Greek Crisis: Tsipras' FDR Lessons

As Greece begins formal talks with creditors on a third bailout valued at 86 billion euros, uncertainty dominates the route to the August 20th deadline. Months of inaction by the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has cost Greece billions in losses. It can certainly use valuable lessons in leadership as it embarks on negotiations.

In a recent speech to parliament, Tsipras confidently invoked the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) by noting that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Like the four-term U.S. president, Tsipras is also presiding over an economic depression.

However, it was FDR's actions, and not just rhetoric, which secured him a place in the pantheon of modern statesmen. FDR's legacy provides eternal lessons for modern-day leaders, and particularly for Mr. Tsipras.

Firstly, FDR possessed the ability to make hard choices and accept responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Unlike Mr. Tsipras during the recent referendum, FDR did not abdicate responsibilities or outsource the hard choices to his citizens for the sake of self-preservation.

FDR directly confronted challenges, particularly during the extremities of the Great Depression and Second World War. After all, there are reasons why he was elected to four consecutive terms. On the other hand, Tsipras was ultimately forced by circumstances to make the tough decision and was humiliated in the process. Secondly, FDR mastered the art of diplomacy and recognized its centrality to effective international problem-solving. Despite ideological differences, he engaged constructively with foreign leaders. Unlike Mr. Tsipras in his relations with European counterparts, FDR saw no purpose in grandstanding and posturing. It simply produced no results. Thirdly, FDR mastered the craft of statesmanship. Unlike most common politicians, FDR tried to remain above the political fray, pursue the high-road of politics and avoid crass populism. Above all, he placed national interest before personal and party interest.

Tsipras' six-month tenure as prime minister has been marked by populist policies and polarizing rhetoric. He has acted more like Europe's Hugo Chavez, but without oil and its accompanying largesse and influence. Finally, FDR inherited a bankrupt nation and left behind a newly confident country prepared to assume global leadership in a dangerous new world. With the support of vast national assets, FDR's statesmanship paid off. However, with limited resources, Greece's plight is far more dire as it attempts to extricate itself from its current woes in the months and years ahead. Ultimately, this underscores the need for Greece to be served by more responsible leadership that understands and pursues the art of effective diplomacy and not futile confrontation.