Planet Strongman

In his 2020 bestseller Rage, Washington legendary journalist and author Bob Woodward recalls discussing the direction of the Trump administration’s foreign policy with the President. Mentioning his dealings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regarding the war in Syria, the commander-in-chief said: “I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you’re not supposed to because everyone says ‘What a horrible guy’. But for me it works out good. It’s funny the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know?”

In his captivating recent book The Age of the Strongman (Other Press), Financial Times foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman quotes former National Security Affairs specialist Fiona Hill when she declared that her former boss was seduced by “autocrat envy”. From Jair Bolsonaro (in Brazil) to Vladimir Putin, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the 45th President got along quite well with those whom he perceived as being strong, an expression easily interchangeable with being autocratic. This trend was confirmed early last month when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathering in Dallas, Texas.

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PM Narendra Modi and Patrick Brown: A Story of Loyalty

Among the qualities displayed by people in life, none is more important to me than loyalty. Without it, you don’t go far. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who participated in a political rally to support Ontario Progressive-Conservative Party leadership candidate Patrick Brown, gave one of the most eloquent manifestations of that quality a few days ago.

Here’s the story:

“Brown met Modi more than five years ago at a trade conference in Gujarat, a state in western India. At that time, Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat and an international pariah. He was accused of being complicit in the deadly 2002 riots that killed more than a thousand people in the state, most of them Muslims.

Even though the courts refused to prosecute Modi, the U.S. refused to issue him a visa and other countries imposed diplomatic boycotts.

That’s when some of Modi’s friends in Gujarat asked “if a Canadian politician could come to speak at his trade conference to try to rebuild this brand of his of being a person who’s going to bring investment to India,” Brown said.

“So I went, I got to know him, I spoke at his conference and we hit it off, so he kept on inviting me back.”

[…]

He [Brown] remembers Modi telling him: “I will never forget who was here during our most difficult days.””

Now, PM Modi – the leader of the 4th military power in the world – has taken upon himself to take time in a busy official state visit to participate in a partisan activity in Canada’s biggest province, Ontario.

I did not know much about Narendra Modi, but his show of friendship and loyalty this week will definitely make me look in his direction from now on.

If the true qualities of a person – or a leader – can be observed in little gestures, then Prime Minister Modi is quite impressive.

The bottom line is: loyalty matters. Period.