When we complain about the wars that rage around us, we often ask why the politicians and military leaders of the world can’t discover the path to peace. In fact, it’s our mistake to assume that politicians and military leaders are suited to this task.
Why do we sit and wait for them to do everything? The problem with this approach is obvious: they are the ones at war. Since when do peacemakers sit back and wait for the warring parties to create peace? We’d have to wait a long time. A person engaged in leading a nation must think strategically. This is why there’s such a vile sense of gameplaying when the top leaders of the world meet to shake hands and kiss and discuss “the world’s problems”.
The real problem becomes clearer when you think of the fact that all of these politicians and national leaders must satisfy their own constituencies and prove to their supporters that they are capable of tough military action. This explains much of what we see from both Israel and Iran — in Israel, Olmert’s aggressive response to Hezbollah and Hamas is helping to establish his credibility as a successor to Ariel Sharon, and in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using the battle with Israel as a national call to unity. War is an essential political tool, and most political leaders are only capable of using it as such.
If peace is hard work (it is) and if we can’t trust our favorite politicians to do this work, who can we trust? Religious leaders? The United Nations? Independent organizations like Amnesty International? Artists and writers and musicians? Theoreticians and academics? Journalists and bloggers? I’d like to spend the next few posts on this site examining this question in some detail.
In the past, political leaders have sometimes proved capable of working for peace. Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat come to mind (though Sadat sadly sacrificed his life for his actions, and Carter’s hard work failed to earn him re-election in 1980), as do Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk in South Africa and Albert Reynolds, Gerry Adams and John Major in Northern Ireland and England. But if I had to grade the work of our current crop of world politicians in promoting world peace, I’d give the whole class a D+. And that’s just because I’m feeling generous. How do the other parties I mentioned above stack up? I’ll be writing more on this soon.