Leaders and legacies
NATIONS are not led by leaders any more. Countries, including those considered mothers and champions of democracies are no longer governed by moral or ethical values. The misfortunes of our world today come not from excess but from total absence of leadership at national and global levels.
Look what the Bush and Blair duo together did to their people and to the world. Both defied popular will in embarking upon a military adventure in Iraq and then circumscribing the liberties of their own people on the pretext of curbing terrorism. History did not take long to give its verdict on their legacy.
During his last visit to Baghdad, two size 10 shoes were hurled at George W Bush in full force and in public gaze by a journalist as a ' farewell gift' to him in the name of the people killed in that war. Unlike his other living predecessors, a scornful disesteem, if not total oblivion from public memory is his legacy.
Likewise, Tony Blair's legacy is also one of lies that took Britain to war five times in six years, in Iraq in 1998, and then Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Iraq again. His unenviable place in history is as ' Bush's poodle' or ' Yo Blair' as Bush used to fondly call him. Beyond their crappy legacies, there are painful questions that history alone will answer.
Did Bush and Blair declare the Iraq war because they genuinely believed it was the best way to guarantee peace in the world and safety of the American and British people? Was it an honest mistake or did they do it in a premeditated attempt to seize greater political power?
The problem is that the story did not end with Bush and Blaire. In 2008, the Americans elected for the first time after John F.Kennedy a different brand of leader who promised to them how he would make the difference in their lives as well as those of the people of the world. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, President Obama entered the White House shattering America's two centuryold race barrier.
No doubt, President Obama inherited a terrible legacy of wars, global image erosion, fractured economy, depleted social security, healthcare crisis, and decaying education system. Not since Franklin D Roosevelt's inauguration at the thick of the Great Depression in 1933 was a new president confronted with the magnitude of challenges that Obama faced at the beginning of his presidency which was seen as a watershed opportunity for the United States to recover from its global alienation and perception as an ' arrogant superpower' with unilateralist policies and double standards. Everyone looked at Obama's victory as a sign of change in America's global outlook and behaviour.
In his first inaugural address, President Obama explained how at home he would turn over the languishing economy. Abroad, he pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In his first term, he delivered on neither. The economy never recovered from its worst recession since the Great Depression. The scene on the war front was no less pathetic. His vision of a new America at peace with itself and with the rest of the world remained unfulfilled. Even after partial US withdrawals, Iraq kept smouldering and Afghan peace was nowhere in sight. Al-Qaeda remained as elusive as ever. The feeling that America had a different kind of leader thus evaporated in thin air.
President Obama had just been in office less than nine months when he was picked up by the Nobel Committee for the 2009 Peace Prize citing him "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation." He became the third serving US president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The other two sitting American presidents to have received this honour were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, for negotiating an end to the war between Russia and Japan, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for the historic Treaty of Versailles. Obama had no such feat to his credit other than mere promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least till then, no "extraordinary efforts" for peace were visible on his part.
If anything, his Nobel 'citation' was already in tatters. Only days before receiving his Nobel, Obama ordered a military surge of additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan. It took him four years to withdraw those troops though a significant number of them still remain there. From being a global peacemaker, he turned his Nobel moment into an "unapologetic defence of war." He justified wars to make peace. "For make no mistake. Evil does exist in the world and evil must be fought with evil", he declared. This was a new Obama altogether sanctifying the medieval concept that noble ends justified ignoble means.
He was at his Hegelian best then in proclaiming war as an ethical aspect "which ennobles human activity." It must have been a jarring moment for his selected audience at the ceremony when Obama spoke rather nonchalantly of his troops in Afghanistan: "Some will kill. Some will be killed." He also claimed that "force is sometimes necessary" and that "we will not eradicate conflict in our lifetimes."