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Leaders must have heart

OFFICIAL visits and high-level meetings between and among presidents, prime ministers, the royalty and other leaders are planned ahead of time.


The circle of advisers prepare the official texts of speeches minding every word, concept, suggestion, ensuring clarity of polices, even designing ambiguities, opening pathways for further ties.

On being welcomed at Subang Airport in October 1966 three years after the formation of Malaysia, a few months after the ending of the Indonesian Konfrontasi in August 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: "I feel that I know you because Malaysia, like the United States, is a federation of states which were once colonies of Great Britain and because Malaysia is like the United States, a nation of many diverse peoples, different religions and different cultures.




United States President Barack Obama speaking at the meeting with young leaders of Southeast Asia in Universiti Malaya during his visit to Malaysia last month.
"Here, as in America, you are working to reduce racial tensions so that all men may live in peace with one another.

"Malaysia, like the United States, has been making great social and economic progress, based on the concept of personal initiative.

"That concept, that a man should be free to make the best of his life as he sees fit, is one that the people of America cherish. But though I feel that I know you, I have come here to learn from you. I know that your nation is a model of what may be done by determined and farsighted men in Southeast Asia."

What other people say about us allows for affirmation of our national identity.

Johnson visited Felda Labu, where a village and school were named after him. He also tried his hand at rubber tapping, at a time when rubber trees and estates were respected as income sources for the people and country. The idyllic peace in Malaysia contrasted with the napalm bombings and killings in Vietnam with destruction and losses such conflicts bring to all people.

In 1998, the then US vice-president Al Gore came for the Asia Pacific Economic Council Meeting.

His cavalier treatment of Malaysia as the host created a furore in diplomatic protocols in the region.

His support of the opposition in Malaysia then was considered "megaphone diplomacy".

The then minister of foreign affairs, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, accused him of "gross interference in the internal affairs of the country... Malaysia finds the incitement by the US government to lawlessness by certain elements within the country to use undemocratic means in order to overthrow a constitutionally elected government, most abhorrent".

Tan Sri Noordin Sopiee, then the chief executive of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), took a full page in the New Straits Times as a citizen to advertise his abhorrence to Al Gore's behaviour.

Malaysians, from government and opposition and throughout the land, closed ranks and there was the spirit of patriotism against a person expected to become the president of the United States.

Lately, former president Bill Clinton had, in fact, visited Malaysia in a private capacity.

The 44th president, Barrack Obama, visited Malaysia last month for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. If LBJ's visit was during the period of the domino theory and the rise of communism, Obama's visit is during the Islamic domino theory and global movement of moderates against extremism.

Obama asserts American interest in the region: "...because you're home to more than half of humanity, Asia will largely define the contours of the century ahead. This is why America has refocused our attention on the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region".

During the meeting at Universiti Malaya with young leaders in Southeast Asia, in response to a question regarding regret to guide the younger generation, Obama said: "I regret not having spent more time with my mother. She got cancer. It happened very fast, in about six months. There was a stretch of time where I was so busy with my own life that I didn't always reach out and communicate with her and ask her how she was doing and tell her about things.

"What you remember in the end, I think, is the people you love. I didn't every single day, or at least more often, just spend time with her and find out what she was thinking and what she was doing, because she had been such an important part of my life."

There is a time for leaders to assert principles and policies. But in the final analysis, leaders must have heart and be seen as human and not too ready to judge and pass sentences on others.



Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid  | iabaiw@yahoo.com Writer is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University NST Opinion Columnist 02 May 2014
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