Searching for Leadership, Finding Putin: America Cannot Afford to Lead from Behind

Vladimir Putin unveiling ceremony for the statue of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Photo by Republic of Korea.

In this world in which we live, mere existence requires interdependence, cooperation, leaders, and followers. Even those on top look up to someone. Opera Winfrey claims Nelson Mandela has been a constant source of inspiration in her life; Pope Francis, one of the most powerful people in the world, follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and looks to God for guidance; and the Dalai Lama says Mahatma Gandhi inspires him. Ultimately, everyone follows someone.

When discussing leadership, it is important to recognize history shows spectacular leaders can be horrific people who seek to destroy lives and liberty. Likewise, truly wonderful, compassionate people can have terrible leadership skills. The difference between the ambiguous definitions of “good” and “bad” leaders is essentially leadership talent versus leadership intent. Both leadership and followership are intrinsically part of human nature. When leadership is scarce and people are afraid, they have a tendency to overlook moral shortcomings in search of a strong new leader.

Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr. often appear side-by-side when others discuss the world’s most influential leaders. Both were undeniably effective and talented. Hitler was a “good” leader with horrible intentions, and King was an exceptional leader with an immensely important and righteous cause. Both men changed the world because of their leadership skills, but obviously in profoundly different ways.

How can relatively similar societies choose Hitler over leaders such as King, or vice versa? Unfortunately, as the saying goes: Desperate times call for desperate measures. The grim conditions in Germany in the early 1930s led to the rise of Hitler, who spoke with strength and offered solutions to a society in desperate need of help. Had an equally charismatic leader with a commitment to liberty arose at the same time as Hitler, the world may be a completely different place.

There are multiple examples of leaders in power today that the United States considers bad or even evil. The Middle East is riddled with morally repugnant leaders. North Korea, too, is plagued with evil leadership. Russian President Vladimir Putin has a questionable history when it comes to morality (to say the least). When good leadership fails to emerge, people turn to strong, talented, and promising leaders—despite obvious moral ineptitudes.

Thankfully, the United States of America is not in a state of complete desperation. If we were, who knows what kind of leader we would entrust with our lives. As the emergence of support from U.S. citizens on social media for Mr. Putin shows, Americans are flawed human beings in the same way Germans in the early 20th century were. The rise in support for Putin presents a scary reminder that when leadership is weak at home, people will look elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of Americans feel Putin is a stronger enemy to the Islamic State than President Barack Obama, whose rhetoric and actions lack real power or condemnation.

Unfortunately, most Americans who praise Putin know very little about his history of violence.

Putin has been accused many times of eliminating those who disagree with his ideology and absolute power. A great number of Putin’s opponents have mysteriously gone missing—only to turn up weeks or months later dead. Others find themselves behind bars after speaking out against him.

Mr. Emmerson, the QC for the family of one of Putin’s alleged victims believes Putin is a “morally deranged authoritarian.” These claims of corruption and criminal actions against President Putin are not uncommon. Yet, while opposition increases within Russia, Putin continues to gain support worldwide due to his strong stance against terrorism.

That is not to say the United States should not work with President Putin to defeat terrorism, but issues accompany such cooperation. First, allowing Putin to lead the crusade against terrorism is a dangerous and irresponsible choice by U.S. leadership. The United States cannot allow Putin to lead this coalition, for distributing leadership responsibility to Russia positions America as subservient.

Second, we must understand the motivation behind Putin’s cooperation. Russian born-journalist Masha Gassen claims Putin has no strategy, but rather a mission “to influence civilization and bring back traditional values.” She believes the presence of a mission and lack of strategy makes it difficult for the United States to understand and predict Putin’s actions.

Worldwide, people are desperate to eradicate terrorism, but the only powerful international figure that has emerged to face the Islamic State is President Vladimir Putin. Neglecting our role as world leaders is not an option. If the United States fails to lead, Putin will assume that responsibility. The Obama administration is taking no action to regain a position of power and influence. Consequently, when U.S. leadership fails to lead, the result is increased support for the morally questionable Putin.

As history has shown over and over, in dark times, which are certainly on their way, people will follow those who they see as powerful—even to their own destruction. This is precisely what will happen if the United States continues to slide into the background in the fight against global Islamic terrorism.

Obama has proven that he is both incapable and unwilling to lead the United States. While his moral intent as a leader is remarkably unknown, his ability to lead is strikingly nonexistent. Contrast this with President Putin, whose moral intent is frighteningly questionable, but his ability to lead is obvious. It may seem impossible for some Americans to believe Putin could ever be seen as a viable alternative to American leadership, but those naysayers existed in the 1930s as well. We must learn from history; otherwise, we’ll be doomed to repeat it.

Krista Cutcliff ( is assistant editor at the New Revere Daily Press. 

Photo: Vladimir Putin unveiling ceremony for the statue of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Photo by Republic of Korea.

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