Every now and then someone emerges on the world scene to lead not because of ambition but because of what matters: the strength and the enduring quality of their character; the nobility of their purpose; and the wisdom, compassion, and humility that has been evenly deployed during a full life’s span of challenges and tests. Most would argue that Vaclav Havel is such a leader. Rather than seek shelter in the life of privilege into which he was born, he suffered humiliation and isolation because he refused to capitulate on the fundamental values that underpin life and civilization as it should be. He did so ingloriously and in obscurity, without any thought that his suffering might one day be rewarded, much less known to millions of admirers later, when in his second life, he led his country through the Velvet Revolution, the Velvet Separation, and gave voice to the promotion and defense of human dignity and freedom around the world. We can be grateful that providence or destiny placed him in his country and our world in this time.
Michael Zantovsky, a life long confidant to President Havel who served as his spokesperson and ambassador to the United States, caught up with the former president recently as he reports in these pages. Quite accomplished himself, Zantovsky is the Czech Republic’s current ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in London. A psychiatrist by training, a writer by virtue, and a public servant by his country’s good fortune, Zantovsky takes us up close to the remarkable and resilient Havel where he finds his health vastly improved, his spirit resolute, his sense of humor and irony intact, and apparently well into his third life.
Speaking of the fundamental values that underpin life and civilization as it should be, journalist Melik Kaylan recalls his days amidst the Iraqi people, and makes an incisive and insightful case that the United States failed to promote Western values when Iraq was hungry for them (when Saddam Hussein fell). Instead, whilst the ideological vacuum sucked the desert air, Washington deferred the battleground of ideas to the “devout, the primitive, and the uneducated whose values would now dominate society.” Rather than launch an aggressive and meaningful public diplomacy effort into the battle, Kaylan writes that America demurred because it had fallen victim to its own political correctness: “Clouded by notions of cultural relativism and cultural imperialism . . . we have ceased to believe that we have anything to teach other cultures, even those that are demonstrably backward and destructive of their individuals’ prospects.”
I am reminded by Scooter Libby’s piece on Turkey (coauthored with Hillel Fradkin) that sometimes Washington’s ugly and surreal politics not only smears men and women of integrity, but also denies the country of the services of individuals whose knowledge and expertise are needed. In their article, Libby and Fradkin peel away layers of Middle East history and the current maneuvering in the Muslim World to help us better understand the continuation of the ancient struggle for power between Iran and Turkey, and the very real challenges this “new configuration of power and ambition” represents for America.
Gary Moore has been covering Latin America since the early ’80s. I first met him when he was breaking bread with the opposing forces in the guerilla wars in Central America. Now, he amuses himself by exploring Mexico’s drug trade, the violence and wealth it spews, and the cartels and gangs that nurture and profit from it. He is one of those guys who ventures where the delicate and pampered—and sometimes the plain sensible—of his trade tend to avoid. His writing on the drug wars will give you a perspective that will enlighten, bewilder, and disturb.
In this issue you will also read about how Joseph Stalin and his reign of terror are being exhumed and rehabilitated in a frenzy of historical revisionism in Russia. Contributors Marek Chodakiewicz and Tomasz Sommer explain how leading researchers and historians in Russia have discovered that Stalin, misrepresented and misunderstood for years, wasn’t so bad after all when you acknowledge the complicated context, the larger forces at play, and that a transitioning Russia needs a strong leader anyway. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but one wonders how such a line also suits the purposes of Russia’s contemporary strongmen. Speaking of disturbing contradictions, it’s difficult not to get a tad queasy when the Obama administration, as any other administration likely would, has little choice but to cozy up to dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov in order to maintain adequate supply routes to support troops in the Afghan war zone. Philip Shishkin brings this stark and unpleasant reality to our attention in his comprehensive piece. Hold your nose.
There’s more here—America’s declining fleet and the absence of a Grand Strategy and an interesting look at what makes Syria’s Bashar al-Assad tick and why it may be his undoing. And, there’s more to come—ranging from the myth of the benefits of trade with China, to the dangers it represents—and, on to how and where the new Congress and President Obama can find areas of common ground and accomplish something in the national interest.
Our contributors and I look forward to your thoughts.
— James S. Denton