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Louise Blouin

Louise Blouin

Posted: November 3, 2008 05:10 PM

Obama -- The Return of American Freedom


In the last decades, American leadership has failed to understand the new world of interconnected threats and challenges. With the upcoming presidential election, Americans have a unique opportunity to choose a president who can restore America's dignity and moral authority both at home and abroad. The question Americans must answer is: What kind of leadership can safeguard American freedoms and prosperity while building global bridges to navigate the country through the shared vulnerabilities of this new century?

Certainly, America cannot afford to focus its energies solely on the demonstration of military power. Gone are the days when America could rely primarily on threats and coercion to safeguard its national interest. America cannot attack, "hunt down and punish" every terrorist in the world but must rather work through both dialogue and diplomacy to decrease hatred and resentment in the world's troubled regions. This is doubly important since advances in science and technology as well as availability and ease of use, have created an even greater potential for terrorism -- in the form of a biological or cyber attack -- to have catastrophic impact.

In a world of rapid migration flows and advances in telecommunications, threats are no longer contained in far-away borders that can be attacked and eliminated. Indeed, the hubris of the Bush administration and its attendant lack of foresight has led to a manifold increase in potential extremist recruits not only outside, but inside America as well. In a world where no country knows what the next attack will look like, America's next president must advance a policy of prevention, and a style of governance and management that is able to meet this challenge. To preserve American freedom amid these transformations, he should recognize that empathy, diplomacy and culturally-sensitive dialogue will further American freedom and security more than any "shock and awe" military display.

Neither can America afford leadership that recklessly tramples on the rights, freedoms, and cultures of citizens of America and elsewhere. For decades western nations have neglected to understand and respect the diversity of global cultures and the meanings people give to their lives in their religious symbols, customs and beliefs. America has been at the fore of this neglect, as it sought to impose misinformed solutions in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Somalia. The next president must recognize that any moral claim behind the Bush administration's divisive dichotomy of "with us or against us" has been lost in the shame between Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and with it the role of America as a supporter of global human rights and the rule of law. While we must continually recognize and give praise to America's historical foreign policy and economic record, whether it has been by spreading market-economy or intervening the Balkan war, the way forward for the next president has to start with replacing the righteous pride with humility.

What America needs is a president who can restore America's ability to lead through collaboration, injecting its relationships with humanism and respect for other cultures -- which are incidentally, a part of America's own national cultural diversity as well. He must restore the core American belief in universal human dignity, empathy, and compassion for those in need. Entering the second decade of this millennium, America will leverage its power best through compassionate multilateralism.

In this spirit, three issues urgently call for renewed attention and leadership: a political settlement in the Middle East, functional partnerships with China and Russia, and development in the world's most impoverished regions, starting with Africa.

The Israel/Palestine peace process is the most important issue of our time. In a world where America needs more friends and fewer enemies, an unresolved Middle East conflict makes the country a target of anger and resentment. Many in the region believe that it is within American power to work with Israel and secure Palestinian statehood. For them, America's claims for democracy promotion and human rights are devalued as long as a blind eye is turned to their plight. Moreover, the 'war on terror' has constructed Muslims the world over as synonymous with terrorists. There are over one billion Muslims in the world. America cannot afford to alienate them. Instead, the next president must return to the cherished values of an open and inclusive society, both at home and abroad. This is doubly important since American military reach and its policy of a "best defense is a good offense" in order to safeguard American freedoms is almost at its budgetary limit. The United States will simply not be able to afford further military adventures into Afghanistan or northern Africa, let alone the protection of other nations that have come to rely on American military might in the long run.

With China, glaring inconsistencies appear between American interests and the hostile strategy deployed erratically by the Bush administration. The next president must avoid the persistent criticism of China we have witnessed over the last eight years, particularly on the issue of Tibet. If the war in Iraq has demonstrated anything, it is that incorrect information, coupled with insufficient attention to history and context, can turn unstable situations into catastrophes. While China -- indeed every country -- must be called to account on its human rights record, its demonstrated willingness to engage in constructive dialogue on the preservation of Tibetan culture presents an encouraging opportunity that should not be dismissed. As I have argued elsewhere, America and other western leaders cannot afford let the Tibetan movement become radicalized. Instead, they should support the active engagement with the stakeholders to create conditions for peace and long-term stability.

The next president should support efforts aimed at Chinese reconciliation, which includes clarification of historical memory about the difficult pasts of both China and Tibet, with a view to moving forward. Let us seek to understand the trajectory China has traveled over the last 50 years rather than prescribing incomplete, we-know-better solutions. A country that has succeeded in raising over 400 million people out of poverty over the last 20 years can provide lessons for the rest of the developing world. Good relations with China are both economically and strategically beneficial for America, not only because China finances America's high deficit spending but also because America will need Chinese collaboration to conclude critical global agreements on issues ranging from climate change to trade. The next president must see China as an ally and not a threat, and seek to increase political dialogue and cultural understanding between the two nations. The Louise Blouin Foundation through the recent launch of the China Cultures Fund, will also be working at a high level to create solutions for Tibetan cultural preservation, and the promotion of Chinese culture as an effort towards greater cultural dilplomacy between China and the West.

In Russia, the next president must likewise re-examine the patronizing and intimidating approach adopted by the Bush administration. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that Russia is heading to isolation and international irrelevance, or Governor Sarah Palin says that she can "perhaps" contemplate war with Russia, do they understand the consequences of their words? This is not to condone the proportion of the Russian reaction to Georgian provocation, but to underscore that America's next president must understand that finger-pointing and Cold War rhetoric can dangerously undermine American interests and influence. Russia is essential to American economic, political, and security objectives. Instead of bullying Russia, America must lead through the 'soft power' of persuasion and moral example.

Finally, Africa is extremely relevant to American interests. In an interconnected world, economic distress and terrorism cross borders as easily as epidemics and pollution. Development-oriented policies cannot be rolled back or cast aside in this time of economic turmoil. Now more than ever, American leadership must continue to support the expansion of human freedoms in Africa. As I have emphasized here at the Huffington Post, trade must be the first strategy of ensuring African economic independence. Africa must be supported in the effort to create health and educational infrastructure, institutions of governance and rule of law, as well as the foundations for a healthy market economy. Not only do new markets in Africa present American corporations with investment opportunities, sound African economies, even in their infancy can do much more to lift the Continent out of poverty than aid alone. The Doha Round negotiations also have a vital role to play in decreasing African poverty and growing African economies. The WTO estimates that successfully completing Doha could lift 140 million out of poverty by 2015. America should leap at the opportunity to lead this effort.

Standing on the eve of tumultuous events in history, President Roosevelt said in 1941 that the future, safety and freedom of America were intimately connected with freedom beyond the country's borders. Decades later, Americans face another historic moment of global turbulence. Once more, events of the times remind U.S. voters the world is more interconnected than ever. All Americans are being affected by the current economic crises. They are hurting, and reaching out for hope and self-confidence. Americans want a leader with the wisdom to steer clear of counterproductive military adventures, to regulate the banking sector, and rebuild trust in the country's foundational institutions. They are looking for a person who can transcend party politics, and make them believe again. Obama is the presidential candidate with the poise and intellectual precision necessary to handle the multidimensional demands of our time. He can best restore American freedom and dignity.

Remember that when you go to vote, in order to safeguard American freedom a change is needed both domestically and in the global arena. The United States can no longer afford to create animosity throughout the world that can only be resolved by military force. America also can no longer turn a blind eye on the Israel/Palestine peace process nor African poverty, where the Doha Round agreement is a significant part. Prolonged poverty and deprivation will not only create further ill-will, but the conditions for terrorist elements to emerge. In a globalized era, one based on interconnection and mutual support the United States has the potential to maintain both its moral and economic leadership and as a result Americans and global citizens will maintain their freedom. In order for this to be ensured, the United States must engage with not only the global community but in particular with Russia, China, Africa and the Middle East, with respect and empathy, developing lasting relations and conditions of mutual support and trust.