Prophetic Leaders and Pathetic Leaders

All leaders are human, and they all make mistakes, but really good leaders study the errors of others and admit and learn from their own mistakes.

President John F. Kennedy was weakened by the calamitous 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, and two months later he was ambushed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at the 1961 Vienna summit.

"He beat the hell out of me," Kennedy said, adding that it was "the worst thing in my life." But Kennedy immediately realized that he had to prepare for  even tougher challenges from the Russian leader.

The next year, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy skillfully faced down the Soviet attempt to put nuclear missiles in Cuba, as the world walked near the edge of atomic war. Khrushchev learned that when Kennedy set a "red line," he meant it.

The Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontations showed that critical misjudgments by leaders can have a major effect on history.

Before World War II, British leader Neville Chamberlain believed he had charmed Adolf Hitler and achieved "peace in our time." When the Nazis invaded Poland, Chamberlain knew he had been duped. Rather than cover-up or make excuses,  he stepped aside for Winston Churchill.

President Jimmy Carter was fooled by the supposed moderation of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and he did little to save the Shah of Iran. Similarly, he was duped by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, believing they could be partners for peace.

American diplomats languished in Iranian jails for many months after Iran took them hostage, but at least Jimmy Carter admitted he was wrong about the Soviets after Brezhnev ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

 "I learned more about the Soviet Union today than I have in all my years as president," Carter reportedly confessed, and he and his aides feared the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan might mean  a further Soviet push toward Mid-East oil fields.

President Carter ordered several sanctions against the USSR. He withdrew the  strategic nuclear treaty he and Brezhnev had already initialed, cancelled  grain shipments to Russia and ordered a boycott of the Olympics to be held in Russia.  In addition, Carter announced a doctrine to protect Western oil sources in the Mid-East.

Presidents Kennedy and Carter acted differently from Barack Obama. They were willing to sacrifice their own reputations to learn and to battle for US interests. Obama, in contrast, has been playing to the media crowd and to overseas audiences who traditionally oppose American leadership. 

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," said the Norwegian panel.

Actually, it is "extraordinary" how remarkably hollow the 2009 peace prize citation sounds in 2014 amid international events that Obama's policies allowed or caused:

  • Russia's invasion of Ukraine  by  despot Vladimir Putin who was encouraged by Obama's  farcical "restart" of  US-Russia relations,  by Obama's promises of  further of "flexibility" and by Obama's unilateral abandonment of missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic;
  • Syria's brutal civil war in which millions have become refugees as the murderous Assad Regime massacred tens of thousands of its own citizens, some with banned chemical weapons, after Obama reached out to "engage" Assad against the express requests of the US Congress;
  • Hastily planned and executed pull-backs from Iraq and Afghanistan have turned both countries into chaos, throwing away the sacrifices of US soldiers and rewarding Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Iranian ayatollahs;
  • Encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood take-over of Egypt, throwing away nearly 40 years of US-Egyptian ties (Anwar Sadat and Husni Mubarak)  for a cockamamie notion that the Brotherhood was a "moderate player" that would fight Al-Qaeda;
  • Reversing Arab-Israeli peace talks more than 20 years by staking out a more anti-Israeli negotiating stance (on Jerusalem and settlements)  than that of the Palestine Liberation Organization of Arafat,  forcing Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, to show that he is more "Palestinian" than either Obama or Arafat.

From Crimea to Damascus and from Libya to Afghanistan, Western interests and human rights have been set back because the president of the United States did not do his homework, did not study history, did not look at his own mistakes.  

Much of the sad state of the world today is tied to a leader who spoke of "hope and change," trying to seem tall and  prophetic but, ultimately, looking small and pathetic.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Threshold/ Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University, was strategic affairs advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, and is the Schusterman visiting professor at University of California, Irvine for 2013-14.

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