New Delhi: Leadership is about taking risks. Vladimir Putin is taking risks in Syria to save its identity as a state and to fight the Islamic State (or ISIS). He just lost a warplane to hostile Turkish fire. Turkey wants to make Syria its puppet state which is plain wrong. The loss of a plane won’t deter Putin because that is what Great Power leadership is about. President Obama shows no qualities of leadership. He has let down America and the world in the fight against the most fearsome global terrorist group to date. He must catch up.

The demands of the time require Presidents Obama and Putin to put aside their differences on Ukraine, etc, and come together in the fight against ISIS. The second order of priority is to enforce a ceasefire agreement among the rival forces in Syria, including the Bashar al-Assad government, have a caretaker regime in place, and go for elections as soon as possible. The West’s condition that Assad should keep away from elections is unfair and unacceptable. Not only will this not restore peace, it is unjust to one party. Would America play along where the Democratic Party, for example, is not allowed to contest the US presidential election? You cannot have one rule for yourself and another for another.

The third order of priority is to stabilize the existing state system in the Middle East. Iraq has to be stabilized from the chaos created from misguided US intervention. For politics of the region as a whole to stabilize, a healthy separation from religion ought to be reached. The former Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, says this separation is not possible because religion is deeply embedded in the region. For his own sermons, both Christians and Muslims came. By his leadership, he scaled up religion to above a narrow church or dogma, and took it to a place of natural calm called faith. The same thing is possible in politics. People are free to have their faiths and religions. But it should be personal and confined to themselves and their homes. In the realm of politics, it is politics alone that should matter, mingled with the political economy. All this may seem too soon for the Middle East. But it is the way to go. Unfortunately, political leaders like President Obama are not applying their minds to these subjects.

It is never too late, however. To start with, Obama and Putin must have a summit meeting soon. Russia is not a “regional power” as the current US administration likes to assert. It has considerable sway in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The divisions of America and Russia are dividing the world unnecessarily. Their clash is unnatural because it is not underpinned by an ideological divide. That ended with the Cold War. The summit should jointly declare to put present differences on Ukraine, etc, aside for the time being and concentrate on neutralizing the ISIS threat and restoring order to the region. As a second step, NATO countries, including Turkey, can be made part of the formal arrangement. Turkey should be barred military adventures like shooting down Russian warplanes, because it could trigger off another sort of Crimean War, where the wider world would be forced to take sides. A third world war would perfectly suit the purposes of global nihilists like the Islamic State.

President Obama has a last chance to lead. He must act from instinct and not become a prisoner to establishment straitjackets. America’s most dashing and controversial Presidents, from Abraham Lincoln to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, tested the limits of establishment conservatism and redefined leadership. Nixon was wrong on Watergate but brilliant on China. Reagan went the extra mile with Mikhail Gorbachev after calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. Such is leadership and a legacy President Obama should cherish and carry forward.