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Take Me to Our Leader

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It's a famous cartoon setup: aliens descend from a space ship, walk up to a human, and demand, "Take me to your leader." If aliens actually did land in Washington DC, they'd probably be taken to meet George Bush. After all, he's the nominally elected President of the U.S. Ah, but is he our leader?

No. Most of us believe that President Bush has failed as a leader. That's the crux of the problem facing the U.S. as we gaze into the eye of the Middle East maelstrom: there's civil war in Iraq; Israel is rampaging in Gaza and Lebanon; Iran grows more belligerent by the hour and seems determined to have nuclear weapons; and India and Pakistan are at each other's throats; and George Bush cannot be counted upon to guide us through this tempest

Management theory teaches there are two types of leaders: one is a person who occupies a position of authority and the other is a someone who people go to for counsel because of his or her wise decision making. This theory argues that people want to respect their elected officials; that we gain or lose confidence in our leaders based upon two traits: trust and communication. As President, George Bush occupies a position of authority, but he has lost favor with Americans because he has proven to be an unwise decision-maker, untrustworthy public servant, and unreliable communicator.

Crises cause confidence in our leaders to rise or fall. George Bush has faced four crises during his presidency: The first was 9/11. Bush started out well but then made a series of bad decisions: he failed to unite nation in common cause, to learn from the mistakes made before 9/11, and to destroy Al Qaeda. The second crisis was Iraq. Whatever we may think of Bush's stated reason for the invasion, he might have saved the situation with a carefully conceived plan for the occupation, but he didn't. The third crisis was Hurricane Katrina. Bush failed because he first refused to act beforehand and then had no comprehensive plan for recovery.

Now America finds itself in the fourth crisis of the Bush Administration: for a variety of reasons, some centuries old, but many the result of bad decisions by this White House, the Middle East is spiraling out of control. Once again, the key requirement is leadership. Only America can restrain Israel. Only the U.S. can prevent Iraq from total collapse. Only American can initiate meaningful dialogue with Syria and Iran. And only the U.S. can mediate the confrontation between India and Pakistan.

But based on his past performance, we cannot expect George Bush to provide the leadership that these critical times require. He has proven incapable of the bold steps that these crises demand. As the Middle East deteriorates, Bush will remain a passive observer; our Nero content to fiddle while Rome burns.

Given the extremity of this crisis, and the dreadful track record of the President, it's important to ask who else can provide this leadership? Certainly no one else in the Administration. It's useless to pin our hopes on the likes of Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. The Republican "leadership" on Capitol Hill seems similarly impaired; a number of terms are used to describe Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, but "respected leader" isn't one of them.

That leaves the Democrats. At the moment, there are five frontrunners for the 2008 Dem presidential nomination: Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Mark Warner. None of them stands out as someone able to provide the leadership needed in the Middle East.

However, there is a Democrat who has demonstrated the inspirational leadership the U.S. needs. A person who occupied high office and became familiar with the complex problems that are, once again, flaring up in the Middle East. An individual who suffered through misfortune and learned from it, whose hubris has long ago been swept away. A senior statesman has who shown extraordinary leadership in two critical areas: Bush's abuse of presidential power and global climate change. This leader is Al Gore.

We can all understand Gore's reluctance to again run for public office. None of us can forget the painful 2000 election: the stolen votes in Florida and other states, and the Supreme Court decision that threw the victory to George Bush. None of us can imagine how painful this must have been for Al Gore, how difficult it was for him to forget a campaign where he was maligned by an American press corps that was having an unsavory love affair with Bush.

These are perilous times, where America, and the world, teeters on the brink of disaster. In his famous "ask not" phrase, John Kennedy argued that there are occasions when Americans must sweep aside personal considerations and do what is best for our country. This is one of those moments. Al Gore can provide the leadership that the U.S. needs. He must take control of the Democratic Party and become the voice of sanity that America desperately needs to hear.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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