Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Playing the (non-systemic) blame game

I have listened to a number of radio interviews in recent days talking about the Iraq crisis, and one of the themes has been playing the blame game.

It is always interesting listening to radio interviews with politicians. The politicians always try to blame somebody else and the radio interviewers almost always try to boil down a complex situation into a two-minute explanation: asking things like, "So who is to blame for the current situation in Iraq?"

So amongst others we have had:
  • Tony Blair saying the 2003 invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the current situation.
  • Unidentified person on the BBC saying that Nouri al Maliki is to blame for having misused the democratic process (discussed in this Guardian article). 
  • Paul Bremer saying that the US and British troops pulled out of the occupation too early
Now, I know that you can find more nuanced discussions in the quality newspapers and online, but it always irritates me when the news sources that reach most people offer such simplistic analyses. In a time when fewer and fewer people are buying print newspapers and are relying on rolling radio and TV news sources it is disappointing and somewhat alarming when the analyses that most people have ready access to are so reductionist.

It is also dispiriting (although admittedly not surprising) to hear politicians coming out with comments which are (to my ears at least) one-dimensional and self-serving. Systems practitioners know quite well that in a wicked problem (such as Iraq) everything has an impact, and to say that the 2003 invasion is not to blame in any way for the current crisis is breathtaking. Commenting that had American and British troops stayed in Iraq longer would have prevented the current situation is based on an assumption that the Iraqi people would have been happy to see occupying troops in the country for all of this time. The notion that a prolonged occupation could have fuelled resentment leading to violent unrest, changing the dynamics of the situation in that way, does not seem to be considered, or at least articulated.

The art of being a successful politician is to deny systemic effects, to make other people believe that nothing that you do ever has any negative impact and that when things go wrong it is because of what other people have done. Of course, being able to do this well is what helps politicians have glittering careers in democracy, so maybe we should question whether or not democracy is something that should be imposed on countries around the world. It is pertinent to remember the title of Ken Livingstone's 1988 the biography, "If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It".

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