Which World Leader Has the Toughest Job?
By ROBIN WRIGHT
The news is so awful everywhere these days that I’ve been pondering which world leader has the worst job–or has done the worst job. Some deserve pity for woes not of their making. Others are sadly pathetic for tragedies they helped trigger. Below are my top 10. In the comments section, tell us who’s on your list.
President of Ukraine: In office less than two months, Petro Poroshenko inherited a country that had already lost Crimea and was on the brink of civil war, with the army fighting separatists aided and abetted by Russia. With the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, President Poroshenko faces an escalation of Ukraine’s conflict in tactics, targets and human costs. Two fighter jets were shot down Wednesday. I wonder if he has had any second thoughts about seeking office.
President of Russia: Not for the first time, Vladimir Putin has displayed utter disregard for basic human dignity, as well as international norms, in dealing with Ukraine and MH17. U.S. and European sanctions haven’t phased him either. The former KGB agent is a political bully at home yet his approval rating in Russia is 83%–a 29-point jump over last year, according to Gallup. That’s hard to reconcile, even after the bump from theSochi OlympicsOlympicsOlympics.
United Nations high commissioner for refugees: The numbers grow worse daily forAntonio Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister who is charged with aiding the world’s displaced. For the first time since World War II, the total exceeds 50 million. Over the past two months 1.1 million Iraqis have been added to the list as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) swept across a third of Iraq. If displaced people had their own country, it would be the world’s 24th-largest state. Is there a more heart-breaking, or little-noticed, job?
Prime minister of Iraq: The increasingly autocratic Nouri al-Maliki is clinging to power in a country that has lost one-third of its territory, in less than two months, to the world’s most virulent Islamic movement. His military has crumbled, with four divisions abandoning their posts rather than fight ISIS. Meanwhile, Kurds in another big chunk of territory are making noises about a referendum on breaking off from Iraq. But Mr. Maliki seems more obsessed with his own status than his nation’s fate.
Head of Afghanistan’s Elections Commission: Forget hanging chads. Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani is managing the recount of all 8 million votes for a new Afghan president. Last month’s runoff between front-runner Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had so many accusations and counter-accusations of fraud that Mr. Abdullahthreatened to form his own parallel government. The recount may yet be contested. As if Afghanistan doesn’t have enough problems containing the Taliban as NATO troops withdraw later this year.
Prime minister of Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t been able to make peace but also can’t decisively win a war. He has rallied support at home during Operation Protective Edge, even though more Israelis have died in this conflict than in the 2012 and 2008-09 conflicts with Hamas militants in Gaza. How to get beyond the deadly status quo?
Hamas leaders: Pew recently found Hamas’s standing deteriorating among Palestinians and in the broader Arab world. A poll last month found that support for former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Maashal totaled less than 15%. Among Gazans, 70% favored a cease-fire even as Hamas started firing rockets. Since fighting erupted, the numbers have shifted somewhat in another poll, but a majority still favors an end to this showdown and the broader conflict. The rapidly rising death toll–already more than 700 Palestinians–and destruction may also erode long-term support for Hamas.
President of Syria: With world attention focused elsewhere, Bashar al-Assad was sworn in recently for his third seven-year term, perpetuating a dynasty that has ruled Damascus since 1970–at great cost in Syrian lives. Deaths in Syria’s three-year civil war are estimated to exceed 170,000, most of them civilians. Mr. Assad’s refusal to negotiate a reconciliation government has allowed extremists to consume what started out as a peaceful protest movement and to take over territory. The region is being shaken by his self-absorption.
Prime minister of Libya: Don’t know his name, do you? The sad reality is that no one really runs Libya today. Abdullah al-Thani is the notional prime minister, but few Libyans pay attention to him or his government. Libya is so riven by militias competing for power, turf and spoilsthat Tripoli doesn’t even control its airport, which was turned into a battlefield last week. Three years after Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster, the oil-rich nation still doesn’t have a constitution—and is edging into failed-state status.
President of the United States: One way or another, Barack Obama has to deal with all these foreign policy crises–and such domestic issues as Republicans in Congress threatening to sue him. Last week Pew reported that Mr. Obama’s job approval rating had sunk to 44% (which might give him the lone reason to envy Vladimir Putin). His party faces a tough election in November: Democrats may lost control of the Senate, his last vestige of support in Congress. And next year he becomes a lame duck. All in all, not so ducky.