Ian Bremmer on the moral dilemmas faced by leaders

Fascinating (as always) meeting with Ian Bremmer, author and president of Eurasia Group, in NYC.  Ian is a geopolitical strategist whose global contextual intelligence is beyond compare.  Whenever I am with him, or reading his writing, I am struck by his unique ability to observe, analyse, synthesise and then summarise in ways that are immediately relevant for the listener (whether me or someone else). In a few minutes the conversation can range from Syria to Sydney, China to choice, trade to technology, and the UN to emerging trends.  Ian has broad insight across a range of global events, and without changing stride can dive deeply into political events and their strategic ramifications.

He kindly made time for me in a very busy schedule. Since Ian spends time with a range of world leaders I focused on one question: “What kind of moral dilemmas are being faced by the leaders you talk to?”

Ian noted two in particular:

  • Firstly, with regard to US leaders doing business in a global context. The reality that other models of business and government are proving to be both successful and good (in the moral sense) is a challenge for those who believe deeply in ‘the American Way’.  This raises a further question about what models may emerge in a global (potentially post-democratic) world.
    • The challenge here of course is that if you believe deeply that your way is the right way, how do you resolve your inner conflict when confronted with other approaches that also claim to be the right way, and can demonstrate success when doing so?  Kohlberg (with his theory of moral development) and his descendants would have an interesting perspective on this.
  • Secondly, Ian noted the difficulty facing people with poorly constructed moral compasses who operate in countries where what is legal can be open to interpretation, not obvious, or not defined.  The combination of lack of internal clarity about what is proper, and external frameworks about what is permissible, exposes people to moral and legal risk.
    • This is a great insight about moral values in a cross cultural environment, and implies a question about how one develops a moral compass that points to true north wherever one finds oneself.