Presidents Day is a United States holiday that commemorates the contributions of all US Presidents by celebrating the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. For many reasons, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are leaders who the American People should respect and honor, but they are also great leaders who all the Peoples of the world can respect. More importantly, great men like Washington and Lincoln offer lessons to those currently in positions of authority, especially when considering the need to solve numerous crises across the globe.
A tough and demanding General, President George Washington was an extremely cordial, selfless man who served others. Even on his death bed, Washington’s concern for others shone brightly when he noticed a slave named Christopher Sheels was exhausted. Instead of ignoring the slave’s discomfort, Washington offered the man a seat by his side. Washington was a great leader and man, because he considered the perspectives of others and treated others as he expected to be treated. George Washington was a servant of others, which is an example all public officials should follow.
George Washington was a man who achieved many things. Unlike many great leaders throughout history, however, he gave up power at the end of his Presidency, thus solidifying his legacy. Unfortunately, the leaders of today see themselves as indispensible and their ideas as irrefutable. They believe their nations cannot survive without them. In countries like Russia, Syria, North Korea, China, Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand, this attitude is self-evident. In the US, the European Union, and elsewhere, this mentality is also demonstrated by the elitist mindset of the political leadership.
Looking at the example of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his unwillingness to even consider abandoning his chances at a third term as the Islamic State marched across his country demonstrated the problem with Iraqi leadership, i.e. they were concerned with their own interests. A lack of confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister al-Maliki meant he could not lead, even though he was the most qualified candidate. This is the nature of governance. When the People have no faith and no confidence in their leadership, leaders cannot expect their countrymen to follow their lead.
Although al-Maliki ultimately gave up power and Iraq continues to struggle with a legacy of poor governance, the underlying problem was that the Iraqi leadership lived in a bubble where their sole goal was to sustain their influence and privilege. Even though public officials continued to break for vacation at that time, the Iraqi government was on the verge of collapse, so their pursuit of power was complete and utter madness. Because the Iraq military could not function without US support and the al-Maliki government further weakened the armed forces for personal gain, the rise of the Islamic State was made possible.
Where most governments of the world are currently stable, the key lesson from the Iraq example is that political leaders cannot hope to address critical issues when they are consumed by their own selfish pursuit of power, wealth, and self-preservation. No matter how great, no leader is indispensible while no one has the answers to all the problems of the world. Great leaders are great leaders, because they serve others and respect others. More importantly, history only judges leaders to be great when they abdicate their authority before their selfish grip on power destroys their legacies.
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