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Turning Disaster Into Opportunity

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Rare is the catastrophe that does not offer some promise. The key is having the genius to discover hope within the rubble.

An argument can be made that the current financial disaster offers a future president, Obama in this case, the chance to transform the U.S. economy. A weakened Wall Street and a chastened conservative community are not now in a position to resist thoughtful and sober re-regulation of markets. The Reagan era (actually Nixon-Reagan-Bush) is over and with it the arrogance that laissez faire always presumes.

But recreation of another Rooseveltian period of 1932 to 1940, with a new set of rules for intricate financial institutions, is not enough. We must transform our economy from one of consumption to one of production, invest much more heavily in new technologies, research, and invention, and start the process of creating a post-carbon economy. The current wreckage must not simply be put back together to recreate the old economy. It must be pushed out of the way to make space for a new, 21st century economy.

The same may be said for foreign policy. Merely returning to the pre-Bush status quo will not work because the new century features a host of new realities: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the rise of stateless nations; the threat of pandemics; failed and failing states; mass south-north migrations; climate change; globalized economics; and the list continues. An Obama administration will have responsibility for repairing damaged traditional relations. But it will also have the opportunity to create a new round of international institution-building that includes international financial regulation and cooperation, international administration of a post-Kyoto treaty, reduction in nuclear weapons, integration of public health services, and so on. Our new foreign policy should be patterned on the immensely creative 1945 to 1948 Truman era.

And when troops and equipment are returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, our military should not merely be "re-set", the Washington code word for rebuilding the Cold War military. Our defenses in the new century must acknowledge the transformation of war and the changing nature of conflict which will require new military structures, command and control systems, and even weapons themselves.

The Wall Street disaster is a metaphor for excess and greed, but also for a time gone by. The world of the new century requires not just a new Democratic administration, but one that is prepared to transform our nation and help transform the world.