Corruption and Leaders (Part 3): A Pattern

By | June 17, 2015

[June 17, 2015]  In the 1991 while surveying land for future military activity, a number of my fellow U.S. military officers were jailed by Panamanian police. Because they looked Hispanic they were assumed to be ex-presidente Manuel Noriega1 troops in disguise; the police force arrested them. The legal process to free them through the Department of State would take about 48 hours. It was much easier if we paid the local police chief $20 U.S. and upon payment they were released immediately.

One of the advantages of being a senior officer in the U.S. military is the exposure to many cultures outside America and to witness both the good and the bad. While we learned that corruption exists in all cultures – since corruption and leaders do go together – there are places with unique circumstances that will experience greater levels of corruption. Sadly, in addition to the political corruption we often find the police and military forces part of the corruption that pervades the government.

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” – David Brin

Why corruption exists throughout human history is no mystery … corruption is very attractive and it pays well. For those who are exposed to high levels of corruption those patterns should be studied closely, else we will be drawn into its sphere. Like the time we paid a police chief to get our friends out of a Panamanian jail, we were junior military officers who were just trying to do the right thing. Yet we did not just directly contribute to corruption by our actions but showed others that we agreed with it.

A pattern of corruption is something I was slow to recognize as a mid-grade officer. The two biggest ingredients to corruption, in my experience, were socialist-style governments and oil production (or illegal drug production). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) just announced their study that listed three features that are notable of countries with extensive corruption.2 First, a recent history of armed conflict. Second, they are not likely to have a functioning democracy. And third, most were major oil producers.

With the United States pulling back its power across the world and in particular in the Middle East, the vacuum can create circumstances for great corruption, instability, and violence. The Middle East meets all the criteria that SIPRI studies have confirmed to exist for corruption and there has been a spike of military spending there and in Eastern Europe.3 Senior leaders should be aware that the problem there is waiting to explode. American leadership is need more than ever.

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[Note] See more blog entries on “corruption”



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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