3/17/2003

 

“W. W. L. D.” What Would (a Great) Leader Do?

 

What would a great leader do at this moment on the brink of war? Even before 9/11, given our unusual position in the world, a great leader would have been focused on international solutions to problems, as part of a policy of using our strength to lead the world in an era of peace and growth. Here we are, head and shoulders above other nations in potential influence, a liberal democracy of rights with a free-market economy, in a world that is increasingly small and interdependent. Encouraging countries to work together on mutual problems so their economies enhance one another would benefit everyone. We have more than enough global problems to deal with as it is: global warming, nuclear proliferation, mass extinction of species, changing to a global economy without some groups (like Mexican farmers) getting run over in the process.

 

With that approach in mind, even having made such a show of going to war, a good leader could take the current lemons and make lemonade. An overwhelming majority of the people of the world are united toward peace, and a great many of their governments too. Let’s not let the heat of international debate get our principles turned around. This is a good thing. Even a president who is genuinely convinced that war is necessary should be saying encouraging things about what this shows of the world’s concern for peace, of their ability to pull together when need be, of their independence of thought even to go against a powerful trading partner. Isn’t this just the kind of democratic spirit we want to see in the world? This is a wonderful opportunity to promote cooperation, democracy, and peace.

 

At this fork in the road we can either tear that cooperation apart, or greatly enhance it. All this talk about the U. N. making itself irrelevant is wrong. It has worked! Here is a big question of international import…should the biggest power in the world set a precedent of instigating war, and what are the risks if we don’t, and what are the consequences if we do…and the world has come together in the U. N. to voice its opinion. In what is, by far, the most amazing act of world unanimity that I’m aware of, they have given their opinion, and it is, “no”.

 

Not “no” to reigning in Hussein. “No” to the question, “are we down to having no alternative?” Are we at that last point where the nation that is supposed to be the leading force for democracy and peace should make this terrible precedent, and where the ensuing likely mess in that part of the world is unavoidable? Not only has the world said “no”, but even polls here show a majority do not approve of war without international agreement via the U. N. (Gallup poll 2/26) or want to give other approaches more time (NY Times poll March 11).

 

So what could a real leader do, even now, after having voiced such a tremendous commitment to war and having placed hundreds of thousands of troops over there? He could take it with a benevolent smile, tell the world that he thinks they’re wrong, but that he’s a big man and cannot be painted into a corner by his own pride, and offer a middle ground in the interest of building upon such unusual international cooperation.

 

What would that compromise be? That not going to war, just now, does not mean letting Hussein of the hook. That we give the inspectors all the leads we have (something we have apparently not been doing) and aggressively go after hidden materials. That we dismantle selected sites, or if they refuse access, bomb those sites. That we bring weapons scientists and their families out of Iraq for interviews, whether Hussein approves or not. That we do this to foster international cooperation, not as yielding sovereignty to the U. N., reserving the right to do anything we must to protect ourselves. That if, down the road, we find this approach not workable or sustainable, we will use the time to gradually build the international consensus to take further steps with Iraq, as opposed to acting as if we own the world and can simply decide to remove a leader the way a CEO fires a manager.

 

I’ve seen no polls to support it, but my guess is, that despite the world’s stance they are glad to have a nation with the strength of the U. S. that can put such pressure on Hussein, and that they want to keep him under a microscope. If our president were to take such a strong, but tempered approach, we would be in a position of leadership during a tremendous moment of international cooperation, and strengthen our position in the Middle East.

 

A great leader, with wisdom and maturity of statesmanship, could take what looks like lemons and make some tremendous lemonade, for the president, for the U. S., and for the world.