It was eight years ago today that I started this website – it seems a world away from now as we look to another new year with, mostly, very different faces among the world’s leaders.
I had recently come out of hospital after a life-threatening illness and some of the events of October and November passed me by. I had been an excited follower of Barrack Obama’s campaign for the American presidency and I had heard some news of things going wrong with the international banking system. I think, if I remember correctly, that I was feeling optimistic about the future. Then I suffered a major brain haemorrhage that took me away from current affairs until around the time that I started to write these pages.
Eight years on, I’m now completely recovered but I wish I could say the same about the world as we leave 2016 for a worrying 2017.
So who were our leaders in 2008? I was surprised to see just how different things were then. Take a look.
Well, yes, all seemed possible when Barrack Obama was elected president and we shall miss him when he stands down in just three weeks time. If the Republicans in Congress hadn’t set out to block his every move, we’d have had more of his legacy than Obamacare, Marriage Equality, the Paris climate change summit, the Iran nuclear deal, the death of Osama bin Laden, and that sense of the world’s strongest country being in the hands of a civilised, benign and intelligent progressive. Congress, to its eternal shame, consistently blocked his attempts at gun reform and at closing the infamous Guantanamo Bay. He knew what he wanted as far as America’s wars were concerned and stuck to his principles, mostly, over limiting American army ‘boots on the ground’ even if the results were the rise of ISIS, the tragedy of Syria and the rise and rise of those frightening drones. In spite of the down bits, I shall be sorry to see him go.
He may have been a grumpy old thing but Gordon Brown was a great deal more than just a safe pair of hands when he succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister of the United Kingdom. Britain doesn’t like to admit it these days but without Mr Brown at the helm when the great 2008 financial crash occurred, Britain’s economy could have gone through the floor with catastrophic results for employment, industry and what was then hopeful signs in the country’s health and education systems. Well, he was chucked out and, yes, the rest is history. I wonder how many people would have voted him out if they could see where we are today.
The political alternative for Britain in 2008 was the pleasant enough but hopelessly upper class David Cameron whose idealism and cynicism was mostly held in equal balance due to his posh debating society view of serious issues. In the end he was always going to be alright, no matter what happened to the rest of us.
There was a new kid on Britain’s political block in those days – the fresh-faced, bright-eyed and new-sounding Liberal-democrat leader, Nick Clegg. Britain, in optimistic mood, thought for a time that he would be a genuine dose of fresh air for a country too long governed by the two major parties. It didn’t quite work out that way but, for a moment, he sounded like a nice British Barrack Obama.
There may have been some fresh smiling faces at the top of the West’s political parties, but it was a harsh and brutal world out there in 2008. No single figure haunted our imaginations more than the head of that murderous organisation Al Qaeda, whose shadow darkened all our lives with its members’ policy of mass murder in their blasphemous rewriting of the great faith of Islam.
Other leaders who sat pretty on the horrors of their regimes in 2008 were also perverters of Islam – Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It seemed, back then, that they would be the next candidates to fall, when early signs of the 2011 Arab Spring painted these men as political dinosaurs. If only. Libya got shot of Gaddafi but it is now in chaos and, well, Syria, with Assad still stuck to its boots like a piece of old sticky tape, has become the biggest tragedy since the Second World War.
Iran didn’t feel much better in 2008 under the premiership of the wild-eyed and wild-mannered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who managed to remain leader in spite of, or because of, his indifference to human rights, international relations, diplomacy or the dire economic consequences of his ultra conservative political agenda. People have forgotten how big a deal Obama’s 2016 Iran Nuclear Deal actually was. Please take note President-elect Trump.
In 2008, unlike most other Middle Eastern governments, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were being led by two intelligent, diplomatic and peace-loving men in Salam Fayyad of the P.A. and much-missed (and now disgraced) Ehud Olmert of Israel. When chaos was looming elsewhere in that region, there were reasons for hope in these tow prime ministers negotiating skills but, as we now know, their efforts led nowhere.
Meanwhile China was basking in the faint light of Paramount Leader Hu Jintao who, in spite of the financial catastrophes elsewhere, succeeded in building up the Chinese economy to such an extent that it was only time before we all got to realise that soon China was going to be the world’s next economic super power. It was he who managed to build the economy without releasing his government’s tight hold on repressing any possible social liberalisation. China’s current Paramount Leader, Ji Xinping is a bit nastier, just as economically savvy and just as careful not to give away many civil liberties but he’s far better than his rather dull predecessor at giving us a smiling face.
There was some hope too in 2008, in an uncaring kind of way, that the Eternal Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, might have been not long for this world. Eternity in North Korean leaders, luckily, isn’t forever but, those optimists who thought that he might be replaced sooner rather than later by a younger, more liberal and West-friendly Eternal Leader, were to be sadly disappointed by an even worse example of the Korean Democratic People’s Party, unelected ruling dynasty.
And that leaves Europe – or rather the European Union. It might not have been all sweetness and light in the EU in 2008 but, in those days, we were all in it together. Germany and France leading the way, as usual, under chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy, with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the colourful but ineffectual joker having fun on the side, and prime minister Gordon Brown, ideally suited to be Britain’s semi-detached representative who was loving it all really. Who would’ve guessed? Whose worst nightmare really imagined BREXIT? Well, not me. Looking at this picture now, I feel quite nostalgic for those days when we thought Sarkozy and Merkel were heartless right-wingers and that things couldn’t get any worse.
Who would’ve thought too that the only leader that can claim to represent the West’s much strived-for liberal democracies, would be the perennial Angela Merkel? The way things are going in the USA and in Europe, we might all hope that she might one day become our very own Eternal Leader.
Oh yes, I almost forgot… HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!