Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Now, Vladimir, are you going to be a good boy, or do I need to spank you?
Now, Vladimir, are you going to be a good boy, or do I need to spank you?
Image: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Dear ________

As requested, Global Political Recruitment Inc. is pleased to provide a shortlist of candidates for your job posting Leader of the Free World. We’ve enclosed profiles of the top six candidates, followed by three ”dark horse” applicants we thought worth including. Below is also your original job description, for your convenience.

Yours etc.

Job opportunity: Leader of the Free World

The free world seeks a statesperson to fill a recently created leadership vacuum. The ideal candidate will have at least some experience of international diplomacy and be head of a democratically elected government.

As leader of the free world, you will be expected to speak up for human rights, democracy, and international cooperation. Consistent censure of repressive regimes and a perfect human-rights record of your own will be less important than the ability to judiciously use foreign aid, trade relationships, military force, and if necessary, covert ops, blackmail, and bribery to make the world a better place. Close but not overtly friendly relationships with brutal dictators are a core part of the job. Membership of NATO is a plus.


– Respect for, or at least lip-service to, human rights, press freedom, and the rule of law
– Willingness to look tyrants in the eye
– Belief in one’s own exceptionalism
– Ability to speak in complete sentences
– Army and economy massive enough to deter criticism of your own country’s human-rights record

Salary and benefits: This is an unpaid position, but the incumbent will be rewarded with a high horse, large international profile, and frequent accusations of hypocrisy. Performance-based perks include Nobel prizes, chapters in history books, and eye-watering speaking fees.

To apply, please send a clip of yourself taking an inconvenient stance against a well-known leader with widely-recognized autocratic bona fides.

Principal candidates

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Angela Merkel
Position: Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Let’s face it—the German chancellor is the most obvious choice. She brings 12 years’ experience running the world’s fourth-largest economy and is the de facto leader of its biggest trade bloc: the European Union. She’s hated totalitarianism ever since her upbringing in communist East Germany, has shown her warm-hearted credentials in accepting a million refugees—and isn’t one to back down from a fight. Case in point: This week, she publicly pressed Russia’s Vladimir Putin on issues including the torture and murder of LGBT men (paywall) in Chechnya. Days later, Putin said he would look into the matter (link in Russian).

Before you get carried away, though, note that she doesn’t come without her downsides. Never one to court the limelight, her gruff speaking style isn’t going to catch the world’s cameras when she dresses down nasty dictators. What’s more, there’s a good chance she could be out of office by year’s end. Oh, and after World War Two, the country she runs really isn’t keen on having another stab at world leadership; hence it doesn’t have nukes or much of a military, and wasn’t allowed a UN Security Council seat. Plus, she’s kind-of got her hands full keeping the EU together.

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Theresa May
Position: Prime minister of Great Britain & Northern Ireland

Theresa May, unlike Merkel, is very happy taking center-stage. She refers to herself as a “bloody difficult woman,” and proved that she isn’t afraid to look like one when she publicly pushed Donald Trump to give his backing to NATO. Her country is also oh-so-desperate to return to the glory days of empire (when it actually mattered), and has clung on to a few rusting nukes and a UN Security Council seat, giving May much more heft than an island that size ought to have. She’s also built up a fair few years of experience herself, and won the respect of European counterparts as Britain’s home secretary.

However, that goodwill hasn’t lasted long—and a country longing for international leadership isn’t necessarily a good thing. Britons’ yearning for times gone by has pushed them into isolationism, meaning May will be dealing with (increasingly hostile) Brexit talks and their outcomes for years. One of those outcomes might be a much smaller country. It’s also not clear how much she buys into the job; she doesn’t believe in “citizens of the world” and has a disquieting fondness for mass surveillance.

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Justin Trudeau
Position: Prime minister of Canada

Isn’t Justin a darling? Good-looking, with a great nose for PR, he charmed the socks off us in his Skype interview. He’s made a name for himself as probably the world’s most prominent liberal, and doesn’t look like he’ll have too many domestic problems for the time being. Canada’s economy is fairly robust, and doing things that every other country seems to hate these days (like welcoming refugees or condemning Islamophobia) seems to only make him more popular at home.

The problem? Well… Canada, basically. Not exactly a world power, is it. Doesn’t have much of a military, no nukes, little sway at the UN. That lack of clout became awkwardly clear when Trudeau made a rousing promise to stand up to Trump for Canadian interests, but had no seeming impact on lumber tariffs. If all it takes to really hit your economy is some lumber tariffs, you might not be in a strong enough position for this job. (Also, whisper it quietly, but Justin hasn’t always proven as warm and fuzzy: Check out his record on the environment.)

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Emmanuel Macron
Position: President-elect of France

Another young, good-looking crowd-pleaser, this French political upstart speaks fluent English and likes showing it off. As with Britain, he will, after taking office on May 14, lead a country aching to reclaim its lost glory days as a world power. Again, nuclear weapons and that ever-handy Security Council seat will give him leverage. He got some human-rights credibility, as well as plenty of grief at home, for calling France’s colonial history in Algeria a “crime against humanity”—brave of him. And while some people will say he’s a lightweight, never underestimate someone who upended his country’s decades-old two-party system before the age of 40.

On the other hand, most of his pluses can also be seen as minuses. Do you really want an ex-colonial power yearning for greatness to be great again? Do you really want someone who doesn’t even have a political party, and so will probably struggle to govern at home, trying to lead the way abroad? Do you want someone whose chief achievement as economy minister was forcing through widely-despised labor reforms to be a beacon of human rights? And his sensitivity about France’s colonial history could, paradoxically, make him reluctant to lecture other countries—”let he who is without sin among you,” and so on. Might be a tall order.

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Tsai Ing-wen
Position: President of Taiwan

This might seem an odd suggestion, but bear with us. Taiwan is small but feisty, and so is president Tsai. She’s a vocal champion of democracy and freedom who is a pioneer in civic participation in government. Taiwan has the highest press freedom ranking in all of Asia and could be the first place in the region to make same-sex marriage legal. Tsai herself isn’t afraid to stand up to China, which considers Taiwan its province; she cheerfully took a phone call from Trump that upended decades of US-China protocol and has urged Communist Party to think differently and embrace “goodwill.”

The downsides are pretty obvious, though. Taiwan isn’t recognized as a country by most governments, so it has very little global influence. It’s upping its military spending, but that’s after years of decline. And Tsai can only afford to push China so far. She’d be more of a symbolic choice than a practical one, maybe.

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Narendra Modi
Position: Prime minister of India

We include Modi largely because he does, after all, oversee the world’s largest democracy. Also, its fastest-growing major economy, as China slows down. He’s a charismatic, popular speaker with a flair for the dramatic. Loves foreign travel, which is handy if you’re going around laying down international law. And those outfits! He would be sartorial leader of the free world, if nothing else.

You may, however, consider someone who takes criticism of his government in very bad grace to not be the best pick for criticizing others. More seriously, he’s setting a bad example by moving India towards religious nationalism and failing to stop attacks on minorities. The accusations that, as chief minister of Gujarat, he allowed anti-Muslim riots that killed over 1,000 people aren’t going away. And demonetization was a disaster for poor Indians, which makes us wonder whether Modi is really someone who can be relied on to look out for the little guy.

Dark-horse candidates

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Xi Jinping
Position: President of China

Don’t be too quick to dismiss Xi. It’s a topsy-turvy world these days, and he has many things in his favor. Leading the planet’s second-largest economy, with a growing global web of investments and alliances, he has more than enough heft to make other countries fall into line. Unlike some superpower presidents we could mention, he’s a deliberate, thoughtful diplomat. And what about that speech at Davos in January, where he positioned himself as the new champion of globalization? Xi has a clear interest in preventing the world order from sliding into isolationist intolerance.

However, we do have to acknowledge that appointing the world’s biggest (in population terms) autocrat as leader of the free world is not a good look. Especially as he’s currently consolidating his power further, cracking down on free speech (even in Hong Kong, where it’s guaranteed), jailing human-rights lawyers and political opponents, and letting state firms rip off investors. Plus, if he’s already leader of the not-free world, does he really need to be leader of the free one too?

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein
Current position: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Now this man is ideal in almost all respects. He’s been a UN peacekeeper; he played an important role in setting up the International Criminal Court. If you’re looking for a champion of human rights, well, that’s his entire job. He seems to be happy to criticize anyone who falls short on that score, including Arab governments—including his own country’s government, even though he’s the cousin of the king.

Drawbacks: Being beholden to no-one cuts both ways. It’s a little bit awkward that he wasn’t democratically elected; it’s a lot awkward that he doesn’t run a country, an army, or anything other than a UN bureaucracy. Still, given the alternatives, maybe worth a shot?

Image for article titled Seeking a Leader of the Free World to fill a recently created vacancy

Name: Donald Trump
Position: President of the United States of America

This man of course created the vacancy you’re trying to fill by spurning the job of leader of the free world in the first place. We include him here for the sake of completeness. He controls the world’s biggest economy, military, and bully pulpit; has the world’s biggest ego; and won election by the biggest margin of any US president in 30 years, if you believe what he says.

So much for the pluses. On the minus side, he’s been rather a fan of people like Vladimir Putin (though that relationship seems to be cooling) and Rodrigo Duterte, whom he invited to the White House in a “very friendly” phone call—we wonder if his childrens’ business in the Philippines has anything to do with it? Appointing your daughter and son-in-law to be your closest advisers is also not something people aspiring to this role typically do, and Trump wants less press freedom, not more.

Still, he makes a virtue of being unpredictable, so who’s to say he won’t do a 180? Just a word of advice—if you need him to bomb anyone, make sure there’s somebody around to check the map first.