Felicia Muftic – The U.S. needs the world on its side
November 22, 2009
America’s place in the world is changing. We emerged from World War II and the Cold War as the sole world power. The USSR challenged us in the cold war and we spent them under the table in the arms race. For a brief time we again ruled supreme. We could flex our muscles, make demands, and bully others for a while, but China rose, the European Union proved to be an economic success, Russia made a comeback, and the limits of our military abilities were exposed in the follies of Iraq and our inability to fight in Afghanistan at the same time. The icing on the cake was a free market full of fraud and mega banks too big to fail that resulted in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, and much of the world was brought to its knees. In the words of that country song, we “are not as good as we once were.”
The celebration of the fall of the Berlin wall reminded me of what else has gone wrong with our foreign policy. There was a time when the non-communist world and undeveloped countries looked to the U.S. as a model of how to become wealthy, yet happy and free. Jimmy Carter coined the phrase and set the standard of “human rights,” which was code word for civil justice, protection of minorities, and a more open and tolerant kind of governance. During the George W. Bush administration, the idealism and moral leadership of America took a dive. Our respected justice system appeared to be one that was reserved for Americans only. Guantanamo Bay became the symbol of an America that no longer subscribed to the Geneva conventions, that rationalized torture as “enhanced interrogation.”
Yes, Gitmo became the recruiting poster for Muslim extremists, but it was more than that. We asked the world to do what we said, not what we did. Gitmo became the symbol to the rest of the world that the U.S. had abandoned its moral leadership. Closing Gitmo, finding a solution, and showing the world we still can set the pace for working justice systems are very important to re-establishing our leadership position. Closing Gitmo was never about domestic politics; it is about our national security interests and re-establishing our world leadership.
The truth is, we need the help of the rest of the world to advance our security interests. We cannot enforce trade embargoes against Iran and North Korea single-handedly; their trading partners must cooperate. We need their help in Afghanistan, as stretched as our military is. We have a new economic symbiotic relationship with China.
To get the world’s help, Pres. Obama has found a new set of tools: A doctrine of mutual respect and mutual interest. Ten months into his presidency, it is beginning to pay off. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Meet the Press Sunday, Nov 18, “Diplomacy is the identifying mutual self interest” and that is what Pres. Obama’s trip to the far east was about. China and the U.S., making the largest carbon footprints on the planet, found agreement on steps toward reduction. Russia fears another nuclear power on its borders and began to consider joining the embargo of Iran; China continues to work with the U.S. on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear threat, and Japan is contributing $5 billion to reconstruction of Afghanistan supporting U.S. goals. Recently, NATO ministers agreed more troops should be sent to Afghanistan.
Mutual respect was an oxymoron in the George W Bush era. In Europe, Bush’s popularity had sunk to the low 20s; Barack Obama’s approval is in the 80s. Any European or Japanese leader who saw it in their national interest to provide more help to the U.S. in the middle and far east had to face political flack on the home front. That stigma is now removed thanks to Obama’s emphasis on mutual respect.
Conveying mutual respect is not the same as caving in on U.S. interests; it is not a sign of weakness in itself, and Obama has always been clear about U.S. resolve to stand by policies that enhance American self interest, lest others misjudge our intentions.
When you are tempted to ridicule Obama for bending his tall frame too low as he shows respect to shorter leaders, or to brand his statements as an apology tour, or belittle his Nobel Peace prize, or claim American justice is only for Americans, get a grip on the reality of America’s place in the world and remember that our national security depends upon re-establishing our moral and diplomatic leadership.
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