The Handshake Heard Round The World

The Obama-Castro handshake at Nelson Mandela’s Johannesburg memorial signified no shift in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It was merely a handshake.

On December 5th, a chilling announcement made by South African President Jacob Zuma was quickly heard worldwide: Nelson Mandela (95 years old) had died.

The former revolutionary in the movement against South Africa’s National Party’s apartheid regime, and later President of South Africa left behind a legacy that will likely remain unparalleled by other world leaders for some time to come. While some mourned the loss of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning global icon who committed his life to peace, compassion and forgiveness, others snubbed the passing of a coldblooded ‘communist’ murderer who was imprisoned for 28 years and was considered a ‘terrorist’ by the United States until only five years because of his anti-apartheid involvement.

Regardless of whether you’re on the cheering side or on the jeering side, the fact stands that Mandela’s leadership had a global impact making him one of the most influential world leaders to date. But it seems that even in light of his recent death, our own leaders cannot look beyond partisan divides and quarreling. Consider the Obama-Castro handshake at the memorial; a civil and brief greeting between the two leaders led right-wing conservatives to label the gesture as despicable, traitorous conductwhile liberals dubbed it a thawing of tensions.

Despite the geographic proximity, the United States maintains a distant relationship with Cuba having severed diplomatic relations over fifty years ago when Raul’s brother Fidel assumed power. Contrary to the imagination of those lambasting the handshake, there was no political game at play – the handshake was merely a handshake. Period. What else was Obama supposed to do? Completely ignore Castro’s presence and rebuke him? It was appropriate for Obama to shake hands with another world leader while attending the memorial of the world’s greatest symbol for peace.

In spite of being raised by their parents to always shake hands when meeting or greeting someone, Republicans felt the urge to immediately slap a partisan sticker on the situation. Senator John McCain even likened the handshake to that between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and German Third Reich leader Adolf Hitler in the lead up to WWII – a completely inappropriate and exaggerated analogy. McCain even dared to note that the leader of the freest country in the world has no business shaking the bloodstained hand of a ruthless oppressor who is “keeping Americans in prison.” Well, Senator, there are just two minor faults in your statements. First, have you ever heard of the Gitmo? Second, may we remind you that you not only shook hands with, but also spent a ‘late evening’ with, the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi at his ranch in Libya. You then tweetedabout it. Apparently Obama’s courteous handshake with Castro was more deserving of condemnation than McCain’s play-date with Gaddafi.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-063-32, Bad Godesberg, Münchener Abkommen, Vorbereitung

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shakes hands with Adolf Hitler. This image, coupled with Chamberlain’s words, would become the gold standard for appeasement. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-063-32 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

But the liberal left has also mistreated this handshake. The first U.S.-Cuba handshake in over a decade is now being perceived as a signal of improving relations between the two states. It seems that this event – a brief, non-orchestrated six-second greeting – constitutes an instantaneous 180º shift in foreign policy and diplomatic relations.

Let’s consider three more historic presidential handshakes with other less tans savory leaders. The handshake between British Prime Minster Winston Churchill, U.S. President Harry Truman and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin at the 1945 Potsdam Conference was designed to symbolize that communist and non-communist interests could be set aside in the wake of Nazi Germany’s collapse. The image was supposed to capture an alliance determined to move forward.

Triple handshake, with, from left to right, Winston Churchill, President Harry S. Truman, and Generalissimo Josef Stalin at the Potsdam Conference. (via Wikimedia Commons/Truman Library)

And then there’s the Reagan-Gorbachev handshake. In 1998 at St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin, President Ronald Reagan shook hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before their final summit meeting. The planned handshake symbolized the first meeting between the U.S. and USSR in six years and marked the start of a thawing in bilateral relations.

Gorbachev and Reagan 1985-9

Reagan and Gorbachev at Geneva Summit. By Fed Govt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most importantly, let’s not forget the orchestrated 1959 Washington press reception that hosted then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s and Cuba’s new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. The two men shook hands and that was that.

All three of these handshakes between American Presidents and foreign strongmen were carefully constructed to convey a specific message in a specific context. On the contrary, Obama’s handshake with Castro was unplanned; it was simply a display of courtesy and nothing more. There was no predetermined plan for the two to encounter each other and shake hands in front of the camera and we are unlikely to witness any change in bilateral relations with Cuba. In fact, it would have been extremely inappropriate had Obama not greeted Castro at Mandela’s memorial; Obama shook hands with each leader he encountered which was the appropriate, civil thing for a world leader to do while honoring a man who stood for peace and compassion. It is inappropriate for certain individuals in the media and Congress to be spinning the memorial of the South African leader into a groundless and ludicrous controversy over a non-event between two men with hands. Those shouting at the gesture need to get a handle on the broader message before us all, that being Mandela’s legacy.

Explaining the Kivu Conflict

A bloody, under-reported conflict that has taken place in central Africa for two decades is explained through the legacy of the Rwandan Genocide and the Conflict Mineral Trade.

Explaining The Kivu Conflict from Glimpse From the Globe on Vimeo.

Neo-Colonial Capacity Building at its Finest: The U.S. in Libya

How the Department of State entered Libya and exacerbated yet another post-revolutionary crisis

Although you probably did a double take when news broke that the politician who lost to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election is now handling our volatile international affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry has already proved to be a defter politician than expected.

John Kerry (Wikimedia Commons)

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a presidential rally at the St. Louis Community College during the 2004 presidential race. Kerry, then a Democratic Massachusetts senator, lost to incumbent Republican President George W. Bush in the election. (Wikimedia Commons)

While the post-Gadhafi state of Libya remains in shambles, Kerry’s actions as Secretary of State have already contributed to an upsurge in Islamic militia groups contending for power amidst the State Department’s “capacity building” project within the region. In what was supposed to be a top-secret discussion between the U.S. and Libyan governments, interim Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan agreed to a U.S. commando raid in Tripoli to capture al-Qaeda figurehead Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (Abu Anas al-Libi) who was accused of orchestrating the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The mission was designed to call no attention to al-Libi’s disappearance.

US Embassy Bombing 1998 (Wikimedia Commons)

The 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya claimed more than 200 lives. Abu Anas al-Libi, who was recently captured, is believed to be the chief orchestrator of the Nairobi bombing as well as the nearly simultaneous bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the impatient State Department took it upon itself to improve the relationship; Kerry jeopardized the security of Libya’s nominal leader when his administration leaked that the Libyan government was aware and supportive of the al-Libi pursuit. After Zeidan expressed concerns regarding the operation to al-Libi’s family, Zeidan was “escorted” out of his luxury Tripoli hotel by a group known as the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries. Within hours, he was returned unharmed. While this bizarre six-hour kidnapping prompted by Kerry’s words may have seemed more like a coerced play-date than anything else, it is indicative of far graver problems.

Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan (Wikimedia Commons)

United States Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with interim Libyan Prime Minster Ali Zeidan following a press conference at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. The Department plans to work closely with the Libyan government in an effort to build regional state capacity. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coming out of this imbroglio, an initial concern is that al-Libi’s capture will only serve to further fuel al-Qaeda’s incalculable scorn for the West. This will drastically heighten security risks facing U.S. embassies and other American assets in the region.

Moving beyond the obvious missteps, most groups within Libya view the Prime Minister’s abnormal and unexpected kidnapping as a sign of an acute weakness within the government. Because the interim leader of the country could not even avert being kidnapped – regardless of the fact that it was only for a few hours – there is consensus among Libyans that he is not capable of leading the country forward. Zeidan is now considered to be something of a cancerous cyst to the already debased government; and with that now being the primary sentiment, we are likely to see the strongest push yet by Islamic militia groups quarreling for political power to orchestrate a coup. As unfathomable as it may seem, Libya will inevitably fall into a further state of degeneration and chaos because of this fiasco.

via Wikimedia Commons

Armed rebels and civilian onlookers gathered at a main gateway into the eastern city of Ajdabiya to cheer on fighters heading onward to the fighting. At one point, rebels drove a tank back from the front, received loud cheers, left, and returned again with more people riding on top, 1 March 2011. (Wikimedia Commons). Since Gadhafi’s ousting, Libya has struggled to establish and maintain a stable government.

Now that Zeidan’s capture (along with plans of another capture of another al-Qaeda operative) are public knowledge courtesy of White House releases, it will be infinitely more difficult for the State Department to carry out additional commando operations in pursuit of key al-Qaeda members. Had Zeidan’s detention remained under wraps, there would have likely been little suspicion of his whereabouts as brief disappearances are common fare in Libya. But because the operation became public, al-Qaeda is now aware of the fact that the U.S. is on the hunt. Subsequently, al-Qaeda is now likely to take care in covering its tracks and severing any communications that may provide intelligence agencies with a hot trail in their chase.

Ali Zeidan at US State Department 2013 (Wikimedia Commons)

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on March 13th, 2013. Zeidan was kidnapped briefly by a militia group early last Thursday on the grounds that he had cooperated with the U.S. government and its invasion of Tripoli in its al-Qaeda hunt. (Wikimedia Commons)

So in his supposed focus on “building capacity” within Libya, John Kerry has managed to heighten the security risks posed by al-Qaeda and make the pursuit for key terrorist leaders abysmally more challenging all while plunging Libya deeper into a state of pandemonium. Bravo, Mr. Kerry – it seems as though you are the right man for the job after all!In sum, the brilliant leak from the White House, which seemed to have been something of a trial balloon released out of ignorance, greatly undermined the neo-colonial regime established in Libya by Washington and its NATO allies following the overthrow Gadhafi in 2011. The flop highlighted the incompetence of the U.S. in artificially establishing regimes within unstable regions such as Libya. However, this is not the only instance in which Washington’s intervention has proven itself to be futile and damaging. Consider other neo-colonial endeavors such as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – both ended in seemingly endless states of war and state capacity remains frighteningly low.
Soldiers push against al-Qaeda remnants (Wikimedia Commons)

United States forces in Iraq counter remaining al-Qaeda forces in 2008. Now that future al-Qaeda-targeting plans have been leaked, Washington will face heightened difficulty in pursuing terrorist targets within Libya and the greater region. (Wikimedia Commons)

Although it is only Zeidan’s kidnapping that is at the center of national discussions at the moment, the repercussions will no doubt begin to unfold in the near future. Perhaps Libya’s impending situation will strike a chord within Washington and officials will finally come to realize that such neo-colonial interventionist efforts have, and always will, lead to heightened disdain for the West and more rapid and severe degeneration of the country being occupied. Given the White House’s track record, it seems more likely than not that nothing will be learned from the mistake. Going forward, American national security interests will face greater challenges in the region and, if the winds continue to blow in the same troubling direction, the State Department will continue to make diplomatic fumbles as it harms both itself and its “allies.”

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

An Autocrat’s Guide for Dummies: How to Build Your Own Cult of Personality

As an autocrat, one of the smartest choices you can make for long-term political domination is to build a strong cult of personality. This is no easy task. Building your brand requires much dedication and effort, which will surely take away from many scotch tastings at your summer palace. Indeed, rumor has it Stalin only slept four hours per night due to his constant cultivation of his exceptional personality cult. However, the rewards of this strategy are bountiful. A personality cult attracts blind devotion in the minds of your subjects and instills fear in the souls of your opponents – the ever-rare opportunity to murder two birds with one stone! Indeed, history has shown that some of the most powerful autocrats, such as Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, enjoyed a long period of rule and a lasting legacy because of the success of their personality campaigns. The mass-appeal of the cult of personality syndrome is irrefutable, as even the humblest man would enjoy the constant ego stroking. By heeding the following recommendations, you too can develop your own brand that will stand the test of time.

1. Nail Down Your Style

Right: Graffiti of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in Knoxville, Tennessee. June 19, 2013. (Joel Kramer) Left: Muammar Gaddafi at the 12th AU summit in Addis Abeba. February 2, 2009. (U.S. Navy/Jesse B. Awalt)

Right: Graffiti of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in Knoxville, Tennessee. June 19, 2013. (Joel Kramer)
Left: Muammar Gaddafi at the 12th AU summit in Addis Abeba. February 2, 2009. (U.S. Navy/Jesse B. Awalt)

The communist-style grey suit is so 1950s. Kim Jong-un: please take note. While those drab American leaders all dress similarly and wear the same American flag pins, which are of course made in China, you should focus on dressing to impress. We recommend obtaining a military uniform and cramming as many shiny badges on your outfit as possible. People want a strong leader, and old-school military power projection will impress your subjects while making them more accepting of your militaristic police state over time. Muammar Gaddafi mastered the dressing game, switching between flashy traditional garb and his ornate military uniform to trumpet both his cultural and military credentials. A consistent, yet unique style will leave the newly minted members of your personality cult craving for more.

2. Plaster Your Face on Everything

Bundesarchiv Bild 137-075664, Polen, Betreuung von Umsiedlern

Child holds portrait of Hitler in Poland. 1940 (Wilhelm Holtfreter)

If there is one thing you should do, it would be to post your portrait everywhere possible, including private buildings, buses, churches, government buildings (give-in), postage stamps, flags, and children’s toys. This author would advise against toilet seats, although that is a potential option. Not only will everyone learn to recognize you, they may even develop an emotional attachment to your face. Let’s take a lesson from Comrade Stalin. His portrait was diffused so broadly throughout society that some Soviet families felt the need to turn his portrait against their walls if they criticized the Soviet regime. This is power you cannot buy. Hire a good photographer, take as many portraits as possible, and send them off everywhere. Additionally, a good skin regimen can help with regime perpetuation. You’ll thank me for this bit of advice when you’re before The Hague and the judges compliment your radiant glow of self-confidence.

3. Product Placement

Right: Portrait of Vladimir Putin. Unspecified date. (Russian Federation) Left: Putinka Vodka. February 5, 2011. (Reuben Yau)

Right: Portrait of Vladimir Putin. Unspecified date. (Russian Federation)
Left: Putinka Vodka. February 5, 2011. (Reuben Yau)

Extend your brand to everyday, consumable goods. You should connect yourself to the minds and souls of your subjects at as visceral a level as possible. Vladimir Putin has been able to link himself to the everyday pleasure of alcohol consumption by making a state-sponsored Vodka manufacturer label a popular brand of vodka, “Putinka,” after himself. It’s all about the subliminal advertising.  So the next time your subjects drink themselves to sleep, they will have raised many a glass to you along the way. Za Zdorovie!

4. Crush Challenges to Your Image

Left: Stalin and Nickolai Yezhov (chairman of the Soviet secret police) at the shore of the Moskwa-Wolga-Channel. After Yezhov was tried and executed, he was purged out of from this photograph. April 22, 1937. (Unknown Author) Right: Nickolai Yezhov has vanished from this doctored photograph. 1937. (Author Unknown)

Left: Stalin and Nickolai Yezhov (chairman of the Soviet secret police) at the shore of the Moskwa-Wolga-Channel. After Yezhov was tried and executed, he was purged out of from this photograph. April 22, 1937. (Unknown Author)
Right: Nickolai Yezhov has vanished from this doctored photograph. 1937. (Author Unknown)

 

If an individual or a group tries to rain on your cult parades, you must remove them from the scene. The last thing a true leader wants is a competing figure or group stealing your thunder. You and you alone are the star – channel your inner Hollywood diva. Remove all opponents swiftly and by any and all means necessary through any force necessary, and most importantly, be sure to erase them from the annals of history. A few photo touch-ups should do the trick for well-known figures. Job prerequisite: a least two years experience with Adobe Creative Suite© and, preferably, previous experience in product marketing and re-branding.

5. Micro-managing is a Must

Lenin reading Pravda

Lenin reads Pravda newspaper at his study desk at his flat in the Kremlin. October 16, 1918.

You must maintain an active presence in the direct management of your cult or else it could be hijacked by the opposition, or worse, a not-so-loyal lieutenant. Stalin was a master of this management style and developed a habit of personally monitoring and directly approving or disapproving cult products that were to be distributed to the masses. So next time one your lieutenants offers to “take care” of management, politely refuse. Reply that you will “take care” of him and send him to Siberia to break rocks.

6. Conceal any and all Physical Faults

Kim-Jong-il

Kim Jong-il. October 7, 2010. (maxdavinci)

We know you’re perfect, but on the off chance that you have a physical or mental ailment, it must be concealed. You need to portray yourself as god-like, and to do this requires careful image manipulation. Kim Jong-il had a major speech impediment that prevented him from giving speeches or distributing recordings, but he was able to hide this impediment and keep his people in the dark. Rather, Kim was known to have Herculean sporting abilities where he would bowl and golf perfect games, and he was incapable of passing gas. Focus on your strengths and do not be afraid to highlight only your finest qualities, such as your ability to show off that priceless grin.

7. Bad Press is BAD Press

Edmund S. Valtman, What you need is a revolution like mine ppmsca.02969

This cartoon of Fidel Castro is critical of Cuba’s revolution in 1959. August 31, 1961. (Edmund S. Valtman)

The saying “any press is good press” should NOT apply to you. As supreme autocrat, you can afford to restrict any and all bad press. Any negative material could dampen your image and threaten your grip on power. It may be wise to invest in subtle social media filters, shut down freelance journalistic outlets (perhaps by accusing them of being “foreign agents”) and employ youth bloggers friendly to your regime to capture the minds and hearts of a more skeptical generation. Now there’s an image that makes every autocrat want to click the “like” button.

8. Keep it Funky

Vladimir Putin in Japan 3-5 September 2000-23

Vladimir Putin judo wrestling at the Kodokan Martial Arts Palace. September 5, 2000. (Russian Federation)

Unpredictability is a good thing. By dazzling your people and the international community, you will earn a reputation of being spontaneous and larger-than-life. Many autocrats have employed this technique. Chairman Mao accomplished this task by allegedly swimming the length of the Yangtze River. Putin constantly publicizes his wild activities, such as wrestling fellow Russians to the ground (that includes bears) or guiding endangered migratory cranes on a hang glider. Stability is a necessary ingredient to ironclad rule, but in order to build a good brand, a little funk is necessary now and then.

*Disclaimer: The aforementioned recommendations will only get you so far in an increasingly democratic world. In these volatile times, where a globalized press and social media apparatus seem to be exposing the ugly aspects of your brotherhood of autocrats left and right, the days of autocracy are increasingly numbered. Instead of building a cult of personality, consider democratizing your state’s society and liberalizing its economy. Until next time, Do Svidaniya.

Updated 2 November, 2013: formatting changes for better image-text integration.