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President Clinton Reflects on the Bosnian War and Announces the First Clinton Global Initiative Commitment of 2011

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This Wednesday, February 9, I attended an event hosted by President Clinton titled, "America at a Crossroads: The Dayton Accords and the Beginning of 21st Century Diplomacy". The event marked the 15-year anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia -- a war that claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced 250,000 people.

The first panel featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, General Wesley Clark, and the former ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, Peter Galbraith. Together they analyzed the successes and shortcomings of the Dayton Accords, as well as the role these negotiations played in transforming foreign policy in an increasingly interdependent world.

The second panel, moderated by Christiane Amanpour, involved current leaders from the Balkan region and examined how their societies are moving forward post-war. At the end of the event, President Clinton summed up the discussions with some philosophical challenges.

"The Balkans are both the hopeful and cautionary tale of the modern world," he said. "Everyone needs a sense of identity. We need to be able to define ourselves in boxes which enable us to feel tangible and to draw distinctions, man/woman, white/black...our whole minds work to categorize a blurred reality in the categories, and then humanity repeatedly gets in trouble when the categories become more important than the underlying humanity."

Clinton went on to emphasize the need to step out of our boxes and create a new diplomacy, and hopes that places like Egypt and Sudan might lead the way.

"A non-zero-sum game is one where you can win without someone else losing," said Clinton. "We Americans love zero-sum games, that's the Super Bowl...it's nice for sports, but in the world we're living in, we need more non-zero-sum games."

Clinton then went on to praise the Balkan leaders for the wisdom they gained through the tragedy of the war.

"They have learned enough that they believe that they can share the future, and the only way they win is if it is a non-zero-sum game," he said. "It's the test that faces people everywhere."

Lastly, Clinton proudly announced the first Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment for 2011. Started in 2005, CGI brings together leaders from various fields to help find innovative solutions to the world's most pressing problems. CGI's first commitment for 2011 came from City Year, an organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of service. With the help of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, City Year has committed to hosting a delegation from Bosnia. The goal is to inspire Bosnia's youth to become involved in shaping the future. They will meet with non-profit and government organizations, as well as with young leaders here in the US.

The Balkan leaders were excited about the commitment and emphasized that the young people in their countries are not concerned about past ethnic tensions and believe everyone should win. This made me think of the fundraiser I attended last Saturday for the New York-based non-profit organization, Children of Tomorrow. One of the speakers, a 12-year-old seventh-grader named Sophia Harmelin, also believes in a non-zero-sum game.

"I decided that for my upcoming bat-mitzvah service project, I would raise funds to help children throughout the world," Sophia said to the typical New York crowd--one filled with people of various races and religions. "I thought, this is my chance to save lives. Thinking beyond expectation, dreams, and religion is the key to living a happy and free life. I like to call this 'The Movement for New Chances'."

The goal of Children of Tomorrow's fundraiser was to help purchase water filters for the people of Pakistan, where the floods have contaminated the water supply and millions of children are vulnerable to cholera, dysentery and other diarrheal diseases.

"What's a better bat-mitzvah project than to help the children of Pakistan?" Sophia asked, unknowingly answering Clinton's call to step out of the box.

Listening to Clinton and reflecting upon Sophia's words, I wondered: Might this coming generation--a generation growing up with the world at its fingertips--help us finally place our common humanity over our individual boxes? Might this generation, at long last, understand that peace ensues when we all win?

If President Clinton, numerous Balkan leaders, and a seventh-grader named Sophia are hopeful, well then, so am I.

For more information:
www.clintonglobalinitiative.org
www.childrenoftomorrow.org