Rafidah Aziz, CC TOO and Civil Servants of Yore–The Handling of Deviant Muslims

July 19, 2016

Rafidah Aziz, CC TOO and Civil Servants of Yore–The Handling of Deviant Muslims

by KJ John


I remember, in 1992, some of us made an official fence-mending trip to Australia after Dr Mahathir Mohamad earned the ‘recalcitrant’ label. Our then-international trade and industry minister led the trip. In Perth and Canberra, one of the questions asked by the journalists of the minister was, “Are you a fundamentalist?”

MITI Minister Rafidah Aziz –“An Intellectual and an Intuitive Scholar who understood concepts and ideas”–KJ John

Minister Rafidah Aziz was a lecturer and was supposed to pursue a Colombo Plan scholarship for a doctorate when the then-PM, Hussein Onn, invited her to join his cabinet as Parliamentary Secretary based in the Finance Ministry. She never looked back.

Being also an intellectual and an intuitive scholar, she understood concepts and ideas well. So, most journalists who asked questions without much thought usually got their pound of flesh taken, too. She is the same with journalists as with officers; whether in Malaysia or overseas. Most unassured journalists or officers cannot handle her.

Fundamentalist Muslim

While the words ‘fundamentalist Muslims’ were the phrase of the day then, today’s words are ‘radical Islam’, or even extremist Muslims. Now, if we do not know the factual difference between these concepts; we are going to have serious problems, or as two of our Muslim scholars who are professionals wrote: “We are on the slippery slope and road to anarchy.”

Minister Rafidah was not only smart but was usually a teacher as well with officers and journalists, even though she did never suffer fools. Therefore, she answered the Australian journalist’s question by first explaining that most average Muslims in Malaysia were fundamental Muslims; which means, they believe in the fundamentals of Islam. But she also always clarified that they were not extremist Muslims. What is the difference?

Extremities in science are those who fall outside of two standard deviations of the mean. Please review your basic statistics if you do not follow my argument. Within the normal distribution curve; the middle majority can be divided into two halves, i.e. those who are the early majority and those who are the late majority to any new idea for change. Both groups are fundamentalist Muslims as defined earlier; but they cannot be called extremists.

Extremists are those who take an extreme view of the interpretation of the fundamental precepts of Islam; as in, they are literalists in terms of interpretation of scriptures. They do not believe and argue against any philosophical view of the particular verses of scripture. Theirs is a single and closed interpretation as per their source of authority as interpreters of their scripture.

In that view, only ‘experts’ can interpret scriptures; all others are not qualified. Sounds to me like the Catholic Church before the Copernican revolution.

Finally there are always the radicals in every faith system. Who then are they? These are really anarchists who condemn the entire human enterprise and want to see it destroyed for the promise of what lies ahead; in their view and vision of the other world and for eternity.

They fully and truly believe such in their hearts and minds. They then can also become self-appointed caliphs to usher in their version of their ‘kingdom of God’. They want to see their view of the world established, by the force of their will. It is always a contradiction in terms.

Do we have deviants in Malaysia?

More than 95 percent of Malaysian Muslims are Sunnis and of the Shafie sect in terms of interpretation. Then there are Ismailis, Shiites and Ahmadiyaa. These all however only make up less than 5 percent of Muslims in Malaysia. All Muslims, by official records, make up 62 percent of all Malaysians.

Now, based on the normal distribution curve of Muslims, I suspect about 90 percent belong in the middle majority category and I would call the majority the urban Malay Muslims. These are about equally divided between literalists while the other half are Muslims who consider that verses can be philosophical with their interpretation of and practice of Muslim Scriptures. I would label them conservatives and moderates in terms of interpretation of scripture.

Nonetheless, all 90 percent of them are progressives in terms of interpretation of all Muslim Scriptures in a modern world and view.

Who then are the deviants? In my view, these are pseudo-scholars of Islam but who push their own versions of truth by the sheer use of force of their interpretation but safeguarded by the false idea that only experts of the Quran and Hadith are qualified as interpreters.

They put aside rationalism or the capacity of the human mind to reason and make choices about right and wrong, and instead prefer to assert blind obedience to one set of interpretations; only theirs.

The majority of Malays are not deviant, by any means of differentiation and regardless of who does the classification of typologies. The reality is, however, that in the modern world it is the noisy minority who get heard and voices are amplified. Statistically, these deviants make up less the 2 percent of the entire population of Malay Muslims.

Terrorism in Malaysia

Between the years 1948-1960, Malaysia fought against the most militant form of deviants deploying terror that the nation state has ever seen. There were militant Malayans who were committed to communist ideals and standing against colonialism. That period of war against these terrorists was called and declared ‘The Emergency’.

The government representatives then finally met with Chin Peng and they signed a peace accord to officially end that war in 1989. My question to the inspector-general of police (IGP) today is: if our war against communists are over, who then is your new terrorists? Who is the prime target of the Royal Malaysian Police for today and tomorrow? Are you serious about focussing only on the political opposition?

Dear IGP, in the mid-1970s, I used to take our Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) Officers at the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) to their one-week training at the Police College in Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB). One of the most exciting lecturers was none other than CC Too. I was privileged to have met him in KKB then.

My question to the new Royal Police College is and the IGP is: which room, or library, or which hall in Police College is named after this great man? If none, just please tell me why?

CC Too was born as  (Tan Sri) Too Chee Chew. In January 1957 he was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) and the Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) in 1986 which carried the title of Tan Sri. He was head of the Psychological Warfare Division of the police. If anyone Malayan ever was singly responsible to “win the war of hearts and minds in Malaya”, it would be him. We should never forget him for our Merdeka.

He also served as a consultant to the US military at Fort Leavenworth, and in the Vietnam War and also for the Korean War. Do we therefore really need to go to US to learn about how to deal with home-grown radicals and deviants who are deviants, Mr IGP? Please let us honour the man, understand his methodology and apply them to again get rid of deviants from Malaysia.

KJ JOHN, PhD from The George Washington University, Washington  DC, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.

So it must be for ever

July 16, 2016

So it must be for ever

by Thomas Meaney

  • American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers by Perry Anderson
    Verso, 244 pp, £14.99, March 2014, ISBN 978 1 78168 667 6
  • A Sense of Power: The Roots of America’s Global Role by John A. Thompson
    Cornell, 343 pp, £19.95, October 2015, ISBN 978 0 8014 4789 1
  • A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s by Daniel J. Sargent
    Oxford, 369 pp, £23.49, January 2015, ISBN 978 0 19 539547 1


‘It is a sign of true political power when a great people can determine, of its own will, the vocabulary, the terminology and the words, the very way of speaking, even the way of thinking, of other peoples,’ Carl Schmitt wrote in 1932, at the wick’s end of the Weimar Republic. Schmitt, the most formidable legal and strategic mind in Germany, who would join the Nazi Party the following year, was thinking of America. The US was already the unrivaled hegemon of its hemisphere. Schmitt admired its ample living space and its protected position between two oceans. Americans had cleared out the native populations and intervened as they pleased in the Latin south. It would be harder going for the Germans in Europe.

For Schmitt what was extraordinary about the American empire was the way it added to its geographical advantage by continually re-figuring the nature of its triumph. US imperialism would go by other names: Manifest Destiny, Greater America, the American Century, the Free World, Internationalism. Colonies and dependencies were rarely declared outright: Americans knew how to conceal an empire, territorial or otherwise. (Who made a fuss in the 1950s when the US continued to add stars to its flag while Europe started disgorging its colonies, or noticed that, until the decolonisation of the Philippines in 1946, the number of US subjects overseas exceeded the number of black Americans on the mainland?) Schmitt found the sharpest expression of America’s imperial precociousness in the Monroe Doctrine, a quasi-legal fiat issued in 1823 from a position of relative weakness: the US decreed that European powers were barred from meddling in its zone of influence; inside that zone, it would decide what was peace, what was intervention, and what was security. For National Socialists in the 1930s, the power to make all legal questions of sovereignty answer to political exigency was a tantalising prospect. ‘As a German making remarks about American imperialism,’ Schmitt wrote, ‘I can only feel like a beggar in rags speaking about the riches and treasures of foreigners.’

The problem for the Germans was that just as they were trying to make their own Grossraum a reality – Hitler called it a ‘Monroe Doctrine for Europe’ – the Americans were dreaming of becoming a global power. This step was not as obvious or inevitable as it may now appear. Americans before the Second World War spoke less of the country’s exceptional primacy than of its exceptional aloofness from European-style power politics. They prided themselves on being above espionage, diplomatic intrigue and standing armies; they preferred to speak of international legal solutions and courts of arbitration. The possibility of a German-controlled Europe made such detachment harder to sustain. As the liberal historian John Thompson shows in A Sense of Power, it was neither the threat that the Germans and Japanese posed to the US mainland that drove the country into the war, nor the imperative to secure international markets, since the US economy in the 1940s was overwhelmingly based on domestic growth and consumption.

The chief motive behind America’s entry into the war, Thompson argues persuasively, was that its leaders realised that it would cost them relatively little to bend the world in the political direction they wanted. To justify intervention, Roosevelt had to tack between security concerns and economic ones, which he exaggerated for effect. ‘Wages and hours would be fixed by Hitler,’ he told the public on the radio, while ‘the American farmer would get for his products exactly what Hitler wanted to give.’ And in an age of air power, the US could no longer set faith in the oceans’ protection, not to mention the threat that a German invasion of Brazil posed to America’s supply of the minerals and metals it needed for its weaponry. ‘Do we want to see Hitler in Independence Hall making fun of the Liberty Bell?’ William Bullitt, Roosevelt’s Ambassador to France, asked a year before Pearl Harbor.

US war planners were already envisioning the utopia to come. Its premise was the defeat of Germany and Japan, but also the break-up of European empires into a world of discrete nation-states, each with its own liberal multi-party system and regular elections and each umbilically connected to the dollar. The Trusteeship System of the United Nations would serve as an incubator for premature nations, coaxing them from colonial rule into statehood, or in the case of some American holdings, towards a convenient grey zone between colony and military base. In this utopia the US was to be at once the summa of world history, never to be equaled, and the model that would have to be followed. The planners drafted blueprints for the United Nations as a way to package ‘internationalism’ for an American public assumed to be reluctant to prolong its global mission.

As the historian Stephen Wertheim has recently found, ‘isolationism’ wasn’t a word with much currency before the war; New Dealers fashioned it into a term of abuse to tar dissenters from US globalism – including those at home who were still committed to the equal legal status of all nations. ‘There is literally no question, military or political, in which the United States is not interested,’ Roosevelt told a weary Stalin in 1944. The Kremlin would have been more comfortable keeping to some form of a zones-of-influence system for a while longer, a wish shared by many ‘wise men’ of the West, from Alexandre Kojève to George Kennan, who preferred a world of bounded empires to one of nation-states. But by war’s end no one was in a position to gainsay the broad shape of the Pax Americana.

Perry Anderson, in American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, his first sustained critique of US power, concentrates on two unstable compounds in the empire’s image of itself, both of which crystallised in the decisive postwar years, when it was still unclear how American utopianism would adjust to postwar realities. The first such ‘compound’ is made up of two elements, exceptionalism and universalism, which Anderson treats as analytically distinct impulses. Providential exceptionalism came first, originating in the Puritans’ attempt to build a ‘city upon a hill’ that would impress the England they had left behind. At least in theory, Anderson suggests, American exceptionalism could be modest. Here he is on firm ground. One of the most forceful denunciations of American expansionism was made eight years before the expression ‘manifest destiny’ first appeared in print, when the leading Unitarian preacher, William Ellery Channing, warned that America’s ‘sublime moral empire’ should ‘diffuse freedom by manifesting its fruits’, since ‘there is no Fate to justify rapacious nations, any more than to justify gamblers and robbers, in plunder.’

American universalism, in Anderson’s view, is more dangerous. It was effectively propagated by Woodrow Wilson, who saw the entire world as a receptacle for America’s values. ‘Lift your eyes to the horizons of business,’ Anderson quotes him telling American salesmen, ‘and with the inspiration of the thought that you are Americans and are meant to carry liberty and justice and the principles of humanity wherever you go, go out and sell goods that will make the world more comfortable and more happy, and convert them to the principles of America.’ On the face of it, the message sounds like Channing’s call to spread American values through non-forcible means, but the circumstances had changed. In 1910 the country’s economic output was higher than that of Germany, France and Japan combined; by the middle of the First World War, it had surpassed that of the British Empire. The country’s excess material power opened fresh possibilities for what Anderson calls ‘messianic activism’.

The second of Anderson’s unstable compounds is the tension between the needs of American supremacy and the needs of global capitalism. For much of the postwar era, US leaders rarely bothered to distinguish between the two: the build-up of US power and capitalist husbandry went hand in hand. When they were forced to prioritise, American leaders tended to privilege political-military global leadership over the needs of capital, with the expectation that this would be better for capitalism in the long run. At Bretton Woods, the US triumphantly established the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and created supporting institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF. Over the cries of Wall Street banks, which demanded a much less constricting set of controls and were privately exploring the idea of lending Europeans reconstruction funds, the Truman administration embarked on a programme dedicated to economic stability. The reconstruction of Japan and Europe – which American historians persist in presenting as unique acts of beneficence – was undertaken to ensure the bedrock of the world capitalist system, even if that meant keeping the European empires on their feet a bit longer. ‘The US state,’ Anderson writes, ‘would henceforward act, not primarily as a projection of the concerns of US capital, but as a guardian of the general interest of all capitals, sacrificing – where necessary, and for as long as needed – national gain for international advantage, in the confidence of ultimate pay-off.’

The drama of US foreign policy for Anderson comes in the way the country and its policy elite balance the requirements of global capitalism with what they perceive as the national interest. From the 1940s to the 1970s, these interests were blurred, sometimes more than Washington could tolerate. Truman complained that the first draft of his doctrine for containing communism in Europe read too much like ‘an investment prospectus’. Anderson’s survey doesn’t parse the different types of US intervention in the global south, but these could be roughly plotted along his axes of global capital and national interest. US-backed coups in Guatemala and Grenada were salves for regional irritants, but the meddling in Iran and Congo was undertaken in the general interest of global capital and the US-led world order at large.

By the early 1970s, it was apparent that global capital wasn’t serving the US as effectively as the US was serving it. ‘The remit of the imperial state beyond the requirements of national capital,’ Anderson writes, ‘was for the first time under pressure.’ Since the war, the US had privileged the economic self-interest of its recovering allies, accepting their protectionism and an overvalued dollar as the price to be paid for its political hegemony. But the Vietnam War had depleted the Treasury, escalated inflation and upset the balance of payments, which only worsened when Nixon removed controls on US corporate investment abroad. The total value of dollars outside the country soon exceeded the government’s gold reserves. France under De Gaulle attacked the greenback with purchases of bullion, sending a cruiser to New York to pick up its share. Describing Nixon as ‘the only president with an original mind in foreign policy’, Anderson counts his decision to sever gold from the dollar and his declaration of the end of the Bretton Woods system as a remarkable coup de main. ‘The principles of free trade, the free market and the solidarity of the free world,’ he writes, ‘could not stand in the way of the national interest.’ Or as John Connally, Nixon’s militantly economic nationalist Treasury Secretary, put it, ‘The foreigners are out to screw us. It’s our job to screw them first.’

But, as the historian Daniel Sargent notes in his shrewd reconstruction of this episode, the tactic was ‘less purposeful than ironic’. Nixon had intended to threaten Europeans with a dollar devaluation that would improve the US trade balance, restore American employment and better his chances of re-election. The plan was to embark on a temporary period of floating currencies before a return to the status quo; no one in the Nixon administration wanted to give up control of the monetary order to market forces. No one, that is, except for Connally’s successor, George Shultz, a University of Chicago economist who beat Kissinger in the bureaucratic turf war and committed the country headlong to floating currencies and the free flow of capital without national controls. (Kissinger worried that the policy Shultz called for would encourage a hostile bloc of Western European economies to form, shattering the Atlantic Alliance.)

Nixon’s economic demarche had begun as an attempt to protect US markets and insulate them from capital flows, but it turned out, in Anderson’s telling, to be a boon for both capital markets and US power, which could now manipulate world currency valuations by means of Federal Reserve interest rate adjustments. Wall Street, sceptical at first of a departure from fixed-exchange markets, learned to love the new order.

It is a sign of the limited intellectual range of American diplomatic historians that when Anderson’s critique first appeared in the pages of New Left Review, they detected an update of William Appleman Williams’s New Left classic, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959). But Anderson’s picture of American imperialism departs from several presuppositions of New Left historiography. He salutes Williams and the ‘Wisconsin School’ – the prairie populist tradition associated with him – but he also makes a point of distancing himself from it. In particular, Williams’s contention that American imperialism was grounded in the ideology of the ‘open door’ – which began with the US’s determination to be granted equal access and fair treatment in China’s European-dominated port cities – and the continuous extension of American capitalism towards ever larger markets, first across the continent, then across the Pacific and beyond, doesn’t square with Anderson’s view of a predominantly protectionist United States before the Second World War, the Republican Party having long equated the ‘conspiracy of free trade’ with British imperial interference with growing American industry. What for Williams is a story of continuous American economic expansion is for Anderson a story of the way Americans came to conflate the global capitalist system with the projection of their own national power, continually looking past the fissures in their own ideology and interests.

Anderson’s interpretation has more in common with the Swedish left historian Anders Stephanson, along with several putatively conservative critics of American empire, among them Chalmers Johnson, who argued in his Blowback trilogy that US imperialism ‘breeds some of the most important contradictions of capitalism’ – not the other way round – and that much of post-1989 US policy, from the inflicting of the 1998 financial crisis on the Asian Tigers to the current push for the TTP and TTIP, has been aimed at prying open markets that the US was content during the Cold War to give leave to be protectionist and heterodox. Unlike Johnson, however, Anderson doesn’t chase down equivalences between the Soviet Union and the US, with the Eastern European nations mirroring the US’s satellites in East Asia, Japan figuring as America’s East Germany, and the Kwanju massacre as America’s more murderous version of Tiananmen Square. The competition was never close to equal in Anderson’s telling, which finds support in rich new archival studies, such as Oscar Sanchez-Sibony’s Red Globalisation, which shows how desperate the Soviet Bloc was to participate in Western markets as early as the 1950s, and Jeremy Friedman’s Shadow Cold War, which lays out the immense cost of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary posture in the Third World, a beleaguered and misguided attempt to maintain radical credibility against the allure of Maoism.

Anderson’s critique of American power is also distinctive in a more basic sense. Many of the most prominent American critics of US imperialism came to their positions while serving as ‘spear-carriers of empire’, in Johnson’s phrase. Williams’s thinking grew out of the racism he witnessed as an ensign in the US Navy, and his narrow escape from taking part in the nuclear tests on Bikini Island. Johnson, himself a US Navy veteran of the Korean War, was a consultant to the Office of National Estimates in the CIA, and a longtime academic Cold Warrior. Along with perhaps the most prominent contemporary conservative critic, the former US Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, Johnson expected US globalism to readjust after the downfall of the Soviet Union. When no such adjustment came – in fact, the number of bases expanded – these critics began to question whether American globalism really grew out of the need for Soviet containment. Their scepticism was bolstered by first-hand disgust with imperial practices: in Johnson’s case, the rape culture and environmental devastation he witnessed at US bases in Okinawa; in Bacevich’s, the hubris and technological utopianism of the ‘no-fault operations’ of the Persian Gulf War.

The anti-imperial passion shared by Bacevich, Johnson and Williams issues from their belief that US foreign entanglements, especially in service of the maintenance of global capitalism, threaten a truer version of American republican principles. Each of them has a commitment to what Williams called ‘an open door to revolutions’, his term for a world order where the US doesn’t impose its own economic hegemony and different peoples are able to pursue their own forms of social life.

Anderson entertains no such possibility of redemption. There’s no better republic to go back to, no way to roll back the messianism. Though he doesn’t endorse it, the version of US globalism that seems to interest Anderson most is that of the mid-century émigré geostrategist Nicholas Spykman, who in America’s Strategy in World Politics (1942) – ‘perhaps the most striking single exercise in geopolitical literature of any land’, Anderson says – spared his readers the dogmas of liberal democracy and the free market. Instead, he advised his adopted country to face up to the realities of class warfare, the increasing concentration of wealth and the coming race for resources. The more clear-eyed the US was about its interests, in other words, the less savagery it would perpetrate in the name of idealism. Carl Schmitt counselled something similar in his retirement, when in 1958 he published a platonic dialogue in which an American called ‘MacFuture’ interrupts – Alcibiades-like – a conversation between two German thinkers about geopolitics. MacFuture believes the US has a duty to submit the entire galaxy to a Monroe Doctrine, and that the conquest of space will be a repeat of the conquest of the New World. The Germans feebly try to interest their guest in the notion of limits.

Anderson doesn’t mention another tradition of domestic US anti-imperial critique, Black Internationalism, which bridged the distance between black American intellectuals and their African counterparts in the colonial world, seeking to solder their cause together with appeals to colour-blind communism and pan-Africanism. As Robert Vitalis notes in his book White World Order, Black Power, Black Internationalism was born alongside the white chauvinist version of international relations at the end of the 19th century, when ‘international relations meant race relations.’ The academic field of IR was focused more on the study of global racial hierarchies and the problems of colonial administration than on the abstract interplay of nation-states. Vitalis shows just how preoccupied American IR thinkers were in maintaining white dominance and purity in the colonial world, which of course included their own colonies. Foreign Affairs – still the house IR journal of the US foreign policy establishment – began its life in the 1920s as the Journal of Race Development. The tragedy of Black Internationalism is that some of its most radical advocates – Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, for example – became moderates in their attempt to reform American globalism from within. Meanwhile, some of the most stubborn figures – Rayford Logan, Alain Locke, Merze Tate – were institutionally and financially isolated in the black academy, outside of which their work was ignored. They were nearly forgotten by the following generation of black radicals, who had to cut their anti-imperial critiques from whole cloth in the 1960s and 1970s.

If Anderson’s analysis does have a precursor, it is in the work of Gabriel and Joyce Kolko, two radical historians of the 1960s. Gabriel Kolko’s The Politics of War (1968) – now forgotten, but recognised in its time by Hans Morgenthau and other conservatives as a scathing and persuasive revision of orthodox Cold War history – showed how US policy following the Second World War was dedicated to eradicating the threat of the anti-fascist left, which was poised to sweep elections across the world, especially in Europe and Korea. For the Kolkos, it was this more or less internal threat to the global capitalist system, rather than any possible communist takeover, that Washington couldn’t tolerate. But where the Kolkos found a concerted, coherent strategy among US postwar planners, Anderson sees American strategists cobbling together an ideology that’s less a cover than part of the substance of American imperialism itself. Instead of peeling back American rhetoric to reveal imperial intentions, Anderson examines the way the rhetoric contributes to and shapes those intentions.

The second part of American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers plunges into the contemporary American dreamworld of empire. Anderson has always been attracted to those who speak of the world without euphemism, and he appraises the recent offerings of American ‘Grand Strategists’ with sardonic respect: however rabid or fantastic their conceptions, these are writers who take in the whole globe and describe it in a lucid register aimed at a wide audience. They don’t much condescend to election cycles, party affiliation or the preoccupations of American political science. The two boldest thinkers Anderson treats have much in common ideologically but have very different strategies. In 2014, Robert Kagan published an essay entitled ‘Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: What Our Tired Country Still Owes the World’ in the New Republic. Partly a policy memo directed at the president (Obama promptly called Kagan in for lunch), it was also pitched at American millennials who grew up in the shadow of Afghanistan and Iraq and have little trust in the efficacy of American power. In Kagan’s world, authoritarianism is the default human condition, which only America stands capable of pushing back. Iran, Russia, China: all of these form a new authoritarian front every bit as dangerous as the USSR. ‘What gives the United States the right to act on behalf of a liberal world order?’ Kagan asks. ‘In truth nothing does, nothing beyond the conviction that the liberal order is the most just.’ ‘The liberal order,’ Kagan goes on, ‘was never put to a popular vote. It was not bequeathed by God. It is not the endpoint of human progress.’ So then what does justify it? Its enemies, Kagan declares, which are worse than itself. Just as liberal capitalism’s foes wish to impose their worldview, so America must impose a liberal world order, ‘and as much as we in the West might wish it to be imposed by superior virtue, it is generally imposed by superior power.’ The planet’s silent majority is grateful for this service. ‘Imagine strolling through Central Park,’ Kagan writes, ‘and, after noting how much safer it had become, deciding that humanity must simply have become less violent – without thinking that perhaps the New York Police Department had something to do with it.’ What Kagan calls for is what Schmitt thought impossible: a Monroe Doctrine for the world, which Kagan speaks of as a heavy moral burden. ‘In the international sphere, Americans have had to act as judge, jury, police, and in the case of military action, executioner,’ he writes. So it has been since 1945, so it must be for ever.

At the opposite end of the strategy spectrum from Kagan, Anderson has found a curious specimen. Thomas Barnett is a former Naval Academy instructor, and a self-declared economic determinist who delivers TED talks to the military top brass about the limits of American power. His work, Anderson writes, is ‘not unlike a materialist variant, from the other side of the barricades, of the vision of America in Hardt and Negri’s Empire’. ‘America needs to ask itself,’ Barnett writes in Great Powers (2009), ‘is it more important to make globalisation truly global, while retaining great-power peace and defeating whatever anti-globalisation insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead? Or do we tether our support for globalisation’s advance to the upfront demand that the world first resembles us politically?’

For Barnett, the answer is clear: America must trust in the market, which will solve all strategic problems. Russia? It is experiencing its Gilded Age, and will come around in fifty years. China? Already capitalist anyway, and Xi is just China’s version of Teddy Roosevelt trying to root out corruption and make markets more functional. Iran? Proceed with every deal possible, let the market penetrate, and stop threatening it with military strikes. Tell Israel to back off: Iran will take the position in the Middle East to which its culture and educated population entitle it. North Korea? First let Beijing extract from it all the minerals it needs. Then, when it reaches rock bottom, the Chinese will invite the South Koreans in to clean up the mess. In a world so tilted in the US’s favour, Barnett calls for drastically reducing the military to a small force with only a handful of bases that will be used to handle terrorist pin-pricks. In every other respect the time has come for stay-at-home capitalist husbandry.

What strikes Anderson about the collection of American strategists he’s assembled is how – despite their radically different worldviews – they all agree that the US will and must remain the supreme world power. In Walter Russell Mead’s eyes, America’s genius, with its special British lineage, is simply too difficult to replicate. In John Ikenberry’s, the world is already signing up to mimic America’s image. To Kagan, American dominance is simply a matter of political will. As Barnett sees it, the US is already so ahead in world history, it’s almost unfair.

As the strategist Christopher Layne, one of the rare dissenting voices in Anderson’s account, points out, when American foreign policy pundits speak of the ‘post-American world’, what they really mean is ‘the Now and Forever American World’. The presidential candidates who tend to win are those who most seamlessly embody the contradictory calls for more vigorous projection of American power on the one hand, and more aggressive globalisation on the other. This is something the Clintons have always understood.

George W. Bush and The Neo-Cons

July  10, 2016

George W. Bush and The Neo-Cons: You Deserve what is coming to you for Naivety in World Affairs and Arrogance 

“Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush….Whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.”–Jean Edward Smith

Review: ‘Bush,’ a Biography as Scathing Indictment

by Peter Baker

For George W. Bush, the summer already looks unbearable. The party he gave his life to will repudiate him by nominating a bombastic serial insulter who makes the famously brash former president look like a museum docent by comparison. And a renowned presidential biographer is weighing in with a judgment that makes Mr. Bush’s gentleman’s Cs at Yale look like the honor roll.

The Vulcans

If Mr. Bush eventually gets a more sympathetic hearing by history, as he hopes, it will not start with Jean Edward Smith’s “Bush,” a comprehensive and compelling narrative punctuated by searing verdicts of all the places where the author thinks the 43rd president went off track. Mr. Smith’s indictment does not track Donald J. Trump’s, but the cumulative effect is to leave Mr. Bush with few defenders in this season of his discontent.

Mr. Smith, a longtime academic and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, made a name for himself in part with masterly biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant, offering historical reassessments of underrated presidents who looked better with the passage of time. With “Bush” he sticks to the original conventional assessment, presenting a shoot-from-the-hip Texan driven by religiosity and immune to the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.

While not a fresh portrait, it is one worth debating at a time when the political class is struggling to understand the meaning of Mr. Trump’s rise. Mr. Trump’s name appears nowhere in “Bush,” but it is clear the populist revolt that propelled him to the verge of the Republican nomination had its roots in Mr. Bush’s presidency, so much so that he easily overcame the former president’s brother Jeb. Mr. Trump rejects much of what George W. Bush stood for, from the war in Iraq and more forgiving immigration policies to free trade and the very notion of compassionate conservatism.

As a biographer, Mr. Smith makes no comparisons with today’s Republican leader, but he sides unmistakably with those who see Mr. Bush’s presidency in the darkest shades, if often for radically different reasons. (Mr. Smith abhors waterboarding terror suspects, for example; Mr. Trump wants it resumed.)

Mr. Smith leaves no mystery where he stands on Mr. Bush’s place in history. The first sentence of his book: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.”

The last: “Whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.”

In between are more than 650 pages of fast-paced if harsh biography. In this telling, Mr. Bush’s religious piety took on messianic fervor leading him to turn democracy promotion into a mission from God. He didn’t listen to the generals and diplomats. He badly bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. He presided over the diminution of American values by authorizing torture and bugging.

'Bush' by Jean Edward Smith'

The Face of the Agent of God’s Will

“Believing he was the agent of God’s will, and acting with divine guidance, George W. Bush would lead the nation into two disastrous wars of aggression,” Mr. Smith writes. “Bush’s personalization of the war on terror combined with his macho assertiveness as the nation’s commander in chief,” he adds later, “were a recipe for disaster.”

The value of Mr. Smith’s account is not original reporting but a thorough assimilation of the existing record. Mr. Bush declined to speak with him, as he has with other authors since leaving office. Mr. Smith spoke with both Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, but for the most part relies on the existing body of literature, for a complete history of Mr. Bush’s life.

One notable exception does not actually involve Mr. Bush. In a footnote, Mr. Smith reveals that David H. Petraeus invited him to dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington after his extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell forced his resignation as C.I.A. director. Mr. Petraeus evidently was mulling a comeback. “How did Ike handle the Kay Summersby affair?” he asked.

“Much of the rest of the meal was devoted to my explaining how Eisenhower had put the affair behind him and successfully run for president in 1952,” Mr. Smith reports. He adds that he asked Mr. Petraeus whether the Obama administration had taken advantage of his affair to rid itself of him. “He smiled, but did not reply,” Mr. Smith writes.

Author–Jean Edward Smith

Mr. Smith is more approving of his main subject in moments where Mr. Bush follows his original campaign doctrine of compassionate conservatism. The former president gets high marks for his No Child Left Behind program — intended to improve education, especially for minority students — as well as for expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs and for leading an ambitious fight against AIDS in Africa. Mr. Smith credits Mr. Bush for saving the economy through his bold and counter-intuitive intervention after the financial crash of 2008.

He presents a president who, for all his flaws, was usually gracious and warmhearted, who disdained the sort of divisive bashing that Mr. Trump favors and who went out of his way to make Barack Obama’s transition successful. He rejects the caricature of a president who simply did what his vice president told him to.

Mr. Smith’s fundamental critique is his belief that Mr. Bush overreacted to the terrorist attacks of September. 11, 2001. “The events of 9/11 were tragic, but scarcely catastrophic,” he writes. That led Mr. Bush, in his view, to advance policies that were not justified by the actual danger.

The Patriot Act, he writes, “may be the most ill-conceived piece of domestic legislation since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.” In labeling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil,” Mr. Bush “had spoken without weighing the consequences.” Mr. Bush’s refusal to face up to the fact that Iraq had no unconventional weapons “suggests a willfulness that borders on psychosis.” His second-term Inaugural Address making democracy promotion his major goal “must rank as one of the most ill-considered of all time.”

Mr. Smith takes this indictment further than others by criticizing even the decision to go to war in Afghanistan, suggesting that it was a mistake to conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda. He, of course, has the benefit of hindsight. Even if he is right, few if any leaders in either party at the time argued against the invasion. And what is often overlooked is how Mr. Bush evolved over time and modified his approach to the point that Mr. Obama kept many of his national security policies after taking office.

But if Mr. Bush feels bruised by Mr. Smith’s evaluation, he can commiserate at Kennebunkport, Me., this summer with his father. In 1992, Mr. Smith published “George Bush’s War,” castigating the first President Bush for Operation Desert Storm’s expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

He scorned the 41st president for personalizing world politics, accused him of dissembling and screening out expert opinion and going to war against Iraq mainly because he wanted a fight — all themes that repeat in “Bush.”

Ultimately, the elder Mr. Bush’s reputation has grown with time despite this assessment — to his chagrin, partly because of comparisons with his son. The younger Mr. Bush now has to hope for the same — and may be able to count on comparisons with Mr. Trump to make him look better with time.

Peter Baker, a longtime White House correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House.”

Arrogance, recklessness and scorn for ideas — George W. Bush

Washington DC

July 3, 2016

Arrogance, recklessness and scorn for ideas — George W. Bush, not Trump?

Review by David Greenberg


David Greenberg, Professor of History and of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, is the author of “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.”

The fireball candidacy of Donald Trump has created shock waves of nostalgia for an ostensibly moderate, reasonable Republican Party of yore. Trump’s vulgarity, anti-intellectualism, mendacity, mean-spiritedness and brawling, bullying style have been deemed unprecedented and unparalleled.

But anyone prone to romanticize the old GOP should take a bracing shot of “Bush,” a hefty biography of our 43rd president by the prolific and acclaimed biographer Jean Edward Smith. Written in sober, smooth, snark-free prose, with an air of thoughtful, detached authority, the book is nonetheless exceedingly damning in its judgments about George W. Bush’s years in office. It reminds us anew of Bush’s own arrogance, recklessness, strong-arm politics and scorn for ideas — and of the apoplexy he provoked from liberals and Democrats who felt powerless to rein him in.

On top of the scores of reported books published during his tenure, Bush has already been the subject of several post-presidential studies, most notably Peter Baker’s “Days of Fire.” Unlike Baker’s volume, whose footnotes disclose original interviews with government officials, Smith’s deft synthesis mainly rests on information gleaned from the library of first-wave accounts.

His notes abound with citations of enduring works by Jane Mayer, Thomas Ricks, James Risen, Charlie Savage, Ron Suskind, Bob Woodward and other reporters, as well as of the protagonists’ memoirs and periodical journalism. In a few places, Smith draws uncritically from questionable sources, such as Kitty Kelly, who has been widely criticized for trafficking in gossip, but overall “Bush” reads as authoritative and trustworthy.

If Smith’s narrative feels familiar, it may also be because he closely tracks the headlines of the day: Proceeding chronologically, his account showcases whatever was prominent in the news at a given moment. Events or decisions that escaped the spotlight when they unfolded are dealt with only when their ramifications become clear. Thus, Bush’s housing policies — from his promotion of an “ownership society” to the 2008 mortgage-market crash — are shoehorned into the book’s penultimate chapter, not laid out at the earlier moments when he was making or acquiescing in the steps that enabled the crisis.

Structuring the book this way is legitimate. It has the virtue of recalling how events flowed from one to the next during those tumultuous, mean years. But it deprives readers of the opportunity to glimpse events in a fresh light — to learn unexpected backstories or note juxtapositions that are revealing only in hindsight. Some deeply consequential developments, such as Iran’s bid to acquire nuclear weapons, get almost no ink because they didn’t dominate the news until after Bush left office. Yet part of what historians ought to do is to call attention to significant events or actions that were neglected by the press or the public in their day. Smith ably crystallizes and confirms the prevailing understandings of the Bush presidency rather than forcing a reappraisal.

Because Smith dwells on what was in the news, his book is — appropriately — dominated by the wars undertaken in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, and especially the more dubious choice to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, will almost certainly define Bush’s presidency for decades to come. It’s hard to imagine a better overview than this volume of both invasions, their troubled occupations, their political fallout, and their implications for civil liberties and executive power at home.

On Bush’s conduct of these wars — and indeed on most aspects of the man and his presidency — Smith is relentlessly critical and may strike some readers as hyperbolic. “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush,” his book begins, and the judgments rarely soften. Several hundred pages in, Smith, with no less surety, declares that “George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq will likely go down in history as the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” And in his conclusion he shows only a flicker of uncertainty, writing that “whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated.” But if these judgments are stark and in some places too strong — the Vietnam War, for what it’s worth, was hands-down a bigger catastrophe than Iraq — they are buttressed by pages of coolly presented evidence.

Smith is equally harsh in weighing the policies that flowed from the war on terrorism, especially those that infringed on the rights of people suspected of abetting America’s enemies: the wholesale surveillance, without the necessary court warrants, of some suspects; the limitless imprisonment of others; the use of military tribunals to evade constitutional protections of their rights; the use of torture to try to wrest information from them. Smith, again with ample justification, deems all of these violations of civil liberties to have been unnecessary responses to the threat of violence from al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups that were targeting America.

Smith isn’t incapable of offering praise of Bush. He is charitable toward the president on the financial crisis of 2008, recognizing that while Bush remained for too long oblivious to the dangers of an under-regulated mortgage market, he did step up when disaster struck, bucking his party’s fears of government intervention and following the advice of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to stanch the hemorrhaging. Smith is also quite willing to credit Bush’s rhetoric about “compassionate conservatism” as a sign of a genuine moderation on his part, even though the signature policies of his presidency — the surplus-squandering tax cuts, the bid to privatize Social Security, the scuttling of environmental protection efforts, the intermingling of church and state — reveal that Bush was in practice more conservative than even Ronald Reagan.

Between the lines, Smith traces Bush’s failings as president to character flaws. The book is, after all, a biography, and the president’s upbringing and family life are duly covered. (One pet peeve: Smith constantly refers to Bush’s twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, as “the twins,” rather than by their names. Often, he writes about them as a single entity, failing to explore, say, differences in the girls’ relationships with their father or in their politics.)

In sizing up Bush’s character, Smith is plainly put off by his subject’s swaggering manner, his unreflective style and his illiberal attitudes. Perhaps most displeasing to Smith — and, more important, most detrimental to wise leadership — is Bush’s mixture of pious righteousness and gut-level decision-making. Time and again, he writes with dismay of how Bush “dismissed” prescient warnings or thoughtful advice, or took big steps without proper consideration.

He doesn’t buy into the fiction that Bush was somehow a puppet of Vice President Dick Cheney or other aides (though Smith does endorse foul theories about the undue influence of “neoconservatives,” whom he accuses of having too much “chutzpah”). Rather, Smith acknowledges that Bush regularly made the key calls, even if at times that meant following Cheney’s or Paulson’s or someone else’s recommendations. If anything, as Smith sees it, Bush was altogether too much “the decider,” as the president once inelegantly described himself. While professing to take seriously the burdens of his office, he made choices that affected millions of lives and wrought havoc around the globe without giving them the thought they required — before or after.

In this year’s election, Trump’s rise has been chalked up to his brassy, unreflective style — the bluntness, the contempt for liberal niceties, the swagger. Smith’s fine biography reminds us, if indirectly, that while there are many dissimilarities between Bush and Trump, in this key respect they are more alike than different. And even if one rejects the extreme verdict that Bush’s presidency was among the worst ever, the example of his unquestionably troubled tenure suggests that while scorn for ideas and indecision in a leader may have its costs, so too does the instinct for deciding things too quickly.

READ THIS: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/04/bush-by-jean-edward-smith.

This biography will be sold in the United States on July 5, 2016, the day 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush turns 70. Thinking Americans are wondering whether Donald Trump will be another BUSH if elected. We will have to watch the Clinton-Trump debates when the time comes later this year. Being President of the most powerful country in the world is an awesome responsibility which requires character, intelligence and experience in public service.–Din Merican

George Washington– A Decisive Leader of Integrity

July 1, 2016

George Washington A Decisive Leader of Integrity

By Richard C. Stazesky

George Washington, Genius in Leadership

George Washington’s profound morality, unselfish nature and self control coupled with what was obviously a good intellect enabled him to out think all the other generals and Founders. Of them all, he had the best long and short range ideas and how to maintain coherency between them.– Richard Stazesky

Why did George Washington emerge as the most significant leader in the founding of the United States of America, even to the extent of being called the Father of the Country?

This is a question that inevitably arises in the mind of anyone who studies, even on a casual basis, the founding of our nation. Washington lived and worked with brilliant philosophers, thinkers, writers, orators and organizers, such as Franklin, Mason, John and Sam Adams, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Hamilton, Madison, Dickinson, the Randolphs and the Lees, almost all of whom were far better educated than he. Yet at the three major junctions in the founding of the nation, the Revolution, the Constitutional Convention and the selection of the first President, for each position the leader chosen was George Washington. In his own day he was seen as the indispensable man, the American Moses, The Father of the Country. Why?

His contemporaries and subsequent commentators have enumerated many factors that entered into the selection by his peers for these three strategically important positions: physical size and presence, charisma, energy, multi-faceted experiences, charm, courage, character, temperament, being a Virginian, wealth, ambition, his reputation as a stalwart patriot and, especially after the Revolution, the regard, admiration and affection of the populace at all levels of society. The most commonly cited characteristic given for his emergence as the supreme leader is his character. The most infrequently cited, as far as I have observed, are his intelligence and his ideas.

The overall impression that many people have today, therefore, is that while Washington was a person of the highest moral character, he did not posses a first rate intelligence and he got most of his ideas from others, such as Franklin, Mason, Henry, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison. A factual understanding of their respective ages relative to Washington and the dates on which his views were known would prove the fallacy of the assumption that Washington was intellectually dependent upon any of them or anyone else.

I want to suggest and argue that Washington was chosen for these leadership roles because of his character and also because of his being a genius in the area of leadership. They trusted him because he had demonstrated a noble and incorruptible character and he had also shown himself to be an exceptional leader.

In the remainder of my presentation I shall, first, briefly outline the characteristics of a highly effective leader, second, illustrate Washington’s genius as a leader in his roles as commander in chief of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention and first President of the country, third, note what contributed to his being such a leader, fourth, suggest why his genius in the area of leadership has not been widely acknowledged and, fifth, suggest some things we can learn from him for our own daily living and in regard to our country.

II. Leadership

Leadership. For the purpose of this discussion I shall use a concept entitled “The Visionary Leader” which I came across some years ago. The visionary leader, first of all, has very clear, encompassing and far-reaching vision in regard to the cause or organization involved. This vision includes ideas and goals which remain constant no matter how long it takes to realize them and regardless of the difficulties which the leader encounters. Furthermore, the leader never allows any of the means or actions along the way to violate or invalidate this vision and its constituent values.

Secondly, the visionary leader is skillful in designing and creating an organizational culture which will make possible the attainment of the leader’s vision and ideas. In fact, creating this organizational culture may be the most lasting contribution of the leader for it will consist of the enduring values, vision and beliefs that are shared by members of the organization.

Thirdly, the visionary leader is also a person who can attract others to follow him/her in seeking attainment of the vision. But more than that, this charismatic person is able to instill in others the ideas, beliefs and values of the vision so that they become empowered to move beyond the leader’s and their own expectations.

In brief, the visionary leader has a vision into the far future, can develop an effective organization and can attract others to strive also for the attainment of his/her vision so that it becomes a shared vision and they all work together in an organization that sustains the vision, its beliefs and its values.

Another characteristic of a truly effective leader is that she/he always focuses simultaneously on two seemingly different configurations, yet to such a leader they are always inextricably related, such as strategy and tactics. goals and objectives, big picture ideas and little picture details, statesman and politician, profound and practical, architect and plumber,wisdom and application and futuristic ideas and present actions.

Of all the founding fathers George Washington alone demonstrated fully the threefold characteristics of a visionary leader and the intellectual and moral capacity, over a long period of time and in the course of manifold difficulties, to maintain coherency between long range ideas and goals and short term actions.

This is why, I believe, we can assert that George Washington was America’s supreme genius in leadership and thus became the Father of Our Country. Consider this assertion in terms of his roles as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army of the Revolution, the President of the Constitutional Convention and the first President of the United States of America.

III. Examples of Washington’s Leadership

A. General  George Washington

On June 15, 1775, the delegates to the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, unanimously elected George Washington “to command all the continental forces, raised, or to be raised for the defense of American liberty.” His commission, dated June 19, 1775, designated him “General and Commander in Chief of the United Colonies”. He received it on the twentieth and he started for Boston on the twenty-first.

It is clear that several factors led to his selection: his character, they knew that they could trust him; he was the best known military person in the colonies; he was a Southerner and the delegates believed he could unite the forces of all the colonies; he was a man of wealth and presumably would be less tempted to corruption and he was known as a fearless, determined and competent leader. Another factor of great importance, although not stressed or perhaps even acknowledged by many historians and commentators, was that his ideas in regard to British and colonial relations were well known and were representative of ideas shared by the delegates and those whom they represented. They shared a common vision.

Consider just three of Washington’s major ideas as the General. First, he must win the war, no matter how long it took. Second, it was a war for independence, liberty. Third, the purpose of this independence from Great Britain was to establish a republican, constitutional government. Being a republic, its form of government and its ruling officials would all be determined by the people.

Washington, more than anyone else in that period, understood the full implication of these ideas in regard to all aspects of his functions as the military leader – strategy, operations, tactics. He revealed himself as a genius in leadership as the “General and Commander in Chief of the United Colonies.”

Consider, first, his role as a visionary leader. I have already shown that Washington had the vision of an independent, republican, constitutional government controlled by a free people. He also envisioned this nation as contributing to the uplifting and happiness in the years, even centuries, to come of the whole world. (This vision is now being fulfilled as an increasing number of the nations of the world become democracies.)

As a visionary leader, Washington developed an organization with an organizational culture which achieved the goal of winning the war for independence. This, as Washington well knew, would be just the first step in the founding of a republican, constitutional government. During the eight years of the American Revolution, General Washington spent far more time, thought and energy as the organizer and administrator of the military forces than he did as a military strategist and tactician. Without Washington’s persistent, intelligent leadership, the army as an organization would have collapsed from within, unaided by British military might.

As a visionary leader, Washington also attracted both military and civilians to follow him to victory. He faced the realities of short term enlistments, desertions, very poorly clad and equipped soldiers, recalcitrant congressional and state legislators and wavering loyalty to the Glorious Cause among the populace. Yet enough soldiers and civilians so trusted him, believed in him, loved him that they stayed with him and his ideas.

Three pivotal episodes illustrate this charismatic appeal. After the 1776 Christmas day battle at Trenton after the crossing of the Delaware, many of the soldiers were ready to leave because their enlistments were up. Washington urgently appealed to them to step forward and stay with him in this noble cause. Hesitantly at first, but then almost completely, the soldiers stepped forward because of their trust in and regard for Washington. In that moment, he saved the army and the revolutionary cause.

The battle at Monmouth, New Jersey in 1778 also revealed his charismatic leadership and his genius as a battlefield tactician. In this crucial battle with Cornwall’s army, the American troops were in retreat and disarray when Washington took personal control. Lafayette said that “his presence stopped the retreat” and Hamilton also wrote “Other officers have great merit in performing their parts well, but he directed the whole with the skill of a master workman…I never saw the General to so much advantage.” The British retreated to New York.

By his presence among his officers at their Newburgh, New York, encampment in March l783 Washington’s personal standing with the officers saved the Cause from being lost, even though in terms of battles it had already been won. There was a conspiratorial movement among many officers because they had not been paid and recognized adequately for their years of sacrifice. Washington appealed to their reason but it was probably due as much to their emotional ties to him that, after his dramatic meeting with them, they affirmed their loyalty to the Cause and dropped all conspiratorial intentions. Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner wrote: “Washington had saved the United States from tyranny and discord.” He then cited Jefferson’s comment: “The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of the liberty it was intended to establish.” (See Washington, The Indispensable Man, pg. 175.)

Washington excelled in all three roles of a visionary leader; he excelled equally in maintaining coherence between his long term goals and specific, current actions. We see this time and time again in his unfaltering commitment to the idea that in a republic the military must always be subject to civilian control. He made this clear in innumerable letters, orders, addresses and especially by his actions that the army must always act in accordance with Congressional decisions, even when he disagreed with them. These decisions involved such basic things as the selection of officers, planning of strategy and the equipping and paying of the soldiers.

The climatic action in this regard, of course, was Washington’s carefully staged resignation as “General and Commander in Chief” at Annapolis on December 23, 1783. The response of the Congress, written by Jefferson, noted that Washington had always recognized the civil authority’s supremacy over the military.

Paying tribute to President George Washington at his Final Resting Place, Mount Vernon, Va.

Washington understood the essential ingredients necessary for the establishment of a constitutional, republican government: control by the people, respect for the government, personal as well as public virtue and their inextricable relationship, respect for each other, civil over military authority and others. These ideas were not to be violated in the midst of a war. Thus, when soldiers went out to forage for food and supplies, they were ordered to show respect for all the citizens even if a lack of it might have facilitated a greater return from their foraging. Washington knew that the use of unethical and disrespectful means to attain short range gains could prevent the attainment of long range goals.

As the General and Commander in Chief, George Washington became America’s true hero and, to use our terms, America’s role model because of his exemplary character revealed with his unexcelled visionary leadership and his ability to maintain coherence between his far-reaching ideas and his immediate words and actions.

B. President, Constitutional Convention

As the unanimously elected presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention, which met in Philadelphia May 25 to September 17, 1787, Washington again demonstrated his genius in leadership. We must ask again, why was he chosen as the leader by this group which Jefferson termed “an assembly of demigods”? One reason, certainly, is that the delegates knew that the most respected, beloved and even idolized person in the country was George Washington. As on previous occasions, however, he was also selected for this crucial role because of his character and because he was a recognized leader who was skillful in reconciling various views; in short, he was a supreme politician.

I wish to stress, however, that he was also chosen because his ideas in regard to constitutionalism were widely known and were shared by most of the delegates. They knew that they could trust him not only because of his outstanding character but also because of his ideas in regard to constitutional government. George Washington’s thinking on constitutional issues has not been adequately recognized by historians and commentators. This neglect or lack of understanding has been corrected by Dr. Glenn A. Phelps, professor of political science at Northern Arizona University, in an excellent book entitled George Washington & American Constitutionalism.

He wrote, Washington’s “writings reveal a clear, thoughtful, and remarkably coherent vision of what he hoped an American republic would become. These notions began to emerge early in the 1770s, took on a sharper, clearer perspective during the Revolution, and changed little thereafter. His words, many of them revealed only for family and friends, reveal a man with a passionate commitment to a fully developed idea of a constitutional republic on a continental scale, eager to promote that plan wherever and whenever circumstance or the hand of Providence allowed.

“This interpretation challenges the conventional view of Washington in several others ways. First, I maintain that Washington’s political values changed very little over time regardless of who his ‘secretary’ was; the various messengers seemed not to have affected Washington’s message. He was no political chameleon willing to change his colors to conform to the interests and ideas of his brilliant counselors. The contribution of his better-educated ghostwriters, steeped in philosophy, certainly improved upon his stolid prose, but the substance remained distinctively Washington’s.

“Second, Washington’s constitutional vision – drawing on elements of classical conservative republicanism and continentally minded commercialism – developed years before he ever met Hamilton, Madison, and the other Founders under whose spell he was supposed to have fallen. Thus, claims that Washington was chosen as a mere figurehead for the nationalist movement that emerged early in the 1780s underestimate Washington’s contribution. The nationalists did not merely capture Washington’s growing national reputation to lend authority to a cause of their own making. Rather, they looked naturally to him for leadership because his views were already well known and firmly established. Indeed, many of his ideas presaged the nationalist program.” (pgs. viii-ix)

Some of Washington’s basic ideas were: a strong union, a legislature chosen by the people, a written constitution, the rule of law, an executive with power to enforce the law, supremacy of congressional or national law over state laws, a permanent national military establishment and civil control of the military. As noted above, these and other fundamental ideas were well developed in Washington’s mind long before the Constitutional Convention was held.

In terms of leadership of the Convention, he was equally effective as a visionary leader and a long range/short range thinker. His style, however, changed for he was a presiding officer and not a general. His influence and power were utilized in personal conversations, meetings with the Virginia delegation where he voted and sometimes was on the losing side, and when the delegates met as a committee of the whole during which someone else presided. It was a very well organized convention, including all sessions being held in secrecy with no disclosures of the proceedings to anyone else. The power of Washington’s presence was seen when a delegate accidentally dropped a confidential document on the floor. When discovered, it was given to Washington who sternly addressed the delegates about the issues of confidentiality and secrecy. The mere thought of any one of the delegates ever receiving his displeasure over this prevented any of them from ever claiming the document.

The success of the Convention, both in terms of its process and outcome, testify to the genius of Washington’s leadership, just as its final confirmation by the American people did. Historians and commentators of that day and subsequent years credit Washington’s and also Franklin’s endorsements for bringing about the ratification of the Constitution to be the law of the land.

C. President, United States of America

It was no surprise to anyone in the nation, including George Washington, that he was unanimously elected as the first President of the new nation and four years later that he was reelected to this preeminent position. Just as with his other calls to duty by the people, Washington was chosen not only on the basis of his character and leadership skills but also because the people knew and trusted his ideas and commitments. These ideas were spoken, written and lived out during the Revolution, many were already included in the Constitution and still others were well known.

Evaluating him as the first President in terms of the visionary leader, it is clear that Washington had a very well developed and coherent vision with both long and short range goals. Some of these ideas were: the absolute necessity and even sacredness of the Union, faithful obedience to the Constitution, the development of a distinctly American national character, establishment of a government that would be trusted by the people, the role of the federal government in the furtherance of industry, commerce, education and what today we call the infrastructure, the need in a republic for public and private virtue, independence from all forms of foreign dominance and the maintenance of liberty. Some of these ideas and others were presented in the “Circular Letter” which he sent to all the governors in 1783 at the conclusion of the Revolution, in innumerable state papers, in personal and public letters and they were emphasized at the end of his presidency in what is known as the Farewell Address.

Washington, within the sparse but basic stipulations of the Constitution, was responsible for the creation of a federal government. He did so and we live today with and by much of what he created. His skill as an organizational leader can be seen by his doing this as a strict constitutionalist and by his belief that Congress was primarily responsible for the creation of domestic policies and laws while the President was responsible for carrying out the policies and enforcing the laws. At the same time, Washington made clear that the development of foreign policy, including treaties, was the responsibility of the President. Washington carefully observed the role and authority of Congress while he also protected the role and authority of the President. We again see that he was a very sophisticated and skillful politician as well as being a well informed constitutionals. Yale history professor Edmund Morgan, in his little book, The Genius of George Washington, makes this very clear. He was, states Morgan, a genius in his understanding and use of power, including when to give up power as demonstrated in his
resignations as General and Commander in Chief and as President.

As a visionary leader President Washington continued to be a charismatic leader who kept the loyalty and affection of the people. He nourished this through his tours to all the states and through innumerable public appearances. However, when principle demanded that he act in such a way that would engender serious opposition, he stuck to his principles and in time the people, discovering that he had acted wisely, renewed their regard and affection. The two major events causing such situations were his declaration of neutrality during the French Revolution and his signing of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain.

As in his previous two important positions, Washington was not only a supreme visionary leader, he was equally supreme while President in keeping the details of his administration, the big and little necessary current decisions, subservient to the larger issues and ideas at stake. The Jay Treaty and the Neutrality Act again illustrate this. Washington’s vision of a strong and independent “empire” required that the new nation be given time to grow, as he knew it would, and therefore, it must not become embroiled in any actions which would prevent this growth. Endless illustrations could be given of his balancing long range goals with short range actions in a coherent manner and are given in George Washington & American Constitutionalism and other books.

While the genius of George Washington was, as Edmund Morgan contends, in the use of power, I believe that this was just part of an even broader and deeper configuration which reveals him as our nation’s supreme example of the genius of leadership.

IV. What Made Washington a Genius as a Leader?

While no one can fully explain the factors that combined to produce a Washington, Lincoln, Plato, Luther, Edison, Einstein or any other monumentally transformational person, we do know some of the streams that formed, as it were, the mighty Washington river.

The first, of course, are the givens of life, that with which he was born. Most obvious were his physical characteristics – height, strength, energy and physical coordination. His brain or intelligence is also a given. Generally unmentioned as a given is temperament. Students of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator suggest that George Washington would have tested as an ISTJ. I have attached as an appendix to these remarks a description of the characteristics of an ISTJ given by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen in their book, Type Talk, page 215ff. Ray Choiniere and David Keirsey, using a somewhat different typology, Guardian Monitor, describe how Washington fits this pattern in their book, Presidential Temperaments. His driving ambition, love of detail, patience, determination, sense of responsibility and other conspicuous traits that made him the person that he was are related to the temperament with which he was born.

Another contributory stream was that made up of family and friends – his parents, his brother Lawrence and the Fairfax family. His father was apparently a strong, humane and entrepreneurial person. His mother was obviously a very determined, acquisitive, demanding mother. His brother was educated, cultured and militarily oriented. The Fairfaxes were courtly and very affluent. Something from all of these and other people can be seen in Washington.

Religion contributes a great deal to explaining Washington’s profound moral consciousness and morally sensitive conscience. While he was very reticent to express any personal religious views there can be no question that his religious convictions caused him very early, as he once said, he had “always walked a straight line.” (See Paul F. Boller, Jr., George Washington & Religion.) His serious participation in Freemasonry may also have contributed to his character.

Henry T. Tuckerman (Essays, Biographical and Critical, Boston, 1857, pages 7-8, 10-11, 21-22) comments on this moral factor in Washington’s life and its relation to his intelligence. “The world has yet to understand the intellectual efficiency derived from moral qualities – how the candor of an honest, and the clearness of an unperverted mind attain results beyond the reach of mere intelligence and adroitness – how conscious integrity gives both insight and directness to mental operations, and elevation above the plane of selfish motives affords a more comprehensive, and therefore a more reliable views of affairs, than the keenest examination based exclusively on personal ability.” (See Appendix B for his full comment.)

Washington’s profound morality, unselfish nature and self control coupled with what was obviously a good intellect enabled him to out think all the other generals and Founders. Of them all, he had the best long and short range ideas and how to maintain coherency between them.

Washington’s deep respect for every person and his never failing, except on very rare occasions, good manners and self control can be traced back in large part to his internalizing as a youth the 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” It is obvious that these became second nature to him. Just as he did not have to waste energy and thought in dealing with moral issues so he did not have to waste them either in deciding how to treat others; he treated everyone in a courteous and respectful manner. Another stream entering this river was that Washington always sought to learn more in order to improve himself.

Who knows from whence these traits came? He was a great listener, he was a keen observer of people and events and he read far more widely and deeply than has been generally assumed. (See pages 213-225 in Paul K. Longmore’s The Invention of George Washington for an exhaustive account of Washington’s reading.)

More than a contributory stream and more like a small river made up of a number of its own streams was the river bringing the models Washington chose for himself. These he deliberately, systematically and creatively melded together to form the George Washington whom he then portrayed. He saw life as a theater in which we all play our parts and he certainly had in his mind the character that he wanted to play and did play. This does not imply any lack of personal integrity or a multi-polar personality. It does mean that George Washington, in a real sense, invented himself by creating an original model from several that he had in mind and then lived by that model.

There were, at least, four such models that he used. One was the Roman model of Cato from Addison’s play “Cato” about a virtuous Roman. Washington saw the play many times, memorized parts of it and had it acted at Valley Forge. He also thought of Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer, who left the plough to lead the army that saved Rome and then went back to farming, refusing the role of “Dictator” offered by the Roman Senate. (See Garry Wills, George Washington and the Enlightenment.) Another model was that of the Patriot King, a role made popular in Washington’s time by the English writer Bolingbroke (see Longmore, pages 184-86). The Patriot King always had the people’s welfare at heart. A fourth model for Washington was that of the Father.

In addition to these four major models, Washington experienced many other major figures who influenced him. There were the royal governors of Virginia, the landed gentry and their leaders with whom he lived and worked while in the Virginia House of Burgesses for fifteen years and British generals Braddock and Forbes. Washington keenly observed them and learned from them all.

Even considering all these influences, models and the givens in Washington’s life we still cannot fully comprehend what made him the George Washington whom we know through his writings, his achievements and what was written about him. The best answer, I believe, is that the Washington whom we know is Washington, the Father of the Country, whom George Washington invented and portrayed. He was a genius in this creation as one part of his being a genius in leadership.

V. Why now the admiration two hundred years after his passing?

Why is it that just recently, two hundred years or so after his death, are we coming to appreciate the depth and breadth of Washington’s intellectual and organizational contributions in the founding of the nation and the institutionalization of those characteristics that have made the United States great?

I believe that the answer points again to the fact that he was eminently successful as the Father of the Country, a title bestowed on him but one which he also appropriated and lived. A truly successful and effective father is one who never claims credit for his achievements in being the father and who inculcates his ideas and values in his offspring so well that they, in fact, do not realize themselves from whence these came; they, therefore, tend just to take them for granted or to credit themselves for them. We all know the story of the college sophomore who was amazed at how seemingly uninformed, even stupid, was his father, only to discover later how informed, bright and wise his father had become. The ideas that Washington had and lived became so imbued in American institutions and culture, because of his skill as a visionary leader, that we have failed to realize from whence they came, namely, from our national Father, George Washington.

VI. Learning from Father Washington

In the tradition of George Washington, perhaps, my personal interest in the study of famous people who have made major positive contributions to life has always been what can I learn from them that will make me a better person and citizen. I believe that we can learn a great deal from studying the life of George Washington that would lead to personal and public renewal if we were to apply what we learn. I shall mention just a few items.

One, the need and importance to take responsibility for one’s own life by controlling one’s emotions; Washington had a volcanic temper which, with rare exceptions, he kept under control. Washington was able to control so much externally because he first learned to control himself from within.

Two, the importance of constant learning by observing, listening, reading and reflecting; Washington spent much time reflecting or pondering.

Three, the importance of civility (the 110 rules), which means basic respect for everyone.

Four, the role that morality and emotional maturity can play in enhancing one’s natural intelligence.

Five, the ingredients of effective leadership.

Six, the inextricable relationship in a democracy between public and personal virtue; the absence of one will always cause a diminution in the other and vice versa.

Seven, the need in a democracy for all citizens to be good citizens and for the government to be administered in such a manner as to merit the trust of the citizens.

Today we urgently need a rebirth of the ideas which he had which made our nation great and a renewal of Washington as our prime national hero and role model.

The future of our nation, to a large extent, depends upon Americans both personally and publicly developing the kind of character so fully and brilliantly seen in George Washington’s personal and public lives.


Abshire, David, The Character of George Washington and the Challenges of the Modern Presidency, The Center for the Study of the Presidency, Washington, DC, 1998, 15 pgs.

Arnold, James R., Presidents Under Fire. Orion books, New York, 1994, 352 pgs.

Baldridge, Letitia, ed., George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon, VA, 1989, 61 pgs.

Boller, Paul F., Jr., George Washington & Religion, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1963, 235 pp.

Brookhiser, Richard, Founding Father, Rediscovering George Washington, The Free Press, New York, l996, 230 pgs.

Callahan, North, George Washington, Soldier and Man, William Morrow & Company, New York, l972, 295 pgs.

Choiniere Ray and Keirsey, David, Presidential Temperaments, Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, Del Mar, CA, 1992, 609 pgs.

Flexner, James Thomas, Washington, The Indispensable Man, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, l969, 423 pgs.

Garrity, Patrick J. and Spalding, Matthew, A Sacred Union of Citizens, George Washington’s Farewell Address and the American Character, Rowman & Littlefield, New York, l996, 216 pgs.

Hannaford, Peter, ed., The Essential George Washington, Images From the Past, Bennington, VT, 1999, 180 pgs.

Higginbotham, Don, George Washington and the America Military Tradition, The University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, 170 pgs.

The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered

New York

June 22, 2016

The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered

by Dr Bridget Welsh (Received via E-mail)

The by-election results for Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are in. UMNO held onto their seats, and increased its majorities.

Najib got the formula: Cash is still King

Given the tragedy surrounding the polls stemming from the helicopter accident in Sarawak last month, the fact that by-elections disproportionately favour those with access to resources, and the reality that these contests were three-cornered fights with a divided opposition, these results are not unexpected.

The important implications of these by-elections lies less in the winning, but in the losing – as the shifts in campaigning, voting and political alignments reveal that old dreams are gone. Malaysian electoral politics is shifting, and all indications are that the direction is not toward a stronger, more vibrant polity that offers meaningful choices to the electorate.

Declining engagement

At this marker before the next general election, it is important to identity key trends. Importantly, voters are not engaging as in the past. This is evident in the decline in voter turnout. Malaysians are tired of the politicking and turning away from elections.

The drop in voter turnout from 2013 was a whopping 14 percent in Sungai Besar and 13 percent in Kuala Kangsar respectively. Importantly voter turnout levels were also a drop from 2008. What is even more revealing is the decline in voter registration more broadly, especially among younger Malaysians.

Voters are disappointed with the options provided and tired of a political contest that appears to be about the fight for power rather than the fight for representation. Voter disengagement advantages incumbents, as shown in the by-elections results, and this unhealthy trend reinforces the sense of disempowerment that has deepened with the governance scandals over the last year.

Both campaigns were devoid of any meaningful new messages. They were not about any real reform or policies that help Malaysians. Neither side had anything substantive or new to offer the electorate. Instead the campaign was about fighting enemies, be they Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Abdul Razak or Abdul Hadi Awang.

Battles over personalities dominated over the concerns of ordinary people as the past featured more than the future. If there was any issue that stood out, it was hudud, which was carefully placed by UMNO to serve as a distraction to reinforce opposition splits, fears and insecurities – emotions that favour the incumbent.

UMNO’s use of race and religion for campaigning is not new. This issue however became less about hudud than about the person who introduced the hudud bill, namely Hadi, as here too the election became about old strategies rather than new ones. The overall shallowness of the campaign speaks to the fatigue in the political system and the widening deficit of new ideas and leadership for moving the country forward.

To fill the vacuum, both sides turned to relying on resources and patronage in campaigning. Buying votes has now become the norm for the BN, especially in by-elections. Yet, the crass exchange of funds for votes was so blatant that it set a new low standard of vote-buying. The Electoral Commission seemed to endorse this practice.

While the BN may relish in their victory, this practice will be difficult to replicate on a national scale, especially given the rising debt and fiscal constraints tied to the economic mismanagement of the Najib administration. This mode is not viable to win GE14.

The opposition on its part has joined the goodie game. In an ‘if you can’t beat, then join them’ dynamic, Pakatan Harapan parties handed out rice and other sundries. The use of state funds (or rather people’s funds) were similarly used to woo electoral support, feeding the practice that elections are about what you get materially in the short term rather than in the long term.

The opposition has adopted a campaign tactic it will always lose, not only for the fact that they do not have the funds to be competitive, but more for the reality that it undercuts the opposition from any advantage they have to fall back on principles. For every bag of rice they distribute, they undercut all criticisms of an unfair electoral process. They are becoming what they said they were fighting against.

Loss of dreams

The move away from campaigning over ideas and defending principles underscores broader shifts in the political disengagement among the electorate at large. The stakes in Malaysian elections have changed. While 2008 was about change, and 2013 about the possibility of a change in government, current elections no longer appear to offer the option of meaningful difference.

Today it is not clear what the opposition stands for. These by-elections did not reveal an alternative political narrative for the opposition, a wasted opportunity to genuinely construct a new foundation. For many voters, the dream of change is dead.

It is thus no surprise that there were political realignments in voting, with some Chinese and Indians moving away from the opposition (although between 5-10 percent in a preliminary study of the data). This lack of viable alternative leadership also contributed to the increasing fragmentation among Malay voters. Malays are more divided in UMNO’s favour. The overall momentum is changing, from anger directed toward UMNO moving toward disappointment with the opposition for failing to meet expectations and achieve its promises.

The by-elections do however suggest emphatically that another dream is dying – this is of PAS and hudud. The biggest loser in the campaign was Hadi Awang’s PAS, as the results show that the traditional Islamist party cannot even win second place in a seat where it has repeatedly campaigned and even in a Malay heartland seat in Perak barely scraped through in second place. Preliminary analysis of the data shows that PAS held onto around a third of Malay voters, a record low in recent decades. Its connection to UMNO was electorally toxic for the party.

Not only is Hadi Awang undermining any hope of PAS governing, voters have shown emphatically that they care less about hudud, with the majority rejecting it as the centrepiece of a campaign. PAS was not rewarded for pushing its archaic exclusive moralism, a sign ahead that the party under Hadi Awang is heading towards a minor electoral status worse than 2004. The by-elections show clear signs that the dream of hudud is dying, as the voters have spoken what surveys have long shown – hudud does not win votes. Hadi Awang’s leadership is destroying the party – a dynamic that truly makes UMNO gleeful.

Votes of (no) confidence

Immediately after the polls there were many groups claiming victory. The first was Najib’s camp, with claims of a ‘vote of confidence’. This is a gross error in interpretation. Polls continue to show that Prime Minister Najib remains deeply unpopular – and his lack of presence in these by-elections (as compared to other senior leaders) was telling.

Supporters of the PM may live in a dream world of believing in confidence, but they are fooling themselves if they think that two by-elections will translate into a national mandate for their leader. The reality is that UMNO’s chances electorally are stronger without the scandal-ridden PM.

A second claim of victory came from Amanah, whose first entry into peninsular politics showed that they are a significant new Malay party. They performed well. This performance, however, rested very much on the support and machinery of their allies, especially the DAP. This dependence is not healthy. Although it received multi-ethnic support, considerable support for the party came from Chinese voters.

Amanah under a Boria Joker from Penang

Amanah has a long way to go to show it is an equal independent partner in the opposition alliance, and faces an uphill battle to bring in mass Malay support. A key step in that regard is to stop its myopic fight with PAS and focus on what it offers on its own and for the country as a whole.

Another claim has revolved around the participation of Dr Mahathir, with UMNO belittling his role. The results show that support of Mahathir for the opposition did not translate into cutting into significantly UMNO’s political base, as the party held its own. What is not clear is how this happened.

Neutralising dissent within UMNO was effective as incentives and intimidation were used in the campaign, with grassroots leaders inside the party feeling the effects. Again, these tactics will be difficult to replicate at the national level. UMNO’s greatest enemy has been itself, and divisions within the party and its base remain.

The most substantive vote of confidence surrounded the opposition as a whole. Taken together (PAS and Amanah) the opposition support remained high at 45 percent of the electorate. This is a loss of less than 5 percent of voters moving away from the opposition parties. As such, the opposition’s core support remains significant in what continues to be a polarised polity.

Entrenched losing mentalities

Opposition support is now however more fragmented. Looking ahead, it is unlikely that a pact can be formed to prevent multi-cornered fights in the next election. It is also impossible that Pakatan Rakyat can be repaired. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall. Pakatan is broken. Even if Hadi steps down or is pushed out as leader in the next PAS party election, old formulas and coalitions are not viable.

As such, the reality is that the multi-ethnic opposition will need to address how it can maximise its support among opposition supporters and more importantly cut into UMNO’s traditional base if it to even maintain its electoral position.

These are difficult tasks ahead, especially given the internal divisions in PKR and imbalances among the opposition partners. A new viable national opposition cannot achieve these tasks with a focus on issues and enemies of the past, a lacklustre campaign that relies non-competitively on resources rather than people’s priorities and battles that appear to be about themselves rather than for the people.

If the opposition is to move out of a losing mentality, it will need to address three key issues: a new leadership, a new narrative and revamped principles/parameters for cooperation and campaigning. The burden on the opposition to change is higher than ever, to reject practices and behaviour that has resulted in losses since 2013.

In contrast, the by-election victories show that for UMNO, the strategies of maintaining electoral support remain the same – a controlling leader, a reliance on resources, the use of control of electoral bodies (through movement of voters as occurred in both by-elections and the advantages of delineation) and the manipulation of race and religion.

UMNO continues to effectively capitalise on fear and insecurity, touting the idea that any viable national alternative besides UMNO will result in loss of place and position for its political base. This may appear like a winning strategy for elections, but it remains to be seen how long a campaign based on a mentality of losing actually moves the country forward.

In this climate of economic contraction, the politics of losing is now more dominant than ever. Negative politics and politicking are defining the national landscape. Disengagement and division are eroding the democratic quality of elections. The June by-elections show that these developments are not a winning formula for ordinary Malaysians.

BRIDGET WELSH is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, and University Fellow of Charles Darwin University.