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Mandela On Leadership July 20, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.

There has been persistent controversy throughout this election cycle on the proper conduct of foreign policy vis a vis our “enemies”, with Obama expressing a willingness to talk to Iran about common interests in the Middle East and McCain promising to continue the Bush Administration’s policy of moral grandstanding (“they hate us for our freedom”), intimidation, and violence.


Time magazine’s recent cover story on Nelson Mandela’s 8 Lessons of Leadership is interesting for the light it casts on the kind of leader we need in perilous times. Imprisoned for 27 years in a South African prison for violent political activities directed against the apartheid regime, Mandela upon his release led the movement to liberate the country “from a system of violent prejudice and helped unite white and black, oppressor and oppressed, in a way that had never been done before”—through negotiation and reconciliation.


Among Mandela’s “lessons of leadership”, three in particular stand out:


Know your enemy–and learn about is favorite sport


Keep your friends close–and your rivals even closer


Nothing is black or white.


These are important because they encourage both an understanding of the kind of leverage needed for successful negotiation and the trust required to encourage people to take political risks. Most human beings (and nations) share common interests on which they are willing to act if we can get enough of these shared interests on the table, and there are sufficient assurances that they aren’t being suckered.


Mandela’s precepts are a far cry from the blustering blowhard Bush and his little sycophant McCain gleefully singing about bombing Iran. Both have exhibited stunning ignorance about the Middle East, a region that is so central to our interests. Of course, Bush has belatedly begun to change his tune, negotiating (finally) an agreement with North Korea on their nuclear weapons that essentially gets us back to the rapproachment negotiated by Clinton. In addition, the Bush Administration is proposing to open a limited diplomatic mission in Iran and appears to be moving precisely toward Obama’s position (now endorsed by the Iraqi leadership as well) of a phased, secure withdrawal from Iraq and greater attention to Afghanistan.


All this is to the good, but if we elect McCain we will have 4 or (perish the thought) 8 more years of a conservative cock strutting about the world stage trying to prove his manhood, while we wait for him to learn simple lessons about persuasion.



1. Paul Moloney - July 27, 2008

Nelson Mandela’s thinking on leadership can be applied by those doing philosophy.

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