Lead­ers and le­ga­cies

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Shamshad Ah­mad

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."

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