Politics Masquerading as Leadership
One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are.
In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.
Charles de Gaulle
What’s different now is that while political leaders used to give talking points to talk radio, now talk-radio hosts are giving talking points to political leaders. It’s all part of the suffocating spin cycle we’re in. In media, politics and publishing, the conventional wisdom is to play to this base.
He came. He spoke. He is going home having accomplished little other than to feed the jealous and demanding god of politics.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the American Congress. He did this over the objections of the White House and despite the fact that it is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol and a public slap in the face to the Head of State of Israel’s strongest and most vital ally. He came at the invitation of a Republican leadership eager to embarrass Barack Obama at any cost to national unity and international prestige; and he came willingly to trade any damage his decision might have on US/Israel relations in order to win votes in the upcoming election back home. In other words, it was nothing more than self-serving politics which had nothing to do with advancing the national security of allied nations or fostering good relations between allies.
It is an attitude that has become all too pervasive in foreign affairs and a major threat to global stability and to our national and international security.
There was a time when we had leaders who understood the difference between politics and leadership. They were men and women who could play the political game back home but who could also rise to the challenge and put politics aside in order to do what was necessary to protect their nations. They included leaders like Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Brian Mulroney, Mikael Gorbachev, Golda Meier and Ronald Regan. They were politicians most certainly but they knew the difference between politics and leadership and demonstrated it during times of crisis and national threats.
They were leaders who rose to meet the needs of their offices rather than reducing their offices to serve shallow political ambitions. Decades later, we remember those leaders. How many of today’s politicians will be remembered in the same manner?
We don’t have the luxury of strong leadership in this time. Instead we have only politicians, men and women incapable of separating self-interest from that of the nation and indeed; the world. It has made for incredible, almost unbelievable contortions in logic as they violate their own principles and bring a new set of self-serving values to each issue.
Consider, for example, the rhetoric of NATO leaders when addressing the situation in Ukraine.
There is no question that Russia is supplying Ukrainian rebels with military assistance for its own expansionist purposes and there is no question that it must be addressed by the west. Russia is an aggressor even if it has not formally invaded Ukraine and occupied that nation. Western leaders have compared Russian President Putin to Hitler, condemned and attempted to isolate him and Russia both economically and politically.
On the other hand, the west has taken a decidedly different approach with the People’s Republic of China which invaded and continues to occupy the small, peaceful nation of Tibet. The claims by both Russia in Crimea and China in Tibet are similar. Both claimed those territories as traditionally part of their countries and both used that as an excuse for the actions they took. One would have thought that our leadership would have taken similar positions on both but they didn’t.
While they castigate Russia and impose economic sanctions, they line up like beggars looking for handouts and trade deals with China.
Our leaders condemn nations for human rights abuses except when it is inconvenient. Canada has taken a decidedly silent approach to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in order to protect a $13 billion arms deal – the largest in our history.
Principle it seems is the first casualty to economic self-interest and political expediency.
The same leaders undertook a military strategy in Libya which led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi at which point, our leaders pulled their high-tech aircraft and went home. Our leaders took the position that it was up to Libya to sort itself out following the civil war. It failed and that failure manifested itself in threats that forced the closing of the British embassy and an attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Libya was left with a weak democracy that was unable to prevent the country from becoming divided by different political and tribal factions some of whom are now supplying arms and recruits to our enemy – ISIS.
In too many cases, those our leaders rush to support eventually become our enemies which only serves to embroil us in more conflicts.
To be fair, when NATO made the decision to provide air support to Libyan rebels under the guise of protecting civilians from Qaddafi’s air force, it might not have been clear that the country would be unable to establish a strong, stable democracy in the aftermath of the rebellion. But having learned that, why would those same leaders make the same mistake in fighting ISIS?
The answer once again is politics. Leaders attempt to resolve an issue. Politicians merely wish to be seen to be doing something even if they are not.
In response to the emergence of ISIS and its barbaric assault on humanity, our leaders cobbled together a coalition to mainly provide weapons and air strikes against an enemy embedded in towns and cities across parts of Iraq and Syria. In other words, pretty much the same strategy employed in Libya.
Our leaders have referred to this as a military action, an anti-terrorist mission and many other things but have fastidiously refused to call it what it is – War. It is not Libya and it is not just a war; it is a world war.
There are more than 60 countries in the coalition fighting ISIS and some 18 countries providing support directly or indirectly through various groups and factions to ISIS. That means that almost 80 countries are involved in one way or another in this conflict and by any system of measurement – that is a world war.
And yet, our leaders continue to refuse to address it accordingly. They fear the political fallout of combat casualties and the economic impact of going to war on their respective economies. They play to voters with tough talk but offering small sticks. As a result, we are drawn into the inevitable inch by inch rather than doing what is necessary in the beginning.
Does that make the world a safer place? It would appear not. ISIS has continued to grow in strength and numbers and for every victory of Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces against the Caliphate, ISIS regroups and strikes back; often in the most brutal and horrific manner. Now they are threatening our own cities, recruiting some of our own children and home-grown sociopaths to commit acts of terrorism against us.
Thousands have already died, many of whom are civilians trapped in a never-ending hell our leaders seem unwilling to address effectively. Children are raped and slaughtered, Christian and Jewish and Muslim civilians along with the members of smaller religious and non-religious communities are butchered like cattle at an abattoir.
And through it all, our leaders talk and talk and talk; congratulating themselves publicly on their course of action. It is a course of action without unified strategy. It is the illusion of leadership that is as shallow as a half-filled glass of water.
When the Iraqi army attacked Tikrit this week, the American-led coalition did not provide air support despite repeated demands that the Iraqi armed forces step up its game. The reason? Iran was involved in the fight against ISIS and the Americans did not want to appear to be on the same side as Iran.
Politics! Today, even the effective means of fighting a war takes a back seat to it.
The politicians dither and pontificate and meet and stumble their way from one crisis to another. They do everything but lead.
And so, the Prime Minister of Israel risked his nation’s relationship with its strongest ally by embarrassing the American President and for what?
What was achieved by this?
It has helped to weaken American prestige on the world stage, especially with its enemies like Iran. It may help him in the upcoming elections in Israel but there is a considerable amount of criticism in that country over the Prime Minister’s actions so it may not. Nothing new was learned and no evidence was offered to support his claims. It was all retread from old speeches, some of which is directly contradicted by the Mossad, Israel’s highly efficient intelligence service.
Real leaders do not publicly undermine other leaders no matter how much they might disagree in private but it is happening increasingly these days. The only time they seem to fully agree with each other is after a summit where their ‘people’ cobble together a watered-down communique that tries to say much in very serious terms but which in the end signifies nothing.
Who among us remembers the last NATO, G-7 or G-20 communique or even what those meetings achieved?
Europe’s leaders are in such a state of disarray that they vasillate between appeasement and resistance with Russia, alternately refuse to negotiate and then negotiate with Greece and have joined the fight against ISIS as anything but a unified force with a unified strategy.
On more than one occasion, Canada’ Prime Minister took it upon himself to embarrass the American President over Keystone and like Israel’s Prime Minister, he did it on American soil. Did Keystone get approved? Of course not. Even if all opposition to Keystone were to stop tomorrow, Barack Obama will never approve it because politics has made the issue personal now and almost all of today’s leaders put their personal feelings and political agendas ahead of their nation’s interests. Diplomacy and international relations have become secondary to political self-interest and it as true in Canada as it is in every western democracy in the world.
It has led to the compromising of principle and the erosion of our values as nations.
I saw a video yesterday of a Conservative MP who rose in the Canadian House of Commons to speak out about the loss of children’s lives in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of the war with ISIS. She was right to speak out against children being slaughtered and I don’t criticize anyone for taking up that cause. But there was no mention of the more than 400 children killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes. To do so would be to be seen criticizing our ally Israel and that might cost the government the Jewish vote in the coming election.
Even the value of children’s lives are now measured in terms of political expediency.
Where politics was once part of it – politics is all of it now. Leadership is merely an illusion and we are paying a price that we increasingly cannot afford.
Our economies are less than stable, our national security threatened, our rights and freedoms are being eroded by politicians who claim to be defending and preserving those very things.
Many among us cling to the illusion those politicians provide, finding some sense of security within it as opposed to the fear and discomfort that comes with facing the harsh reality of our circumstance. Some might suggest that we have become societies that have more in common with audiences attending a magic show than with strong, principled nations. We know it is just illusion but we suspend disbelief because we want – even need — to believe.
There is a term for that. It’s called self-delusion.
© 2015 Maggie’s Bear
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