Editor’s Note

True leadership requires conviction

| January-February 2012

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    2009 © Chris Lyons / lindgrensmith.com

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True leadership requires conviction. Conviction demands courage, and courage is the lifeblood of change. That is the narrative thread connecting every woman, man, and movement that has altered the course of history. At some point, principle trumps inaction, no matter the risks.

It is not an easy calculus, this business of knowing when and where a line must be drawn. The wisdom it requires is born of academic rigor, deep contemplation, and altruistic grace, qualities that too many authority figures and their loyalists conflate with pseudo-intellectualism, moral certitude, and blind faith.

President Barack Obama favors a pragmatic management strategy. At the core, this measured approach strives for conciliation and eschews bare-knuckled zeal, which the president’s ideological adversaries, whether they are camped out on Wall Street or swilling bitter tea, believe betrays cowardice or disingenuousness or both.

Another election is barreling down on us, and I believe those who dispassionately evaluate Obama’s first term will be in a position to acknowledge progress on a number of fronts, foreign and domestic. We would all do well to consider those accomplishments before spending our votes. When history judges the 44th president of the United States, however, I hold out hope that humanity will have evolved to a point where it recognizes and begins to atone for his administration’s most un­forgivable sin: omission.            

At the end of his second term, George W. Bush walked away from a financial crisis, two unwinnable wars, and a disillusioned American public. He also left behind a crime scene. As Kathryn Sikkink writes in this month’s cover story (page 40), there is clear proof that the United States government engaged in torture and cruel and unusual punishment of detainees. It’s also evident to anyone who is paying attention that Bush and his closest advisers, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, not only approved of these horrors, they enthusiastically sanctioned the abuse.

Candidate Obama condemned waterboarding and other criminal torments that we now comfortably refer to as “enhanced interrogation.” A constitutional law professor, he also vowed to uphold the highest ideals in that document, shutter Guantánamo Bay, and stop government-sanctioned persecution and murder.