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The "Rational Politician" is a myth - sample political science essay

Some say that leaders must make rational decisions if they are to serve as effective leaders. This example political science assignment argues that many leaders make irrational decisions because of they lack information, are trying to stay in power, or have other personal motivations. It would be a good reference for a student who wants to analyze a current political event.

News flash: Politicians aren't rational

In a democracy, people vote for the leader they feel will best represent them; in a dictatorship, citizens hope their leader will represent them well. Ideally, citizens like to believe a person in power makes choices based on logic and rational thinking. In actuality, however, politicians aren't always "rational." Rational is often defined as, "the condition in which values, beliefs, and techniques are believed to be based on logical, explicable principles" (Encarta World Dictionary). Citizens of every nation depend upon their leaders to make decisions deemed lucid. Most believe logical mind is a very important trait for a world leader to have because a bad decision could risk the safety of their citizens. Unfortunately, most political leaders don't seem to possess a rational mind. As most political realists will note, politicians seldom go through the rational decision make process while making choices regarding their nation.

When formulating a rational decision there are several steps that must be taken in order to ensure the choice made is the most beneficial the nation. The first step is to recognize the problem. Gather all the possible information from every different perspective. The second step is to determine the objective. In other words, what is the goal? Without a goal there is no purpose to the action. The third step in rational decision making is determining other alternatives. It is very important that the rational decision maker evaluate all possible alternatives and weigh them against all others. Finally, a choice has to be made. Only after going through this process can a decision be considered logical.

As most realists will point out, that process is idealized and not generally followed. Part of the reason political leaders can't make decisions based on rationality is that rationality requires certain criteria that leaders don't always have. Rational decision making requires quite a bit of time, which isn't always an available luxury. It also requires a significant amount of information. In a situation like the one that arose immediately after September 11, 2001, the United States government had virtually no information about who attacked America. This made making a traditionally logical decision almost impossible. Even when there is available information, it is often distorted and incomplete. The idealist's rational procedure makes the assumption that all knowledge, especially regarding objections and alternatives, of the situation are complete, true and unchanging. If such were the case, grave political decisions, like deciding to invade Iraq in 2003, may have been avoided.

Most citizens also like to believe those in power are basing decisions on national interests and objections. Anybody critical of the government, however, knows decisions originate from personal motivations and organizational interests. Alas those motivations are what most often shape choices about national goals. This is a problem because leaders hold their citizens lives in their hands. Thus, most people hope, at least in the case of war and foreign policy, that leaders have the people's best interest at heart and are exhausting all possible alternatives. Unfortunately, the options considered are limited and none are very carefully analyzed.

In most societies, anytime a significant decision is made, the leader shares it with its citizens. Ideally this means the government effectively states and rationalizes the decision to rally support. In reality, however, those declarations are often baffling, conflicting and created for media consumption. Despite this, many citizens are happy to live life ignorantly and assume the bureaucracy of foreign affairs is carefully monitoring the choices being made. Ignorance is a danger to the nation because the bureaucracy often neglects managing decision implementation. After all, following the implementation of a choice the bureaucracy doesn't usually properly evaluate the decision and if anything goes wrong people stop taking responsibility causing any needed corrections to be delayed.

In the defense of our world leaders, it is very difficult to make decisions rationally. Often political leaders are forced into situations that don't have any appropriate options. Take, for instance, the example of Saddam Hussein who decided to lie to the world about the nuclear weapons he didn't have. Looking back on this decision, it seems completely irrational. By implying that he had nuclear weapons he was bringing attention to himself which would lead to some hefty consequences. His calculations were not those of a completely crazy man but rather those of a man who had few alternatives. He decided to lie for several reasons. One was out of fear of attack by neighboring and rather unfriendly Iran. Another was out of the hope that if the world believed he had weapons they would leave him alone and let him make demands, as has been the case for North Korea and its rather infamous leader Kim Jong Il. Unfortunately Saddam's plan backfired on him and he was invaded by the United States.

Another example of seemingly irrational behavior also originated from Iraq, although this was during the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, despite a large number of American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Hussein knew there would be major consequences for invading the small but wealthy Kuwait, but after weighing the pros and cons he decided it was worth it, especially because he didn't the rest of the world would do anything about it. He was wrong. That action lead to the death of many Iraqi soldiers and sanctions placed on the country ("First Persian Gulf War: 1990-1991"). Saddam's decision to invade was obviously irrational and ended up hurting the people of Iraq.

It is widely accepted by realists that people, especially those in power, are not always rational. While on a small scale, it isn't always necessary to be rational; on a far larger scale irrational decisions often lead to citizen endangerment. George Bush and Saddam Hussein, two seemingly opposite types of leaders have shown this is true. The alternative method most world leaders employ when making decisions is ineffective, confusing and often contains false information. Unfortunately, once a person reaches that kind of political power it seems to be the only effective method, which proves that the world is a very irrational place.
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