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Empathy or Strategy? Former NZ PM Joins US Think Tank


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In a significant move that has sparked widespread debate, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has joined the Center for American Progress (CAP), a major Democratic Party-aligned think tank in Washington, D.C. Last month, CAP announced that Ardern would launch a new leadership program under its Global Progress Action initiative. The reasons behind Ardern’s decision, the implications for global politics, and the potential effects on citizens.

Ardern’s New Role and the Field Fellowship

In her June 17 Instagram post, Ardern introduced the 12-month Field Fellowship program, designed to support and connect global political leaders who embody leadership grounded in kindness and empathy. She emphasized the program’s mission to foster a network of leaders who prioritize hope and optimism over fear and division.

Patrick Gaspard, CAP’s chief executive, highlighted the program’s aim to counter the rise of authoritarianism and the growing influence of the far-right in Europe. The inaugural fellowship will include women in leadership roles from various European countries, aiming to shape a hopeful, unifying future for the continent.

The Controversy Surrounding Ardern’s Move

Criticisms and Accusations

Despite the program’s stated goals, critics argue that Ardern’s involvement with CAP is a strategic move to mask a more reactionary and authoritarian agenda. Detractors claim that Ardern’s rhetoric of kindness and empathy serves to obscure the real objectives of the ruling classes, particularly in light of her tenure as New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 2017 to 2023.

Ardern’s government, while often portrayed as progressive, strengthened New Zealand’s alliance with US imperialism and oversaw significant wealth transfers to the rich during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics argue that her leadership style, which has been lauded internationally, fails to address the deeper issues of systemic inequality and militarism.

CAP’s Role and Influence

The Center for American Progress, described by Politico as “the most influential think tank of the Biden era,” is closely aligned with the Democratic Party. CAP has a history of producing “humanitarian” propaganda in support of military interventions and has received substantial funding from corporations and wealthy individuals, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Amazon, and Michael Bloomberg.

CAP’s Global Progress initiative, of which Ardern’s fellowship is a part, is led by Johan Hassel, a senior figure in Swedish and European politics. The initiative’s focus on countering authoritarianism and promoting progressive values is seen by some as a guise for advancing US geopolitical interests, particularly in regions like Europe and the Middle East.

Implications for Global Politics

US and NATO’s Militaristic Agenda

Ardern’s association with CAP has broader implications for global politics. The think tank’s history of supporting military interventions and its alignment with US foreign policy raise concerns about the potential direction of the Field Fellowship program. CAP’s endorsement of increased military spending and its calls for more weapons to be sent to conflict zones like Ukraine and Taiwan suggest a continuation of aggressive geopolitical strategies.

The Role of Empathy in Leadership

Ardern’s emphasis on empathy and kindness in political leadership stands in stark contrast to the hardline policies often associated with CAP. However, this juxtaposition raises questions about the effectiveness of such rhetoric in addressing systemic issues like poverty, inequality, and militarism. Critics argue that true empathy in leadership requires more than just compassionate rhetoric; it necessitates concrete actions to address the root causes of societal problems.

Potential Effects on Citizens

Shaping Future Leaders

The Field Fellowship program aims to shape future political leaders who can navigate complex global challenges with empathy and pragmatism. If successful, this initiative could inspire a new generation of leaders committed to progressive values and inclusive governance. However, the program’s effectiveness will ultimately depend on its ability to translate idealistic goals into practical, impactful policies.

Addressing Authoritarianism and Far-Right Movements

The fellowship’s focus on countering authoritarianism and the far-right is particularly relevant in today’s political climate. By equipping leaders with the tools to promote unity and optimism, the program could play a crucial role in combating divisive and extremist ideologies. However, critics caution that such efforts must be genuine and not merely serve as a veneer for advancing other political agendas.

Jacinda Ardern’s decision

Jacinda Ardern’s decision to join the Center for American Progress and launch the Field Fellowship program has generated significant discussion about the role of empathy and kindness in leadership, the influence of powerful think tanks, and the broader implications for global politics. While the program’s stated goals are commendable, its success will hinge on its ability to effect meaningful change and address the underlying issues facing societies worldwide. As the world watches closely, the true impact of Ardern’s new role remains to be seen.

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