Dateline: July 4th
There's nothing like staring out over the clouds and Atlantic Ocean below en route home from Europe on the 4th of July to idyllically daydream what a President Barack Obama could do, I mean really do, to bring positive change to the world and restore international trust in what we stand for as a nation. When I speak of change, I refer to change that will transform our tarnished reputation from a nation that has seemingly lost its way to a nation that summons the best of America's spirit to embrace and promote change as positive force for global good.
As Winston Churchill once said of us Americans: "...Let them act to the level of their power and their responsibility, not for themselves, but for others, fall all men in all lands, and then a brighter day may dawn upon human history. I just (admittedly belatedly) read his book, and Barack Obama surely has that audacity of hope to reverse the tide of despair that characterizes the image of America abroad.
To the extent Americans have paid close attention, much of the give and take between Barack Obama and John McCain has been limited to current international travails and the residue of what Bush wrought on us abroad as well as the relative experience of each candidate. It has been less about how the next president is going to actually restore America's commitment to global leadership -- not the "in your face" attitude of the past eight years, but the hallmarks of leadership that had earned us a place of privilege and greatness as a nation when our leaders were revered rather than reviled. There remains a huge gulf between what is being expressed on the campaign trail and what may actually be changed to get the job done.
The world really cannot wait. The 21st century is less than a decade old, and already many of the dangers of the previous century have infiltrated into our daily lives: food shortages, nuclear proliferation, Islam's turbulent transformation, dependency on foreign oil, the melting of the polar ice caps, etc. And the multilateral institutions that were created after World War II, while serving us well in many instances, seem not up to the task to take on this century's challenges. They are in dire need of remodeling or removal to accommodate these new challenges.
If Barack Obama is going to summon the pent-up national and global thirst for change then I encourage his advisers to reach deeper into the realm of possibility. So many around the world depend on remedying what the past eight years have been wrought on them by the insatiable hubris of our current leadership.
What is truly possible vs. what sounds idealistic but impossible?
Here is a 30,000 foot wish list of several doable big-think ideas:
1. An Obama-led proposal to create a global food bank, that would help develop a new generation of nutrition-rich crops to combat malnutrition. Wealthy nations would be "taxed" to provide either logistical, financial, or food aid to deploy new food storage facilities in strategic regions around the world so that hungry nations can "withdraw" food assistance as needed.
2. How about a new global disarmament fund? This fund would challenge the leading industrial nations to commit to reducing their "offense" (not "defense") budgets each year by 0.5% in real terms. These "savings" would then be pooled into a new international humanitarian relief agency whose mission is to maintain and dispatch humanitarian relief for natural disasters and conflict that the United Nations seems unable to accomplish on its own.
3. Given my parochial interest in helping to restore the Muslim Middle East to greatness, I would like to see a President Obama propose that all Muslim members of the OPEC cartel (Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Libya (others?) create a Muslim Development Initiative Agency. Based on their respective oil revenues, each member would be encouraged by a President Obama to contribute 10% of their net oil revenues to the social and economic development of the more impoverished nations of the Muslim world. The U.S. and other countries would provide technical support to this enterprise whose principal goals would include job development, health and welfare programs, public school vocational training and revitalization of civil institutions.4. So, Mr. President, what are you going to do to help leading oil consuming nations to collectively address the escalating price of oil? I would propose you develop an "Organization of Petroleum Consuming Nations" or (OPCN). OPCN would have three principal goals:
- OPCN members would commit to freezing the level of imported fossil fuels within 10 years, and substitute their post-freeze energy needs with conservation strategies and alternative energy investments, such as solar, atomic or wind, with incremental standards being set every two years to promote a reversal in consumption.
- A "Manhattan" style Project to develop emission reducing technologies that put teeth into the Kyoto emissions standards.
- Development of a new "International Environmental Organization" led by none other than Al Gore, which is responsible for developing global goals to preserve the environment.
5. Create a new "bipartisan" advisory board to the current National Security Council which would be composed of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, as well as former Democratic and Republican national and foreign policy leaders. This new bipartisan board, empowered to meet no less than monthly, would be chaired by the president's national security advisor to help forge a bipartisan consensus on national security, foreign policy, global economic and trade initiatives.
6. Reducing the threat of terror requires a new international organization in lieu of the patchwork of national and international agencies that have yet to develop global strategies to combat this scourge at a time when states and sub state actors view the tactic as means to ends. This will require a new Global Counterterrorism Organization that has the talent, resources and global support to develop new programs and coordinated approaches to help nations neutralize the genesis of terrorism at its varied sources -- not just to develop better intelligence, but to develop new programs and policies to curb terrorism. Changes in policies are one thing -- pooling ideas and resources under one roof is another, and that is what is now missing from any international organization.
So, as my plane heads closer to North America, I realize that there are many more ideas that a few more clouds on the horizon may provoke. I would like a President Obama to take the U.S. and the world on a voyage of global change. Not every idea or every program listed here or promoted by his advisors will receive Congressional or international support. The naysayers will surely pounce. But this list is meant to challenge and to provoke so that we can aspire to the greatness that his candidacy is generating around the world. I know, I was just in Europe and the Middle East. People everywhere are audaciously hoping for change from a new American president whose roots are as much abroad as they are at home.