In a Dangerous World, the West Needs Leaders

‘The crisis in the Caucasus has undoubtedly ushered in a period of global insecurity’

Western civilisation is now fighting a war on two fronts: against the Islamofascism of the jihadis and the semi-fascism of a resurgent Russia. Although the Kremlin’s displays of bellicosity should have given us ample warning, the Russian invasion of Georgia caught the West unprepared. At the time of writing, one- third of the country is still occupied. Whether a new Cold War has indeed broken out or we are witnessing a return to great power politics, the crisis in the Caucasus has undoubtedly ushered in a period of global insecurity. In this issue, Edward Lucas and Mary Dejevsky discuss the consequences, while Noel Malcolm explains why the Russian use of Kosovo as a pretext for dismembering Georgia is specious and Ben Judah reports from the region. The greatest danger inherent in this situation is that Western leaders will be distracted by the new Russian threat from attending to the Islamist one.

In a dangerous world, leadership is at a premium. In this issue, we have focused on David Cameron. If, as seems likely, he takes office after the next election, will he provide the kind of leadership that Margaret Thatcher offered at a comparable juncture almost three decades ago? Bruce Anderson, who has long championed his cause, argues that Mr Cameron has these qualities; but Robin Harris, Lady Thatcher’s long-standing adviser, doubts whether it would be wise for him even to try to emulate her. Rodney Leach sets out a European policy that would enable the Tory leader to escape the divisions that have bedevilled his predecessors. Douglas Murray finds the Cameron brand of rhetoric, which he unflatteringly compares to Barack Obama’s, unconvincing. Indeed, the very weakness of Gordon Brown’s leadership means that Mr Cameron’s qualities will be scrutinised all the more intensively over the coming months. Brave in defence of a beleaguered Georgia, but quick to distance himself from a beleaguered President Bush, Mr Cameron is already on his mettle.

Leadership is not only a matter of courage, but also of honesty. Both are rare. As Charles Murray argues in his critique of educational romanticism, academic success is beyond the reach of a large proportion of children for both genetic and environmental reasons, but it would be a rash politician who dared to say so. Mark Falcoff explains that black and white supporters of Senator Obama have expectations so extravagant and incompatible that disappointment is inevitable, but a presidential candidate will naturally be the last person to disillusion them. Yet people know leadership when they see it. As Gerard Baker suggests in his contrasting profiles of the U.S. vice-presidential candidates, the “slightly terrifying figure” of Sarah Palin has already demonstrated more leadership in her short career than Joe Biden in his long one.

One reason for this is that she is not afraid to use the language of morality, which has largely been banished from the political arena; indeed, even religious leaders are often reluctant to pass judgment. Pope Benedict XVI is an exception, but as George Weigel shows, his stature has grown since his election thanks to this readiness to avoid moral equivocation. More embattled than ever before, the West will only survive if its leaders, whether spiritual or temporal, are able to speak, like Ronald Reagan, of an “evil empire” that must not merely be contained, but defeated.

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