President Obama wants to redraw the global partnership map, risks and all.
As ambitious as its $10 trillion domestic agenda has been, the Obama administration has been even bolder and more creative abroad. Led by Secretary Clinton, the U.S. isn't just talking to the bad guys. From Russia to Afghanistan, China to Syria, the administration has put some mind-bending partnership proposals on the table that, if successful, could transform the world and help our economy. Fat chance? Suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine Iran as a partner in the Iraq/Afghanistan theaters. How many lives, how many trillions in military spending and nuclear deterrence efforts would that save? Imagine reading about how Syria helped turn Jerusalem and Gaza into a global biotech hub, instead of about how Israel and Palestine turned the region into a biohazardous wasteland. Imagine a China that buys $100 billion worth of U.S. clean air and water technology each year, both lowering global asthma rates and creating tens of thousands of U.S. jobs for high school graduates.
If you think this sounds like "happy talk"--by all means, take a seat. Some of the less charitable folks in Obama's circle would certainly invite you to sit on the sidelines and doubt them as you did in 2007. They would argue that the failed U.S. economy and our huge deficit demand that we radically rethink one of the biggest items in the federal budget: close to $1 trillion in annual military and war spending. A kinder contingent of Obama supporters (or perhaps just a group of smart historians) would point you to those so-called "sudden" transformations we've seen before: South Africa in the early 90s, Northern Ireland in the mid-90s, India in the 40s, even Japan post-World War II.
Of course, as in each of those historic reversals, Obama will need to take great risks to achieve great change. He's initiated the conversation with Iran by inviting them to a summit on Afghanistan. They'll want a favor in return. To work with the moderate Taliban (assuming moderate Taliban exist), Obama and Clinton may have to sacrifice some generally non-negotiable principles, namely women's rights. And that's if he even gets to the table. This is an administration still feeling its way through the art of diplomacy; clearly, they have yet to master the subtleties of international gift-giving. Entering into so many arenas at once, with such an ambitious agenda, increases the chances of a blunder far worse than a mistranslated word.
Kennedy had the Bay of Pigs, Wilson the League of Nations. Even if Clinton & Company are dramatically successful abroad, a continued recession at home would expose 44 to the same political fate as Jimmy Carter, Bush the First, and Winston Churchill. He'll need favorable outcomes in upcoming overseas elections (the U.K. this summer, Iran and Germany this fall, Iraq in December) and a healthy dose of luck for the gamble to work. But the upside is clear: if Obama can redraw the global partnership map and stave off a depression at home, the U.S. may spend (and deserve) another 50 years as the world's leader.
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