He is a politician, not a leader
Thomas Cromwell

Politics is a cynical business, and little is expected of politicians the world over. The worst of all politicians, however, is the one who stubbornly refuses to shed his own cynical political calculus when he is faced with a real issue of good and evil. This person will always put his own interests ahead of the wider good.

By contrast, true leaders will shed their political armor and stand up to champion good and oppose evil when called upon to do so, even at the cost of his position, power and prestige, yes and even his life.

History rarely remembers politicians, the small people who made fine speeches and cut backroom deals to advance their interests. But true leaders are remembered and often revered for their selfless bravery.

Think of Britain’s Thomas Beckett, Thomas Moore and Winston Churchill, and America’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Or India’s Mahatma Gandhi and the founders of almost all the major faiths. They are revered for the ages.

The clever politicians would like to keep all the trappings of power they have fought so hard for but also be viewed as historical figures. They attempt this by making noble statements that give the appearance of depth and commitment to virtuous causes while all the while making sure they avoid danger to their careers and themselves.

America today is awash with politicians who either entered politics for the wrong, self-interested reasons, or became corrupted by the perks of power along the way and now would do almost anything to keep what they have acquired.

The problem is, the country is now in crisis, on many fronts, and only real leadership can address the urgent challenges it faces.

At home, the rapidly expanding federal and state deficits threaten to destroy the American economy and plunge much of the country into financial ruin. Ripple effects from what appears to be a financial tsunami would course across the globe, damaging the economies and lives of people almost everywhere.

Yet politicians haggle over spending as if taxpayer money was actually their own. They are loath to make the necessary, deep cuts in spending for fear of harming their precious constituencies, whether those be unions or people receiving government support on one program or another. Real leaders are needed. The politicians have failed terribly.

Abroad, America is starting to look like a feeble giant, a paper tiger, confused into inaction by a swirl of fast-moving changes on the global landscape. Nowhere is this more painfully apparent than in Libya, where a dictator of 42 years, and an unrepentant enemy of the United States in the past, is being allowed to slaughter his own people when they are crying out for America’s help.

Even a forceful statement of principle would help in this case, to put the dictator on notice that Washington will act to defend the helpless. But most of all, urgent American action is needed. Yesterday.

The United States should provide assistance to the beleaguered freedom fighters. They desperately need food, water, medicine, weapons and other essential supplies with which to sustain themselves and confront the tyrant and his army and mercenaries.

And why on earth is the US military so timid about establishing a no-fly zone? NATO allies would join in. Remember, Libya’s army, with the evil colonel in charge, was routed by the army of Chad in 1986. Probably the mere appearance of American battleships off the coast of Libya, backed by strong and serious words of commitment to the anti-Qaddafi forces, would cause Qaddafi’s own forces to crumble.

The missing leader in both domestic and international arenas is the president of the United States. He it is who should be driving reforms of the economy but instead submitted a budget to Congress that does not lift a finger towards addressing the real issues.

It is he too whom the world is waiting for to take action in Libya. Is it really so hard for him to understand that the Libyan people are trying desperately to throw off the yoke of their clownish dictator and deserve help in doing so? Is there really such great danger to American forces from an army that was whipped by Chad and until a week ago was almost beaten by groups of young men in pickup trucks?

The world watches and waits while America’s best chance in decades to win the support and respect of the Arab World and Muslims everywhere slips through the fingers of the man concerned with threats to union power and bullying in schools.

Sorry, Mr. Obama. You can only fool your most ignorant devotees into believing you are a force for change, a leader for this century. The fine words you have spoken and oft repeat ring hollow now. Most Americans no longer believe you are a real leader. Most of the world holds the same view. 

Your promises of a new era at home and abroad have proven empty. They lie in a tangled heap of incoherence and irrelevance. Your promise of a new era of friendship for the Muslim world spoken to admiring students in Cairo is now forgotten amidst the cries for help from Muslims you actually could assist, with an easy motion of a pen or a few words spoken to the right authorities.

Yes, you are nothing more than a politician of the worst sort. Any legacy you leave behind as the first African American president will be overshadowed by that towering fact.

Thomas Cromwell is president of East West Communications, a nation branding consultancy in Washington, DC. He lived in the Middle East for 25 years where he was publisher and editor of the weekly Middle East Times. He can be reached at