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[Martin Schram] Challenges of a leader-lite world

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 21, 2023 - 05:31

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The Donald and Bibi are two of a kind. Among the things they have in common is that they are not up to coping with the challenges of today.

We are about to see why.

The world has been watching as these two men well into their 70s, with courtroom trials pending, have appeared willing to do whatever it takes to regain or retain the power – and not end up in jail. Even if it meant shattering their nation’s democracy. They have seemed desperate to remain in control. Until things exploded out of control.

Jan. 6. Oct. 7.

In the run-up to America’s Inauguration Day 2021, still-President Donald Trump was scheming to break his democracy’s election system. He hoped to overturn or at least decertify the 2020 election he knew he’d lost. Trump wanted more than merely massive protests. Trump wanted “wild.” And on Jan. 6, watching TV, Trump finally saw his kind of good news: Bashing, bloodshed, Capitol cops overrun; senators and representatives fleeing in fear. For hours, Trump did nothing to stop it.

In 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while famously on trial for three corruption crimes that he says he did not commit, unveiled a controversial proposal to weaken the Supreme Court’s judicial review power, a foundation of Israel’s democracy. Protests erupted. Netanyahu tore his country apart as never before.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu had begun a series of secret schemes that backfired and helped enable Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion. Because Netanyahu’s religious far-right coalition hopes to control the entire West Bank, his government diverted Israel’s military and intel forces from Hamas-ruled Gaza and refocused them on the Palestinian West Bank. Netanyahu thought Hamas would cause him no trouble because he was covertly buying off Hamas with Qatar’s money. But Hamas conned Netanyahu and attacked a surprised, defenseless southern Israel.

Why did Hamas act now? Hamas’s prime terror financer, Iran, desperately wanted to stop Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States from normalizing relations with Israel. Hamas goaded Israel into massive retaliation bombing aimed at Hamas troops and arsenals that were hidden underground, beneath the apartments of the Gaza’s Palestinian civilians they were allegedly protecting.

On Oct. 7, as Hamas attackers slaughtered, raped, mutilated and kidnapped defenseless Israelis, Netanyahu’s vaunted military wasn’t there to save Israel’s civilians. Netanyahu did what Hamas expected, massive bombing that first killed thousands of Hamas’ human shields. Soon the world was wallpapered with visuals of Israel killing Palestinian civilians. Global outrage and antisemitism erupted. It became the worst of times for Saudis to ally with Israel. Iran and Hamas high-fived.

In today’s world, we can no longer allow the Trumps and Netanyahus to be running things. After all, a more globally savvy Netanyahu could have done more to project Israel’s global presence and humanity – even after the shock of Oct. 7.

Leadership today isn’t about the left or right, nor the young or old. While Americans and Israelis should realize by now they cannot expect Trump or Netanyahu to rise to such an occasion, if a Ronald Reagan-type communicator were with us today, we sure could see him fulfilling our leadership vacuum.

Leading in today’s world comes down to having the vision and guts to meet the challenge of the moment. Even when it is unexpected. We need that now more than ever.

Epilogue: Imagine a perceptive Israeli prime minister who anticipated how the world would erupt after Israel’s necessary retaliation – but understood how to help Israel get on the humane side of civilian-protecting.

Picture that globally savvy Israeli prime minister appealing to the world after Oct. 7, in a remote speech to the United Nations – and truthfully redefining the global challenge of this crisis moment:

“Citizens of the world, we face a unique challenge. Yes, Israel must retaliate against our Hamas invaders who vow they will exterminate Israel. But we must secure the freedom of not just one, but two different sets of hostages Hamas has simultaneously imprisoned in Gaza.

“One hostage set is the 248 people Hamas kidnapped in Israel – including women, children and the elderly.

“The other hostage set numbers perhaps 1 million civilian Gaza Palestinians who Hamas trapped into being their human shields. Hamas’ rulers and troops are hiding underground, beneath their apartments. Hamas knows those innocent Palestinians will die first when Israel bombs in retaliation. Hamas does not care. But Israel cares. And the world cares.

“We live alongside our Palestinian fellow-citizens of Israel. They are as repulsed as we were by those videos of Hamas invaders killing babies, raping women – and cheering as they did it. We are asking the United Nations to lead a world effort to free both sets of Hamas hostages.

“We want to work with all the world, even as we must pursue our attackers.”

Martin Schram

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. – Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)