Posted: March 18th, 2023
The author of this research proposal deigns to cover two basic research questions and issues within this report. First is the general subject of political profiling of current or possible future political leaders and the second is the more specific focus on the case of a man by the name of Nasir al-Wahishi. That particular man is the current proclaimed leader of al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, often referred to as AQAP for short. The research problem to be address in this proposal and, by extension, the approved study is the vexing nature of profiling political leaders, what they are capable of, how they control and motivate the people they proselytize to, how to predict who people will glom onto and who will be ignored and so forth. There is also the question of how to deal with “stateless” regimes and groups that exist. Some of these groups are recognized and more established (e.g. Palestinians) while others are terrorist and/or otherwise disparate in nature. Examples of the latter would include the current ISIS/Levant group, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban since their forcible eviction from Afghanistan in the years after 9/11 and a few others. To be specific about what this study aims to do, it would be to profile the aforementioned Nasir al-Wihishi and ascertain what level of power he has, what level of power he could have and the literature that exists that defines and verifies this to be the case. Some of that very literature will be touched upon within this report. What will also be defined will be the theoretical framework(s) involved, the research design that will be used and a strong reference list of scholarly sources that shows that the research proposal contained within these pages is well-researched and well-covered. There has been a lot of material covered already and it will be explained and fleshed out in the following sections.
Perhaps one of the more seminal and advanced works reviewed for this literature review was that of Jerrold M. Post. In his book, he explains political profiling and calculation in general and does real-time and real-world profiling of famous world politicians Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein. Post starts off his book by stating one of the gaps and theories that pervades a lot of books and journal articles about the subject of political profiling. In short, he states that the influence of a world leader’s personality upon the course of the political events around him (or her) is a subject of much debate. He cites the noted author Thomas Carlyle who espoused the “great man” view of world and national history. Indeed, Carlyle asserted that word history is a “march” and that it is passed along its path by the actions of the world leaders that are present at the time. Carlyle has and would still offer the fact that George III and Lord North, both of Great Britain leadership history, lost what became the American colonies by “virtue of their stupidity and arrogance.” Another world history example, and perhaps the easiest one to point to when speaking of a single man or world leader blazing a path of world history, is Adolf Hitler. Of course, the actions of Hitler resonate to this very day even though his actions and he himself have been gone for the better part of a century (Post, 2003).
Post immediately offers a counter-argument to the above. He states the personal interpretations and implications above run counter to the idea that world leaders who blaze such a glorious or destructive path are simply assessing the opportunities and threats that are available and they are thus blazing a path based on what they can actually pull off. As an example, if Hitler was eliminated in the aftermath of World War I, what happened in the 1940’s would have obviously been very different. However, since Hitler was still in the mix and since Germany was allowed to re-arm and re-prepare, not to mention the fact that many world leaders tried to appease him despite what he was obviously doing, he was able to wreak the havoc that he rendered. That was, however, until the noose finally started to tighten, he was left powerless and he ended up killing himself. Post explains that the withdrawal of American troops in 1918 did not help. Further, Post states that Hitler was certainly not unique. As explained in a block quote in the book, his foreign policy was that of the people that preceded him. He ideas and aggressiveness were not new and novel. Indeed, they existed in other people and in many forms. It was just that Hitler had the gumption, the passion and perhaps a little bit of luck so far as he was able to take advantage of the passivity of others (Post, 2003).
Post then plots a compromise and blend between those two extremes. Post cites the work of Greenstein from 1969 which states that a leader’s personality can absolutely be especially important but only under some circumstances. Those circumstances would include when the actor occupies a strategically advantageous position or area, there is no clear precedent or pattern that the leader must follow, when the overall situation is ambiguous or unstable or something else along those lines. The author of this report would offer the example of United States President Barack Obama after he replaced George W. Bush. A lot of what was promised by him during the 2008 campaigns was pushed back or forgotten about once he took office. Perhaps an explanation for that can be found in Post in that there was clearly at least some reasons why Bush was told to do those things or himself chose to do those things. There were surely also things Obama did not know before he entered office. That would mean that Obama might be swayed by what he came to know after entering office and he had to change course based on precedent and/or what was expected of him as the President. This is all not known for sure and is subject to conjecture, but it would seem to jell with what was stated by Post roughly five years before Bush left office in 2008. One could say the same thing about Saddam Hussein and his insistence to push the proverbial envelope to the very end as far as weapon inspections, invading Kuwait, his country being invaded by the United States in 2003 and so on (Post, 2003). However, even American Presidents do some things that probably throw personality theorists for loop such as some of the things that George W. Bush said about Vladimir Putin and Russia circa 2007 (Wall Street Journal, 2007) (Hiatt, 2005).
The two general theories above lead to a basic duality in the words of Mr. Post. That duality is that there is one side that is concerned with the academic inter-discipline of political psychology and the other pertains to the policies that do or do not exist within any government sphere. When it comes to the actual personalities of leaders, regardless of the gravity given to them, there are three stands of psychological profiles that are looked at. Those strands are cognitive, personality traits and comprehensive qualitative case studies. Regardless of their overall effect and gravity, there are absolutely recurrent themes in political behavior and power structures. They are quite easy to spot over history if one simply looks at what has happened, when it happened and why it probably happened. It is often not possible to know all of the details but the known facts are what they are (Post, 2003).
When it comes to personality in psychology, it is admitted up front by many scholars in the sphere that personality is a linchpin and central part of the subject. Cottam notes in a 2009 text that personality is put at the “bottom” of the psychological tree because it is part of the “roots” of what leads to the person acting and thinking they way they do. Their mindset, their upbringing and their perceptions as they move through life are what guide them and lead them to do (or not do) what they end up deciding upon. Even with the volume that personality takes up in the political equation, it is a vexing part of the equation because coming to an acceptable definition of “personality” is not the easiest thing to do in a lot of cases and/or for a lot of leaders. For example, reclusive leaders and/or police states in general would make it quite hard for people to define a leader because of the choreographic and otherwise limited amount of material there is to work with. Even when the “material” is there, defining it is still hard to pull off. One reason why is because there are twenty defined personality theories and those twenty fall into about nine different categories. The nine somewhat smaller categories are psychoanalytic, neo-psychoanalytic, interpersonal, trait, developmental, humanistic, cognitive, behavioristic and limited domain (Cottam, 2009).
One method that is used to get an idea of what makes a person “tick,” both in general and specifically, is through the use of cognitive mapping. This subject is covered in a fairly dated treatise by Michael Young from 1996. As dated (roughly a generation) at that article is, the idea of cognitive mapping actually goes back to the 1970’s when it was in its infancy with people like Shapiro, Bonham and Axelrod. It is used in realms such as juror selection, crisis decision-making and international negotiations. The latter would obviously have political implications. Modern iterations of cognitive mapping make use of computers to help map why people behave and manifest the way they do (Young, 1996). Along those same lines, there was a piece of work about four years prior (in 1992) about how and whether personality and politics could be studied in a systematic fashion. There are obvious and known limitations to such a thought because one could get into the “well, if Kennedy had lived, this would have happened” sort of argument, as suggested by Mr. Greenstein in his article. At the same time, many people wonder whether the New Deal ever would have happened had Franklin Delano Roosevelt been assassinated in the early 1930’s. Even so, there are patterns and predictions that can be made but they often fall through because real-world events and unforeseen or unknown facts/events get in the way (Greenstein, 1992). There is also a lot of talk about concept mapping, rather than cognitive mapping, in the work of people like Kinchin (Kinchin, 2015).
Despite all of the raw complexity and minutia involved in predicting the fortunes and performance of political leaders, many assert that they can assess and learn a lot about a political leader (or one in waiting) just by watching them from a safe distance. Such was the assertion of David Winter in his work that was published in a 2005 edition of the Journal of Personality. He asserts a couple of things straight off the top:
1) That motivation and personality can reliability be measured from a distance
2) Personality is complex, consisting of several differentelements or kinds of variables
3) Personality exists in social contexts, and past social contexts are embodied in personality
4) Political behaviors and outcomes can be predicted from personality, but only in contingent “if/then” ways
Indeed, even Winter notes that there are limitations to assessing political and politician contexts from afar. His choice of words on page 558 is also very telling. He states in his first lesson that “personality can be objectively and reliably studied without direct access.” The key two words in that phrase are probably “can be”â€¦but that will be discussed later on in this report (Winter, 2005). Even so, it is without question that “who” leads is still a very important question regardless of what their personality makeup is or is not. There is more than one kind of decision unit out there. Indeed, decisions can be made by leaders, groups and coalitions. Regardless, leaders are somewhere in that calculus even if they are not acting in a solo fashion. Indeed, the legitimacy of a decision can be assessed based on who is involved, who is not involved and how many people are involved overall (Hermann, Preson, Korany & Shaw, 2001).
There are other factors that may or may not play a prominent role, depending on the situation. For example, when there is more than one child in a family that is bound for, whether it is known or not, political power, there would be the question of birth order. This sort of thing is a bit rare in the United States unless one is talking about the Kennedy family and so forth. However, in countries with monarchies, birth order can mean a great deal. Great Britain would be a modern example. However, in both developed and less-civilized countries, there seems to be a pattern whereby first-born children are more prone to seek and attain political power as compared to those born after the firstborn. Some have gone so far as to say that personality and cognitive makeup are actively influenced by the birth order of a family. Theories about this subject go as far back as 1928 with the work of people like Adler. (Andeweg, 2004).
One source consulted for this report that would have a direct bearing on the actions and motives of Al Qaeda would be the use of surprise attacks as a means to create a more visceral and more emotional response. While the Suedfeld piece was written more than a decade beforehand, the quintessential example of this in an Al Qaeda and American context would be the 9/11 attacks, since the former absolutely intended to do such a surprise attack to the latter. Suedfield and Bluck note that the “integrative complexity” of attacks add to their efficacy and this is certainly the modus operandi that Al Qaeda has at least previously been known for (Suedfeld & Bluck, 1998). It has been established by many that the United States is very effective at learning information about nation states and their leadres. However, groups like Al Qaeda are not nation states and armed groups in general can be very decentralized, hard to analyze and otherwise hard to combat on an informational and intellectual level (Norwitz, 2008). Perhaps very relevant to all of this would be the work of Altemeyer, who studied doing psychological tests on groups with very strident and negative views about other groups (Altemeyer, 2004). Obviously, the study just mentioned would have bearing on any Al Qaeda “branch” or strain because that is basically the very basis of their beingâ€¦and extreme hatred of the West and/or of Christianity/Jews.
When it comes to the theoretical framework in question for this report and proposal, there are a few things that should be considered and mentioned:
Any study of Nasir al-Wahishi will have to be from afar, based on a matter of necessity
It must be understood that al-Wahishi is a leader of an armed group, or at least he claims to be
It must be understood that al-Wahishi is a leader of a stateless regime with less power than even the Taliban and ISIS at this point al-Wahishi and his people are going to closely manage and filter what is allowed to flow out to the public in terms of information, perceptions and so forth
Reality and what al-Wahishi (and his men/women) want us to believe are probably at least somewhat differentâ€¦if not completely different
With the above in mind, the following procedures will be followed:
It will be assumed that al-Wahishi is hiding/obscuring at least some details about his personality, his confidence and/or his capabilities. At the very least, his words should not be taken at face value
Even with the above, what can be collected, verified and analyzed about the man will be assessed for what it isâ€¦no more and no less
The available profiling, assessment and mapping techniques will be used, bearing in mind that they may not all apply smoothly to terrorist/stateless groups like Al Qaeda (or any of its branches)
Even if he and his men try to portend otherwise, al-Wahishi will give clues to his intentions, his true power and so forth by what he says, what he does, when he does any of the above and who he has the support of in terms of other power brokers and proponents
The hypothesis to be used and tested is that al-Wahishi indeed is a power broker in the wider Al Qaeda network but he is limited due to being in a fairly small armed group, not having the direct support of a nation state and his grandeur is at least partially self-proclaimed. Even with that, his personality and power as it exists will be studied and analyzed in the context of the scholarly literature that exists, as gap-ridden as it tends to be with men like al-Wahishi.
In terms of research design, the use of quantitative data is basically a non-starter because so much (if not all) of the material in question is based on qualitative measures and perceptions. This is basically the way all of psychology is. Even so, prior events and examples of world leaders can be assessed in terms of cause/effect, if/then statements, and so forth. Further, there will be a specific focus on people like al-Wahishi who were/are from groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Hezbollah and so forth. Particlar attention will be paid to people like Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri and other prominent Al Qaeda leaders that exist concurrently or prior to al-Wahishi. Types of data that will be needed is information about how al-Wahishi and people like him rose to power, what they said, what they said would happen, what actually ended up happening and so forth. There will be correlations drawn between the personality facets that became prominent and how that translated into future success or failure on the part of the leader. Obvious, there are factors such as assassinations, support (or lack thereof) from power brokers or nations and so forth. However, armed groups (including terrorism-related groups) have existed for a long time so there will be no shortage of information. Potential weaknesses that will be foreseen are the aforementioned problems with assessing someone from afar and/or someone that manages every little detail that surfaces about him/her. As was alluded to in the literature review, Winter may be right that leaders “can be” assessed from a distance. However, assessing the leader of an armed group or terrorist group in general is different on a number of levels. Another limitation is comparing and contrasting literature and material about nation state leaders and power brokers when that is not what al-Wahishi is, obviously. However, what can and will be used relative to al-Wahishi is his belief structure, his upbringing and whatever else is known about him. Regardless of whether is part of a nation state or not and regardless of his lack of affiliation with a nation state, that information would be extremely relevant no matter what. All of the information that will be collected will be from scholarly sources and collectives whenever possible (much like what was done for the sources in this review) but the use of certain trusted internet sources will be used as well. There is obviously the potential for bias in that Al Qaeda is a defined terrorist group and an avowed enemy of the United States and the rest of the West. Even so, that will not stop the author of this proposal from assessing the personality makeup of al-Wahishi in a scholarly and unbiased manner.
Altemeyer, Bob. ‘Highly Dominating, Highly Authoritarian Personalities’. The Journal of Social Psychology 144, no. 4 (2004): 421-448.
Andeweg, Rudy B., and Steef B. Van Den Berg. ‘Linking Birth Order To Political
Leadership: The Impact Of Parents Or Sibling Interaction?’. Political Psychology
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Carey, Benedict. ‘Teasing Out Policy Insight From A Character Profile’. New York
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Cottam, Martha L. Introduction To Political Psychology. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, 2004.
Greenstein, Fred I. ‘Can Personality And Politics Be Studied Systematically?’. Political
Psychology 13, no. 1 (1992): 105.
Hermann, Margaret G., Thomas Preston, Baghat Korany, and Timothy M. Shaw. ‘Who
Leads Matters: The Effects Of Powerful Individuals’. Int Studies Review 3, no. 2
Hiatt, Fred. ‘Silent On Putin’s Slide Bush Ignores Russia’s Fading Freedom’.
Washington Post, 2005.
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Norwitz, Jeffrey H. Armed Groups. Newport, R.I.: U.S. Naval War College, 2008.
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