She relates her thoughts through the lens of the leadership attributes identified by journalist, Richard Stengel, who worked closely what Nelson Mandela for many years.
Richard Stengel recognizes as one of Nelson Mandela’s greatest strengths, his sense for “when and how to transition between his roles as warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman”. In approaching Putin, the West needs to be clear on the appropriate role that is called for right now. Stengel goes on to enumerate 8 associated “Lessons of Leadership” that build out an understanding of how (and why) NM transitioned between these roles, and to what effect. I think each and every lesson is relevant at this time. No. 1: Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s inspiring others to move beyond it I have already shared my perspective that the apparent “fear” of Putin is extremely counterproductive. Too much is being said by too many significant leaders and influencers about the threat that Russia and Putin poses to the West. Much is based on assumption and hearsay, and the tone is too volatile and defensive. The dialogue about Russia needs to calm down. We need cool heads that articulate the principle, the goal, and focus the discourse forward on this, rather than harping back to old “Cold War” themes. This will reverse the current effect of spreading fear and distrust among “the people” that in turn fuels calls for rash intervention. I sense that Americans can be a bit too quick to reach for the gun when they feel threatened. That goes for the actions of private individuals, cops as well as the military! We need calm voices that give courage to approach problems in a rational way. No. 2: Lead from the front – but don’t leave your base behind I consider Obama an extremely wise and enlightened leader, but often he goes out on a limb, requiring tremendous effort to shore up support for his efforts (health care, Iran nuclear deal…), usually after the fact. This is why he makes no headway on the gun control issue. It’s also why there are continual issues with members of his own administration speaking out on issues from points of view directly contradicting the aligned position. In approaching Russia, enough needs to be done in advance on the “homefront” to secure support, to hold a coherent position together. A clear vision of what is to be achieved would be a good place to start. Stengel also recalls NM’s reflection that “an issue was not a question of principle; it was a question of tactics”. I like this a lot! It fits together with the comment of Cyril Ramaphosa that NM was “a historical man – he was thinking way ahead of us”. NM “always played for the long run” – “Things will be better in the long run,” he liked to say. So how does this relate to Russia and Putin? Recently, Western diplomacy has been thrown back to the “tit for tat” short game of the Cold War. We need to step back and take a much longer term view. We need to define The Principle. For NM his “unwavering principle” was to overthrow apartheid. What is the principle with Russia? Is it peace and cooperation? Is it alliance? With Iran it was very specific nuclear disarmament requirements and that absolutely focused the discussion, also by clearly defining where there would be the space to negotiate and compromise, the space for “tactics”. Similarly, once we know the real objective of engaging Moscow – the “prize” – we also by default define the “less important” areas where we might compromise. The areas that today we may consider “matters of principle”, but at the negotiation table, can become tactics. No. 3: Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front The principle learnt from herding cattle ☺ “It is wise,” NM said “to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.” I think this is a relevant meditation both in thinking about how to enroll upfront support in America as well as approach Russia. Whether one would agree or not, Russia sees itself as the equal of America. There is Putin’s famous “Munich speech” – in many ways, the “Manifesto” of his subsequent political framework and belief – where he described American world domination and declared that if no other nation or alliance would stand up to counter balance this, Russia would. With all respect, personally I sense that America has a tendency to arrogance. When I hear the “average American” speaking about their country, admirable national pride often gets borderline offensive with the implication of American superiority. Likewise the American tendency to pile on to every issue with a very loud (and often bellicose) point of view, often characterized here in Europe as “America policing the world” (which considering American incarceration rates vs. other countries, comes across as extremely biased to punitive action and not something Europeans and many others see as a good thing!). America needs to approach Russia with a dose of humility and respect for the pride of the Russian people too. Putin will not stand for being seen as the pawn of the West. He will not bend to pressure. He must be approached on a very level playing field. No. 4: Know your enemy – and learn his favorite sport The fact that NM not only studied Afrikaans language, history and culture, but was seen to embrace it, is something I find marvelous. It is also a brilliant exhibit of “tactics”. You and I have mused before on the value of understanding Russia, Russian people etc. There is this, and then there is another angle that builds on the previous point: as much as we need to get clear on our objective in engaging Putin, we also need to spend quality timing thinking about where he is coming from and what he wants. Evidently he wants to be reassured of Global equilibrium (is that not what we want too?). Russian strengths are different to America’s, as are Russian aspirations – we need to deeply understand this and let this direct the choices we make in negotiation to enable the “win-win”. Stengel also captures that NM “realized that even the worst and crudest could be negotiated with”. This is important too. We must see past our judgement of “the other” and find a way to connect. This goes for Assad to, by the way. With the way things have evolved in Syria, a resolution without Assad seems unlikely, but in the interest of peace, we can even negotiate with a butcher. No. 5: Keep your friends close – and your rivals even closer This one is self-explanatory! “Mandela believed that embracing his rivals was a way of controlling them: they were more dangerous on their own than within his circle of influence.” Enough said: THIS is why we need to engage Putin. Never mind collaboration on common issues etc. etc., the key factor is that either he is with us or against us. Sanctions won’t change that – it will only make matters worse. No. 6: Appearances matter – and remember to smile It’s a small and obvious point, but it does matter. How this all is presented in the media is crucial. What is the “media strategy” and how do we influence it into being? I sense that there is a very incendiary element in American journalism that needs if not toning down, then “integrating” in the strategy to work for, not against, peace. No. 7: Nothing is black or white CRUCIAL POINT! NM “suggested that Americans tend to see things in black and white and he would upbraid me for my lack of nuance”. “Life is never either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors”…”Mandela [was] comfortable with contradiction”. Yes, we condemned what we saw as Russia invading Ukraine. Yes, we condemned Assad and committed to help kick him out of power. But things moved on, became even more complex (and they certainly were not as simple as we might have painted them at the beginning). Take a longer view, take ego out of the equation, and remember the next point: No. 8: Quitting is leading too Being willing to acknowledge when one is wrong or out-voted, being open to change one’s mind, both are absolutely crucial to succeed in negotiation and leadership. I don’t think it is in the schema of Putin – he would probably see this as weakness, or maybe not – maybe his innate pragmatism would chalk it up as tactics, but regardless of that, if the West is going to reach out, we need to be willing to concede some points. So those are my reflections. Doubtless you are well aware of them all as the document originated with you, but I thought I would capture my reflections anyway because the relevance of these lessons right now was just too great to not comment on it.