The Friend of My Enemy is My Enemy – Obama, Putin, and Bashar al-Assad

  • I wrote Bad Leadership (published in 2004) because I never did understand why we focus laser-like on developing good leaders – and ignore altogether the perennial problem of stopping or at least slowing bad leaders. For all our recent interest in leadership studies and leadership development, the question of how good people can rid themselves of bad leaders remains unaddressed. The problem pertains across the board – in each of the different sectors, everywhere in the world.

    This will be my last blog for at least one month. While I hate to end even for a time on a sour note, in light of the latest news it’s impossible not to speak to Syria, and to Russia, and to the nexus between them and the West.

    Three bullet points will suffice to make my argument.

    • The world has stood by and done effectively nothing while Syria has descended, for over three years now, into calamity and cruelty on an unimaginable scale. Unlike in times past, when the argument could be made that we did not know what was happening when it was happening, in this case we all know everything. Technology has rendered the excuse of ignorance obsolete. And yet the world has stood by, been a bystander to murder and torture; disease, death and destruction; and to a leader, Bashar al-Assad, who palpably, manifestly, is bad to the point of being evil.
    • The West – particularly the American President, but by no means only the American president – saw fit to try to work with the Russian president to try to constrain Assad. Specifically, despite ample evidence that the Russians were undermining American intentions not only in Syria but elsewhere in the world, the Americans saw fit to strike a deal with the Russians over ridding Assad of his chemical weapons.
    • What the West – particularly the American president, but by no means only the American president – did not recognize was that for Russia this was a strategic move, aimed over the long run not at weakening its client in the Middle East, Assad, but at strengthening him. And so it has come to pass. Assad is stronger now than he was when the deal over chemical weapons was struck. Moreover, there is ample evidence that Putin’s land grab in Ukraine has further emboldened the murderous Syrian tyrant, encouraging him to run, if you can believe it, for reelection notwithstanding his wretched reign.

    What can we conclude?

    Three more bullet points:

    • Good to be clear-eyed about bad leaders. They never morph into good unless they are forced by someone somehow to do so. This means that either that they must be compelled to behave in a way that to them is unnatural. Or that they must be deposed.
    • Good to be clear-eyed about what works and what does not. Bad tactic to break bread with leaders who support bad leaders. No good leader should ever support a leader who supports a bad leader.
    • Good to do something as opposed to doing nothing. History will not be kind to those who stood by and did nothing while Syria burned.


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