Politics has always fascinated me. When I was four, I told my parents, “I am going to be the first Black President!” Almost forty years ago, that seemed impossible. But in 1978, at the age of six, I saw Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the Camp David Accords with President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin hammering out an agreement for peace between Israel and Egypt.
I studied Sadat. Why not? He looked like me. His hair was gray, but the texture looked like mine. I could relate to him even more, when I learned he was a Muslim like my family. At first, I was alarmed that he smoked a pipe. But that made me look closer and see something I have found in other courageous leaders.
They are pensive. Sadat looked this way with his pipe in hand. But like courageous leaders, sometimes he looked sad. Not the kind of sad you and I feel. His was a retrospective sadness. Like he was thinking, “They aren’t going to like this, but it is the right thing to do.”
That look comes from knowing they may be right but have to move a mountain of naysayers to get the people onboard. Who wouldn’t be sad knowing this lies ahead. That is why CHANGE is hard and we see many leaders instead of standing up with courage, they turn and run the other way.
Equipped with this difficult task, on the global stage Sadat still often flashed a big smile. Begin and Carter did too. Their smiles on September 17th, 1978, were one of hope, that together they would move that mountain.
History shows that courageous leaders against great opposition, inspire hope. They inspire even when we aren’t ready to travel the road less traveled. Fortunately, we have had Presidents do this, even when our Congress disagrees. Domestically this was the case with slavery, segregation and women’s right to vote.
Internationally we saw it when President John F. Kennedy negotiated behind the scenes with Russia averting war over the Cuban missile crisis. When President Richard Nixon negotiated and then visited China. And when, President Ronald Reagan negotiated with Russia to eliminate intermediate range and shorter range missiles. All decisions that altered the course of history using the strength of diplomacy over the power of war.
The Iran agreement is a pathway forward that trusts the strength of our diplomacy. What fourteen countries including the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany achieved is historic.
Leaders like South African President Nelson Mandela whose nation was imperiled by apartheid offered his nation a better way forward. If we look at photos and video of Mandela, you might see the look of pensiveness and sadness once he left prison. Yet, close your eyes and remember his great smile. It is like he knew something we didn’t. And he provided hope to his nation and led them from apartheid to liberation.
Like Mandela, Obama now will try to offer that hope to our Congress who disagree with his decision with Iran. Congress will debate it and may vote against it. The reality is there is no agreement the GOP would accept. They prefer fear, conflict and tension. That is why this agreement puts Obama in the category of Presidents like Mandela, Kennedy, Carter, Nixon, Reagan, Sadat and Begin.
He made a hard decision that leads to a better pathway for peace. And opens pathways for the world to get to know Iran better. Because of the Camp David Accords I have been able to visit Egypt, South Africa and Israel. I hope in the near future, peace in Iran makes it possible to travel there.
CHANGE is difficult for some to accept. At times, leaders feel like they are stuck in quick sand moving large numbers out of an abyss of despair. They cannot walk like they are on land. They have to rise above the danger and see, then communicate that help and a brighter future with a better way is ahead of them.
Some leaders don’t have that ability. More importantly, they don’t possess the talent or ability to inspire hope . So they use fear to keep people close. This causes more friction and danger. We see this too often here and abroad. It keeps wars going for too long.
That’s why President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words are still used today. During a time of great economic calamity he said in his first Inaugural Address that the “only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Fear has been used for centuries to keep us from moving FORWARD. The awakening of the intellectual spirit is offering hope that there is a new and better way FORWARD. That is what this agreement is really about, a better way FORWARD.
We won’t know for weeks, years or decades to come, if Iran will hold up its end of the bargain. But we should give it a try. And whether you do or don’t applaud the President for it, at least support him in the short term for diverting our nation from a course that would lead to another war.
The President like those before him often has that pensive look. At times, he has a look of sadness in his eyes. Moving a mountain is no small feat. Over the past six years, we have seen his big smile! It is a smile of HOPE. It tells us everything is going to be okay. He is battle tested and deserves our support on this decision. The President has led our nation out of economic uncertainty, stabilized global markets and got us out of two wars.
He has moved mountains and as a leader he continues to make the hard decisions, not the popular one. His hair is gray much like Sadat’s almost four decades ago. He like Sadat, Begin and Carter during the Camp David Accords is trying to make America safer.
Some child or children are watching Obama as I watched Sadat thirty-nine years ago because they can relate to him. More importantly, they are watching us. Let’s give them the best example to follow. One that shows that together, we can move big mountains and make the world a better place for us all!
Atiba Madyun is President of The Madyun Group (TMG), a Public Affairs firm in Washington, DC and creator of Cognitive Relevance (CR) and Party Politics (PP). Follow him on Twitter @atibamadyun or Like Atiba Madyun on Facebook.