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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.
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For Obama on Libya, relying on foresight

There are times a leader must make a decision based on inadequate information. The decision will be based on the leader’s foresight, a view into the future implications of the decision. The decision will not satisfy those who want a guarantee that the decision will produce a hoped-for outcome.

Barack Obama made such a decision to lead America’s allies to defend the rebels in Libya. He defended the decision with a view that without the intervention, Muammar Gaddafi would have conquered Benghazi and murdered thousands of people. However, he stated that this decision did not imply that the U.S. would always protect people threatened by dictators. He explained that in this case, the rebels requested help and our allies as well as the Arab countries supported the intervention. But he also expanded on his view of the justification for action and negative future implications of inaction. Refugees from Libya would crowd into Egypt and Tunisia, straining the fragile democracies bordering Libya. Other dictators in the Mideast would be emboldened to believe they could survive by force. These are all assumptions that cannot be proven. But we expect leaders to make difficult decisions and accept responsibility for them.

I believe it was the right decision both in terms of humanitarian values and long-term U.S. interests. I have taught leadership workshops in Arab countries and heard criticisms of the United States as playing a major role in suppressing human development by supporting oppressive regimes. Osama bin Laden expounds this view as a reason for attacking the U.S., to drive us out of the region. By supporting democratic initiatives, we are changing the narrative. But not completely. We still support autocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. It is in our interest to urge the leaders of these countries to loosen their grip and develop democratic institutions. Otherwise, we’ll be faced by more rebellions where our interests and values collide.

Michael Maccoby  | Mar 29, 2011 12:41 PM

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