For Obama: A Five-Point Foreign Policy Agenda

01/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President-elect Barack Obama was elected to bring change. As he announced his foreign policy team, though, I wondered if this insider group can bring any new ideas to the table. Will they be open to fresh thinking or are they too closely tied to the militaristic Bush administration and the pro-corporate Democratic Party leadership?

At a time of historic global challenges, Americans badly want solutions that reflect our new realities and fit with our values as a peace-loving, democratic people.

The Military Budget: Our over-reliance on military weaponry and projected force has contributed to the draining of our national treasury. We spend nearly half of all money spent on the military worldwide, more than China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea combined. We should begin by cutting the vast amount of unnecessary, wasteful, and corrupt military spending. Here are some places to start.

We need to bring home the vast majority of troops stationed overseas, close most of the 700-plus military bases we operate around the world, and transition veterans and civilian employees of war contractors to the desperately needed green-collar workforce.

More broadly, though, we need to ask what our military is for in an age where the threats are very different than they have been in the past.

Terrorism: The threat of terrorism has driven much of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. There will probably always be terrorism in the world, just as there will always be other types of crime. But terrorists don't function well when their targets are well respected and when the population of would-be terrorists have good alternatives to blowing themselves up. A sensible anti-terrorism policy couples smart law enforcement aimed at violent fundamentalists with policies that enable ordinary people to meet their needs and build a stake in a sustainable future.
Nuclear proliferation: The 2008 National Intelligence Council report, Global Trends 2050, predicts that terrorism is likely to become less important over the coming years, especially if the economy in the Middle East improves. Nuclear proliferation, on the other hand, will be a growing danger. Former Secretary of State George Shultz is among those leading a non-partisan effort to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world, while we still have the chance. The Obama administration could make history by beginning the painstaking diplomatic work necessary to erase this threat from our midst, beginning by reducing the largest stockpiles in the world here in the U.S.
Sustainability: The physical capacity of the Earth to sustain human life is under assault. There is no security without the natural resources on which our lives depend, from farmland to forests; from water to our fragile climate. Already, there are millions of environmental refugees worldwide, and many of the brutal wars raging around the world center on conflicts over resources.

A new foreign policy must give first priority to using these resources to provide sustainable livelihoods that meet human needs and sustain, or restore, ecosystems. We can no longer afford the exploit-and-abandon pattern of global corporations.

The Global Financial Casino: The collapse of global financial markets is the most recent sign that the unregulated, free-wheeling global casino form of capitalism is bankrupt. Future global economic policy must aim to rebuild the real economy of goods and services, and the means for people to secure a dignified quality of life within the ecological constraints of the planet. We must abandon the discredited policies that asked the vast majority of the world's people, including most Americans, to wait for the gambling chits of the global casino to "trickle down" on them. There's much more on this question here and there will be more in coming issues of YES! magazine.

Policies to support peace in Israel and Palestine, support Africa's efforts towards self-reliance, re-build relationships with Iran, and get out of Iraq can be found here.

Our time as sole superpower is ending -- even the National Security Council's Global Trends 2050 report says so. But this could be a good thing. Americans do not want their country acting as a global policeman or, worse, a global jailer and torturer. We no longer can afford to be the world's biggest military spender, and although the world looks to us for leadership, it has rejected domination.

Instead, our foreign policy should center on working as part of a community of nations to build a just and sustainable future for all people. It's amazing how many of our most urgent foreign policy issues can be addressed by doing so.

Note: many of these ideas are drawn from the summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine on a just foreign policy.