Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2004

Leadership isn’t a matter of popularity

November 18, 2004

City Council member Bob Ulin

City Council member Bob Ulin

The day before the Nov. 2 election, a young lady in my office said she was conflicted over who to vote for. She said she was troubled because many European citizens did not like President Bush because of his intervention in Iraq. I told her not to be concerned because many Europeans don't like any U.S. president. "Besides," I said, "it really doesn't matter what they think, it's our country and we'll decide who will lead us for the next four years."

While on active duty with the Army, I had the great fortune to spend over 16 years in Europe, primarily in Germany and Belgium. I recall that when Jimmy Carter was president many Europeans couldn't believe that a peanut farmer could become president because their political leaders normally come from the ranks of professional politicians. They derided Carter because they saw him as indecisive and weak. When Ronald Reagan became president they were bewildered that an actor, and not a very bright one in their view, could become president. He was derided as reckless because he called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" and began deploying Pershing II and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles as a counterweight to the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 IRBMs. He was seen as a Hollywood Cowboy trying to start WWIII on European soil. I was privileged to serve President Reagan at a NATO Summit in Brussels in 1988. He and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were magnificent. They were without peer and unified in their vision of a free Europe. When they spoke at the summit, the other heads of government listened. They were both viewed as pushy and tough but they were respected and feared by the Soviet leadership. When Bill Clinton became president they chided him because of his youth. He was seen as insular, without any understanding of continental affairs but a fellow social democratic traveler. Later he was ridiculed as a philanderer. Actually, Europeans liked Clinton since he was so preoccupied at home he didn't have much time to interfere in European affairs.

Today, President George W. Bush is seen as an intellectual lightweight and a warmonger. In fact, I believe that Bush is very similar to Reagan in that both are cowboys who are comfortable on the ranch chopping wood. They were governors of Western states; they both speak plainly and carry a big stick. They are both men of principle and conviction and steadfast in their determination to change the world. Reagan changed his world by eliminating the Soviet menace and Bush is in the process of changing his world by crushing terrorists.

During my time at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), at the American Embassy and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, I came to appreciate that being the leader of the free world is a thankless task. In the uni-polar world, it's lonely at the top. Leaders of other states do not share nor understand this special obligation. They frequently close their eyes to issues they do not wish to deal with like genocide in Serbia, Iraq and now the Sudan. If they recognize these issues as a problem, they will have to deal with them and they possess neither the power nor resources to resolve these problems so they conveniently turn a blind eye. If it were up to the Europeans alone, Serbs would still be slaughtering Muslims and Saddam would still be murdering his countrymen and harboring terrorists.

Many European leaders, especially the French, are jealous of American power. Some wish to be seen as co-equal world leaders but they are not and this creates antipathy. I refer to this as the love, hate relationship with America. While many Europeans hate us for being the biggest dog on the block, they love our culture, freedom, opportunity and wide open spaces.

Because we are the only remaining superpower we have a special obligation to lead our friends and allies whether they like it or not and most of the time they won't like it. But, we can't let that be our problem, it's their problem. One of my commanders used to say, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." I believe we Americans are leaders and we shall remain so in the foreseeable future regardless of what others say about our president.

Bob Ulin is a Lansing city council member, retired Army colonel and now vice president of Triple-i Corp.

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