One Term for Posterity: George H.W. Bush

George Bush François Mitterrand Helmut Kohl
American president George H.W. Bush, Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, French president François Mitterand and German chancellor Helmut Kohl attend the G7 summit in Munich, July 6, 1992 (Institut François Mitterand)

The history of America is not unlike that of any other nation: its most revered leaders are usually founders and war statesmen.

Historical figures emerging in a time of crisis are always important, but they remain men of their time. It is easy to be revered when the population rallies to the flag and there is no internal opposition. More difficult is to achieve a record of governing efficiency in a time of peace, yet this was exactly the triumph of George Herbert Walker Bush. Read more “One Term for Posterity: George H.W. Bush”

Ruud Lubbers Played Small Role in East-West Nuclear Diplomacy

Former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers died on Wednesday at the age of 78. A Christian Democrat, he was the country’s longest-serving prime minister, leading three coalition governments between 1982 and 1994.

I had a chance to interview Lubbers when I interned for the Dutch weekly Elsevier in 2012. We were working on an India edition and Lubbers was known to have a relationship with the Gandhis.

In his flat in Rotterdam, Lubbers told me about his first meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, in 1985. Read more “Ruud Lubbers Played Small Role in East-West Nuclear Diplomacy”

The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro

There are few leaders who inspire the kind of irrational passion that surrounds the recently-deceased Fidel Castro. He is a hero and a villain and to have an opinion on him so often forces you to choose between the two.

But there is another way to judge leadership. To understand Castro’s true historical legacy, we should think of him geopolitically.

That means setting aside moral judgements, which rely on evidence that’s so readily cherrypicked, and pushing past propaganda to look not on Castro’s intentions or his personality but his geopolitical outcomes.

All leaders who are judged in such a manner must therefore pass a basic question: How much did they secure their nations and/or states and for how long can their methods work?

Security, of course, should break down as both physical security from invasion and rebellion as well as economic and social security from recessions, poverty and unrest. We are asking, in essence, about how well a leader used their ever-limited power to strengthen their nation state.

Such strengthening goes beyond mere morality, because murder is murder and always wrong in the eyes of the ethicist. But to murder someone who might corrupt or weaken a nation state is wise geopolitical policy. After all, it’s hard to argue that murdering Adolf Hitler in 1931 would have weakened Germany. Read more “The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro”

The Death of a King

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a long run: from 1946 until today, his living memory involved Japanese occupation, cold warriors burning Vietnam, the self-immolation of Cambodia, the shunning and decades-later rehabilitation of Myanmar and the rise of China.

His death leaves many questions for Thai politics, not the least of which is what to do with the widely disliked crown prince, heir apparent to the throne.

But it also reveals the slow grind down of monarchy as a system, as Thais contemplate — quietly for now — whether they even need a king at all. Read more “The Death of a King”

Ariel Sharon, Israel’s “Bulldozer” Premier, Dies

In many aspects, Ariel Sharon was an inconsistent figure, unexpected and hard to analyze. The former Israeli prime minister, who died Saturday, will be remembered as a brave soldier and a sophisticated politician, a decisive builder but an efficient destroyer, hawkish but pragmatic, a brilliant strategist and a precise tactician, a devoted farmer and a true Zionist. In each of his endeavors, Sharon won considerable amounts of criticism, from both sides of the map, but the one word that best describes him is “bulldozer,” because whatever it was that Sharon set out to obtain, he couldn’t be stopped once he was after it.

One of Sharon’s first notable contributions to Israel’s security was the founding of “Unit 101.” It was meant to provide an unorthodox answer to the constant attacks launched by terror squads during the early 1950s which cost many civilian lives. The unit’s method was to give the enemy a taste of its own medicine: hitting it in its own houses, spreading uncertainty within its lines and taking the initiative in the campaign.

The experience that was gained through the bold operations the unit carried out served as the cornerstone for the future Israeli Defense Force’s counterterrorism infrastructure. Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli elite unit that rescued the passengers of the hijacked Air France flight to Tel Aviv in 1976 in the famous Entebbe operation, took a similar approach.

The story of Unit 101 represents Sharon’s security perspective as well as the way he would conduct himself later in his career. In the months leading up to the Six Day War, when war seemed imminent and the entire Israeli public was under great anxiety, Sharon, then a general in the general staff of the IDF, strongly advocated a preemptive strike. Later, in 1971, when terror attacks from Gaza started to be a matter of daily routine, Sharon successfully implemented this doctrine in the elimination of terror as the general of Southern Command. Read more “Ariel Sharon, Israel’s “Bulldozer” Premier, Dies”

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s “Iron Lady”, Dies

Margaret Thatcher George Bush
British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is welcomed by American president George H.W. Bush at Camp David, Maryland, November 24, 1989 (White House)

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died in London on Monday at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.

The former Conservative Party leader’s sheer willpower and courage sustained her political ascendancy over male rivals. She was the first and so far only woman prime minister of the United Kingdom, the first to win three consecutive elections and the last successful wartime leader. Her premiership was the longest in British history since the early nineteenth century and the most formidable since Winston Churchill’s. She survived an assassination attempt by Irish republicans in 1984.

Known as “Thatcher the milk snatcher” among opponents due to her decision while education secretary to withdraw the provisions of free school milk for children aged seven to eleven, and earning the title of “Iron Lady” for her steadfast opposition to communism, no other British leader has been so decisive.

Thatcher inspired a generation of political leaders on both the left and the right to either fight what they saw as unfair policies or stand with her and carry on her legacy. Read more “Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s “Iron Lady”, Dies”