Byproduct of Being a Bystander

In 2009 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama. It was questioned at the time, for Obama had been in office only briefly, and had done nothing obvious to garner such an honor. Nevertheless, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stood by its selection – though since then Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Committee at the time, did admit that “the Committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for.”

Mild understatement. It is the tragic irony of Obama’s presidency that he has failed miserably to merit the award he was given pathetically prematurely. Instead of leading for peace, Obama has followed for war. To be sure, blame, in particular for the calamity in Syria, extends well beyond the White House. Still, in the unipolar world that Obama was the last to inherit, the US was the obvious candidate, the only candidate, to preclude or at least mitigate the slaughter in Syria.

From a recent editorial in the Financial Times: “At this rate, Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo alongside the Syrian air force will enter the annals of infamy …. Aleppo is the…scene of a war crime matched in scale by few others in recent decades ….”

Of course in the old days, before television cameras and web cams, leaders (and others) could claim that they did not know. That they did not know the horrors of wars unfolding far from home but on their watch. Now effectively no one can make such a claim. Now leaders (and others) know everything or, at least, we know enough. Ergo, the decision to stand by and do nothing while Rome burns is a conscious one, a deliberate one.

In my book, Followership, I wrote that Bystanders observe but they do not participate. They decide consciously, deliberately, to disengage, which makes them, in effect, accomplices. Being a Bystander is, in other words, “a declaration of neutrality, which amounts to tacit support for whoever and whatever constitutes the status quo.”

So far as Syria is concerned, then, Barack Obama, the US, has been the follower and Vladimir Putin, Russia, the leader. Nobel Peace Prize anyone?

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