02 April 2022

Authoritarianism: a formula for failure

US intelligence has confirmed what we have long suspected about the Russian system.  Before the invasion, even Putin himself was grossly misinformed about the situation in Ukraine and the capabilities of the Russian military, and he's still being misinformed now, including about the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy -- because his advisers are afraid to tell him anything he doesn't want to hear.  The US hopes that making these findings public will prod the Russian dictator to demand more accurate information and ultimately reconsider his position.

As secretary of state Anthony Blinken observed, "One of the Achilles heels of autocracies is that you don't have people in those systems that speak truth to power or have the ability to speak truth to power, and I think that's what we're seeing in Russia."

It's inevitable that this problem is endemic in authoritarian regimes.  How willing do you think that Kim Jong-un's toadies are to tell him anything he doesn't want to hear?  How accurate is the information Xi Jinping gets about Taiwan's capacity and willingness to fight, or about the Chinese military's capabilities?  How well-informed are the ruling thugs of Iran or Saudi Arabia about their own people's attitudes toward them?  It's been claimed that Mao Zedong never knew that the "Great Leap Forward" caused mass starvation in China, because nobody dared to tell him.  It's all too believable.

For that matter, I've been pointing out for years that China's claimed stunning economic growth figures over the last few decades are just not plausible for a country where everything outside the cities is still so decrepit and primitive and even the cities are, well, like this.  In an authoritarian state, every layer of administration has incentives to exaggerate the accomplishments it reports to the layer above, while actual spending is partly bled away by corruption, corners are cut, and there's no free press to create independent accountability.  By the time information reaches the top, it's completely divorced from reality.  There's no doubt that China's economy has grown considerably since the end of Mao's calamitous reign, but probably nothing like as much as the official numbers we're given would suggest.

A free press keeps officials at least somewhat honest by being able to independently check up on what they claim to have accomplished, and can contradict and expose propaganda.  Free elections allow ordinary people to hold the authorities accountable for lies and bad decisions.  An open, rules-based government allows officials to be honest with their superiors and tell them truths they do not want to hear, even up to the head of the state.  Democracy is not a perfect system, and no actual existing state is a perfect democracy, but it's the best system we've come up with so far for achieving these things.  Authoritarian states, inevitably operating under a miasma of fear and lies, are inherently weak and inferior.

o o o o o

Here's a detailed discussion of why the Russian military was so ill-prepared for the type of war it was called upon to fight in Ukraine.  I rarely watch videos of this length (56 minutes), but I did watch this one, and it's worth it for the insights it provides.  There's also a text summary at the link.

Russia's military communications are pitifully inadequate, but this has been clear since at least 2014 and nothing has been done to fix the problem.

There are increasing reports of Russian troops committing rape in Ukraine.  Evidence of other war crimes is being discovered in areas recently liberated from Russian control.  Even the results of shelling of civilian areas are awful enough (found via Hackwhackers).  All this horror and misery was completely unnecessary and is benefiting no one.  I don't believe even Putin himself would have gone ahead with the invasion if he had known it would turn into such a debacle.

Russian troops developed serious illness after digging up contaminated soil near Chernobyl.  The Russians have now withdrawn from the Chernobyl area.

Taiwan, facing a similar threat, is intensively studying the Ukraine war.

The Russian army will probably be just as bad at retreating as they have been at advancing.

Against an enemy that depends on lies, accurate information can itself be a weapon.

The outcome of the war could resemble that of the 1939 Russia-Finland war.

Here's another interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, about Putin's mentality and limited sources of information:

This is the Biden I voted for:


Blogger Bohemian said...

Well we did experience a small taste of what an Authoritarian leaning Leader was like, didn't we? Sycophants were pandering to him and those who would be Truthful were dealt with harshly and expunged from The System and Alternative Realities abounded among those who got on board the Crazy Train. We're still not over that debacle of our own, I can only imagine how much worse it is in any Nation that has endure actual Authoritarian Rule for Generations and had to pretend it's preferable to alternatives that would benefit their Nations ever so much more. There is so much prosperity to go around for Nations capable of navigating the Political spectrum well and allowing their Citizens a Voice. Should the Voice of The People be Wrong, they only have themselves then to blame... we're learning that sad Reality as well, since too many here think Authoritarian Rule would be preferable, they know not what they wish for... and don't appreciate the privilege they've long enjoyed here of an actual functional Democracy and the experiment that has played out relatively well under it's shelter. It's why those from other Nations have always flocked here and not run like Hell away from here, like it is with so many other Nations people are desperate to escape the Fresh Hells of.

02 April, 2022 07:48  
Blogger Jack said...

You make a great point about people under the authoritarian leader being afraid to say what they really think, especially if they think the leader is wrong about something. They end up trying to create an alternate reality instead, and that doesn't usually work too well.

02 April, 2022 10:16  
Blogger Bruce.desertrat said...

I am reminded of the intelligence failures of the US since WWII (see "Legacy of Ashes" https://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/legacyofashes/legacy.htm and the stove piping that was committed by the Cheney Administration post 9/11...

02 April, 2022 20:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bohemian: Yes, it's a good example of the difference between an individual leader with authoritarian aspirations and an actual authoritarian system. US democratic political institutions were strong enough to contain most of Trump's dangerous impulses, and in due course we were able to vote him out. A real authoritarian state is like what Trump wanted to have, with no opposition tolerated at all.

Jack: Thanks. Alternate realities tend to collide with real reality eventually, and real reality always wins.

Bruce: But neither of those is remotely comparable to the wholesale deliberate immersion of the leader in false information that has been happening in Russia and probably China. Intelligence services in a democracy sometimes make mistakes or slant information for political reasons, but there's a huge difference between the way things work in a democracy vs in a dictatorship.

03 April, 2022 02:11  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

looks like Russia is due for another revolution..

06 April, 2022 17:45  

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