THINKing Outside the Box

During the primaries, Barack Obama was roundly criticized for saying that he would meet with leaders such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran or North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il without preconditions. Even President Bush, who had repeatedly stated that he would not involve himself in the primary process, characterized Obama’s comments as sending the wrong message about American leadership in the world.

What leadership? For decades our foreign policy has been lacking the vision to see beyond the events of the day to a future where American leadership will have to be shared with other ascendant nations of the world. As Obama so subtly but forcefully articulated in his essay in Foreign Affairs (Jul./Aug. 2007), the United States will not continue to be the sole lead actor on the world stage, nor will it have sole authority on how the future script will be written or played out. The simple fact is that events in the world, both the transient affairs of men and the eternal affairs of the planet, have eclipsed any nation’s ability to play the solo and must have an ensemble cast.

Foreign policy in the United States continues to be run by “Cold War” relicts; men whose views were formed in the Seventies and Eighties by mentors whose experience was formed in the Fifties and Sixties. Their understandable but obsolete fixation that a stable world must of necessity be a single or bipolar balance is not and has not been a realistic view of the world since, for example, the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a tremendous tactical and strategic mistake to characterize the collapse as a case of “we won”; the real truth is that the Soviet leadership lost.

We arrogantly assumed that “Soviet” equaled “Russian”, with the result that twenty years later, we are entering into a new “Cold War” with an actor whose cooperation we cannot do without and who is not in the least intimidated by the fact that the United States remains the only nation theoretically capable of projecting its military power anywhere in the world.

Obviously, neither are the Chinese, or the “hard-line” states of the Middle East, Asia or for that matter South America.

Open diplomacy is and must of necessity become the primary tool of choice for our nation.

Our continued reliance on military solutions whether it involves direct intervention or indirect (arms sales, neo-containment policies like extended membership in NATO), and particularly doing those unilaterally, is only having the effect of weakening our moral authority, our domestic security, our economic health and are threatening to create a far more destabilized world than one comprised of multi-polar, but essentially cooperative sources of power.

A character in a science fiction novel once stated, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Fiction has a funny but inexorable way of becoming fact. Perhaps Senator Obama is simply a little quicker on the uptake than his critics, and we should seriously start to think outside the box as well.

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