Short-sightedness in politics – The Nation

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Liz Truss (47) was elected the new Prime Minister in the UK this week, succeeding Boris Johnson, whom she called a friend in her acceptance speech at the Conservative Party meeting on Monday. Her main contestant Rishi Sunak (42), former Finance Minister, or Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the Brits call it, had to give in to the former foreign minister Liz Truss, but with a relatively moderate margin. It probably counted in her favour that she is ethnic British, while Sunak is of Indian heritage, although born in Southampton, UK. It also played against him that his Indian-born wife, Akshata Murty, is one of the UK’s richest women, but her wealth is registered in her homeland, where her family wealth originates from, raising questions about her and her husband’s loyalty to the UK. In any case, Sunak is for this time out for the top slot in UK politics. But at this particular time of crisis in Europe, it is no envy for anyone to be at the helm. Since Truss is not elected by popular vote, but stepping in well over halfway through a parliamentary term, she has just about two years in office before the general elections must be held, latest by January 2025. In other words, Truss can plan for two years, a shorter time than the normal full five-year period of a PM; on top of it, the time could be even shorter. If she is not already short-sighted in her political tasks, she must learn to be so.
But I shall not only write about British politics and the new PM today; I shall also draw attention to what period all politicians operate under, in general, and in peace and conflict times. Many issues have taken longer to develop and will take longer to solve, such as climate change and global warming, refugee and migration crises, and structural injustices in own country and internationally. They need urgent and long-term attention.
I shall tie the issues in today’s article to issues I have written about in recent articles, indeed Russia’s and the West’s War in Ukraine, but also other conflict situations where there were no proper long-term plans for what to do after the first actions of regime change, such as in Iraq and Libya, and when leaving after two decades of intervention in Afghanistan.
A particular serious neglect on the West’s side was the lack of long-term engagement after the end of the Soviet Union in 1989/90. If plans had been in place, Russia’s relations with the West, and the conflicts in Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine for the last eight years, could have been different and avoided, and Russia could have been on the way to more democracy, not less, as the empire’s last leader, Michael Gorbachev, had prepared for. At his passing two weeks ago, some of us felt that there were parallels between how the West had operated at that time, mostly behind the scenes, and how the West operated before and now during the war in Ukraine. Alas, the long-term plans were rudimentary in the 1990s as well as currently. The war in Ukraine keeps escalating dangerously, and neither Russia nor the West would accept defeat.
When I was a young student almost fifty years ago, we held intense discussions about the problem of politics being short-sighted because of the short terms the politicians were elected for, usually from three to five or six years. Sometimes, the politicians had longer time perspectives in mind than their terms, considering the visions and programmes of their political parties. I believe the situation is much the same today. But in some fields, there has been progress, such as gender equality and other social and behavioural issues, and some environmental issues. However, in those fields, that lasting efforts are more thanks to interest organisations and researchers than ordinary politicians, because interest organisations have played key roles, assisted by research milieus, and politicians realise that they too have to follow suit to remain modern and keep their seats of power.
Liz Truss has only two years to do something and set a mark, but that is an ambitious goal, but at least do something that can alleviate immediate problems, especially regarding energy, leading to higher interest rates and food prices, caused mainly by Russia’s reduced oil and gas supplies and prices, as a reaction to the West’s sanctions against Russia because of its war in Ukraine. This has led to almost half of all Brits having serious difficulties in maintaining their living and health standards, having to prioritise between ‘eating or heating’.
Two years is a very short time for Liz Truss to show political results and change of path, except for temporary emergency measures. However, Truss has promised to ‘deliver, deliver, deliver’, and many issues are indeed urgent as seen from ordinary people’s situations. Some people would say they are glad that she only has two years to do something because they don’t agree with her intention to reduce taxes and public spending. They would argue the opposite is needed in this time of crisis, not policies that resemble PMs such as Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, who ruled in the 1970s and 1980s.
In Pakistan, the current PM Shehbaz Sharif has about a year to show results before the next general elections. That is indeed a tall order, indeed made more difficult because of the worldwide price increases and inflation—and Sharif may not be able to do much to alleviate the situation, despite being known for being a practical and hands-on man. Even if plans were in place, showing results is difficult, both short-term and long-term. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to let Imran Khan continue as PM and for Sharif to challenge him in the coming general elections. But that is now water under the bridge.
Then a few words about the short-sightedness of the US and the West’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, with short-term regime change plans, but naive and scanty longer-term plans for what should happen after the removal of Saddam Husain. The country still suffers from the invasion.
In Libya, the West’s terrible bombing and invasion in 2011 is even more grave evidence of the short-sightedness of politicians and military leaders. NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, that time PM of Norway, has admitted that, too, but in hindsight.
One would have expected the West’s political and military leaders to have learnt something from the past, the situations I have mentioned, so that they could have done better during and at the end of the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan, 2001-2021, and planned for an orderly withdrawal and local take-over in August 2021. Sadly, that was not the case, and the Taliban won over the occupiers, and they still decided to leave. It is the Afghan people who face the consequences, whether they support the Taliban or not, and the majority probably did not support the occupiers for all those war years.
Many more examples and aspects of the short-sightedness of politics and politicians’ thinking should have been mentioned. I promise to come back to the theme later. I believe that in our time, with all the technologies and resources we have, we must be able to make better long-term planning than we do, and also include people better in politics and decisions. In the meantime, let us hope the leaders can shoulder their tasks as well as possible, including in today’s, particularly difficult times.
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Operation London Bridge: UK’s 10-day plan for when Queen Elizabeth II dies
Biden administration approves $450m to upgrade Pak F-16 fleet
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