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Effective Leaders Engage in Collaboration and Respect

October 18, 2020

Many lessons are and will continue to be learned from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and resulting Covid-19 illness. In particular, the history book will not be kind to our society, notably the contradictory and inconsistent leadership shown by national and sub-national leaders around the world. Witness, for example, the contrasts between Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Vladimir Putin against Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, Vietnam’s Nguyễn Phú Trọng and Australia’s Scott Morrison. The latter three national leaders took Covid-19 seriously from the start, with much less disastrous outcomes than the United States, Brazil and Russia.

The history books in the future will also talk about the appalling lack of information sharing and cooperation among countries. This is proving to be a negative hallmark of the current pandemic. Fortunately, however, the pharmaceutical industry and associated scientific research community have risen to the occasion. At the time of writing, impressive gains in therapies and treatments and vaccine trials have been achieved.

The general lack of cooperation among countries and their leaders should not have been the modus operandi of how to tackle a global pandemic. Nationalism and the resulting hoarding of medicines and personal protective equipment, for example, serves only to lengthen the amount of time the world will have to endure the pandemic. If wealthy developed nations are able to effectively control Covid-19, leaving poor countries to fend for themselves, what will be the result? In an inter-connected world, it means potential future spikes in the pandemic as people resume business and leisure travel, further contributing to the estimated $4 trillion USD (August 2020) damage to the world economy.

The abject failure of national leaders to coalesce around a common cause—a global enemy—is perhaps the biggest emerging outcome of the pandemic. The Covid-19 political catastrophe is cause to reflect on history and where national leaders, despite some differences, collaborated to defeat a common enemy.

In his biography on Franklin Roosevelt, “Traitor to his Class,” H.W. Brands shares at the end a touching story of FDR and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It took place near the end of World War II and after the Casablanca Conference.

Churchill invited FDR after the conference to accompany him to Marrakech where they spent two days. He wanted FDR to see the sunset and the Atlas mountains. So the two world leaders drove together 150 miles across the desert, during which they talked about politics, the history of the region and the future of the world.

An American loaned her villa to the two men. The villa had a tower with a commanding view of the mountains. Churchill, who was well overweight and an avid cigar smoker, climbed the 60 steps to the top of the tower. Two strong men carried FDR up. The two national leaders watched the sun set. As Churchill said to FDR:

“It’s the most lovely spot in the world.”

It’s a wonderful story and a beautiful conclusion to an excellent book. 

As Churchill remarked to a diplomat the next day when he accompanied FDR to get a plane back to the United States: “If anything happened to that man, I couldn’t stand it. He is the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man I’ve ever known.”

It’s time that national leaders looked beyond their borders to the greater good of humanity and the future of global society. As many scientists working in epidemiology have expressed in recent months, SARS-CoV-2 is merely a warmup act for the next truly virulent viral pandemic.

A peaceful world requires collective measures for the prevention of war, international cooperation to solve economic and social problems, and respect for human rights. — Göran Persson (former prime minister of Sweden)

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