends on his or her ability to master the illusions of the public – a very subtle and complex task.
  3. A president to be successful has to be almost schizoid – he or she must watch the public culture because it’s the field in which politics is played out, but must also watch reality to make sense of what’s happening in the world and as a basis for actions. A president must take actions that are necessary on an objective basis and simultaneously present them to the public in a form that makes them acceptable.

This is a requirement of the presidency that has sometimes been noted in the past. “If the foreign policy of a state is to be practical,” wrote a strategist early in World War Ⅱ, “it should be defined not in terms of some dream world but in terms of the realities of international relations... ”6 Had his admonition been heeded in the period before the war, there need not have been so great and perilous a struggle as the World War Ⅱ.

   Despite the attention of commentators and academic analysts to the topic, the last thing in the world which is obvious is the state of global play among the nations. The only way to bring sense to our policies addressing the world situation is first to appraise it objectively, and this is almost impossible in the context of our public culture.

PUBLIC CULTURE DISTORTS REALITY

How is objectivity to be attained in a world of illusions driven by wishful thinking and political partisanship, and how is a president to master the illusions of those he or she leads?

   Americans are not the only people prone to wishful thinking and illusions, of course. For example, one of the founders of Indian democracy, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to his daughter Indira, “Only in one country can it be said that economic freedom has been won by the people generally, and that is Russia, or rather, the Soviet Union.”7 Nehru apparently wanted to find an example of economic freedom somewhere in the world and let himself think wishfully that it was in the Soviet Union. For years, millions of people around the world shared this delusion.

   Mass opinion is not something on which objective decisions can be based. It’s a hotbed of illusions – whether it’s an electorate or a consumer market. Consumer marketers know this (as Charles Revlon is said to have observed about the cosmetics business, “In our factories we make chemicals; in our stores we sell hope”), and so do political consultants. A president knows this as well.

   Unless the cultural prejudgments and subtle defense mechanisms that bias presidential action and policy making are identified and corrected, then public discourse cannot deal with the realities confronting the nation.

   Public culture is a set of socially approved attitudes, values, analytic procedures and decision-making mechanisms transcending and encompassing partisan diversity that shape and often distort national perceptions of reality and appropriate action.

   Public culture, except in ideal circumstances, provides only a semblance of reality; it systematically distorts our comprehension with false presumptions created by certain social, political, and economic characteristics of America and its media to gloss unpalatable realities. The result is poor judgment and dysfunctional behaviors that cause major errors in national policy.

   The following diagram presents the sequence of discussion in the chapters that follow.

Image not available in HTML version




© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Part I. National Security in the New Age: 1. A world wounded; 2. Long-term economic realism; Part II. American Public Culture and the World: 3. 'Smooth comforts false' - the illusions that confuse us; 4. Towers of illusion: dysfunctional behaviors; 5. Mythomaniacs: the sources of our illusions; Part III. American Public Culture and Ourselves: 6. Champions of freedom or imperialists: how we're perceived; 7. We're different now; Part IV. The Reconfiguration of National Wealth and Power: 8. The economic roots of American power; 9. Economic disparities amongst nations; 10. Geopolitical aspirations of the nations; Part V. Vortexes of Danger: 11. A Witch's brew of troubles: the next big wars; 12. The Middle East; Part VI. The American Response: 13. Strategic independence: an ounce of prevention; 14. America as mature superpower; Part VII. Leading Toward Peace: 15. The dangers of overreach; 16. The transatlantic trap; 17. The middle course; Part VIII. American Presidential Leadership: 18. How public culture inhibits presidential leadership; 19. Choosing a great president; 20. Masters of illusions; Endnotes.

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