Jewish World Review Oct 20, 2011 / 22 Tishrei, 5772
Who Can Lead Us To Safety?
By Paul Johnson
Mr. Obama's manifest failure as a President would seem more spectacular had it not coincided with a general slump in leadership throughout the world. Ineptitude at the top is clearly responsible for the ugly fact that the banking crisis of 2008--which old J. Pierpont Morgan would have solved in one all-night session in his library--is now lengthening into the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s.
Future analysts will find it hard to believe that the people running the EU allowed the criminal negligence of a few Greek politicians to drag one of the world's largest economic-power groupings into near-bankruptcy. But then Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy are not noteworthy for individual--let alone collective--judgment or for courage in making unpopular but necessary decisions.
Britain hasn't set a good example, either. In his recent memoir Alistair Darling, chancellor of the exchequer when the banking crisis broke, paints a terrifying picture of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's attempts to deal with the situation. Things have improved marginally, but David Cameron leads an uneasy coalition, whose Conservative and Liberal members differ profoundly on economic principles. No possibility there of decisive national leadership, let alone of giving the world a direction to follow.
Asia, which at last is beginning to play a prominent role in the international economy and is successfully raising hundreds of millions from poverty to affluence, unfortunately has not yet learned to speak the language of general welfare. China's rulers are still mired in their Communist past. India's leaders have yet to shake off the inhibitions of colonialism and acquire the authoritative voice of a major power. Japan continues to shy away from leadership; in any case, it changes prime ministers too often for a leader to acquire even elementary recognition or any kind of useful reputation on the world stage.
It's a somber fact that whenever the pundits gather and the hopes of the planet are debated there's no consensus on a figure who could lead and speak words of wisdom for the nations to follow. The person whose name crops up most often, who has high credit ratings for intelligence, insight and fortitude, is the popular prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. But Canada cannot truthfully be described as a heavyweight power; thus the extent to which it can offer guidance to others and be heeded is limited.
It's useful to look back at earlier generations for comparisons. Thirty years ago I witnessed the coming together of three great and like-minded spirits: Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. This trio of robust and enlightened leaders was able to reinvigorate a despondent world and give it hope, ending the Cold War and opening a new chapter in human freedom.
More than 60 years ago, at the end of World War II, there was a cluster of remarkable men ready to show the demoralized international community that there were still grounds for hope: America's Harry Truman, England's Ernest Bevin, Germany's Konrad Adenauer and Italy's Alcide De Gasperi, as well as some notable figures from the minor powers, such as Belgium's Paul-Henri Spaak. Moreover, Winston Churchill was still around to sound the trumpet-tones of his oratory. In the 1930s, as the fires of civilization were burning low, it was Churchill--the only giant in a generation of pygmies and monsters--who spoke the authentic tones of democracy and decency.
I found it deeply significant and frightening that one of Mr. Obama's first acts upon taking over the White House was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill and return it contemptuously to the British Embassy. I decided then that the sooner this man left office, the better it would be for the world.
Although this remains true, there's no use in rendering Obama a failed, one-term President unless he's to be replaced by someone strikingly better. This is why the preliminaries to next year's election are so important throughout the world. They're already being followed more closely than any others I remember. The world cannot emerge from its profound doldrums until someone of vision, energy and top-notch character again occupies the White House. This means a heavy burden of global responsibility rests on those who guide the Republican Party--and, indeed, on the American people as a whole.
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Eminent British historian and author Paul Johnson's latest book is "American Presidents Eminent Lives Boxed Set: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant". Comment by clicking here.
© 2009, Paul Johnson