It does not have to be this way!

 

Opened_up_a_Pandora's_box

This is not a Thanksgiving downer, but a hope-filled call to action.

A former colleague, boss, mentor, and friend taught me this sentence many years ago and at my invitation has repeated it since in sessions of the leadership development program I lead at the McCain Institute for International Affairs here in Washington, D.C.

These eight simple words form the basis for a new agenda of our country and that of our many like-minded friends and partners around the world.  It is the beginning, but not the end of a leadership action plan for escaping the painful and retrograde public policy mess we find ourselves in from Washington to Berlin, from Caracas to Manila, and in many places in between.  A vocal, but defensive and powerless majority of the people in countries around the world have decried the current state of affairs: a world filled with alternate facts, self-serving dismissal or even hatred of those who disagree with those currently in political power, and a defiant refusal to shape a better global future by insisting on a return to a past reminiscent of the Dark Ages.  To no avail.

In the United States, the 2016 Presidential election opened a Pandora’s Box.   The legitimate fears of many good people – our neighbors, friends, and family members — of being left behind in a new America they saw bringing benefits to a political, economic, and cultural elite they felt excluded from.  And to add insult to injury, these good Americans who had in successive generations helped build this country, saw their pleas for inclusion in this future world ignored.  Similar sentiments were reflected among equally well-meaning people in many other countries.

So along came the successors to the many charlatans who throughout history have seen opportunity in the misfortune and fears of others.  They released and paraded the worst vices out of Pandora’s infamous box as the solutions to the challenges of a changing world.  They turned the hearts of good people to stone and lifted the rocks that many not-so-good people emerged from.  And ever since then the vocal and powerless majority has blustered about how horrible charlatans and their acolytes are.  Well, duh!  Tell us something we don’t know.

The answer to the challenges of our age lies not in the complaints against the actions of the charlatans, but in the articulation and more importantly, the decisive actions of character-driven leadership.  Few people will readily identify what character-driven leadership means.  Amazing, since parents, teachers and spiritual leaders have defined it for ages:  truth, honor, decency, respect, humility, charity, and compassion, to name just a few.  In short, you know character when you see it.  Our public policy and political and civic discourse must be subordinated to these values.

In 1783, at a time when the future of our new nation was anything but secure, our most respected fellow citizen who would become our first President, said it in a message to the governors of the 13 American colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War:

 “I now make it my earnest prayer that God… would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large; … and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, … without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.” — General George Washington

Abraham Lincoln believed so strongly in the importance of preserving what this “happy nation” stands for that he was willing to shed blood among brothers and sisters in its defense.  Today’s charlatans also believe –in themselves — not the American people or our happy nation. So let’s stop being defensive about our values in the face of this narcissism. Fulfilling Washington’s prayer and Lincoln’s belief requires a character-driven agenda for America and for what Senator John McCain has recently called “the West” – a community of values, not of geography or political affiliation.

IT CAN BE THIS WAY!

 

 

 

 

 

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Advancing American Global Leadership

U.S. Global Leadership
I did not want to write this.  I believe that pretty much everything that can be said about our President’s foreign policy vision has been said.  The people who support Mr. Trump do so with the same vigor as those who disagree strongly.  But a July 13 New York Times op-ed by National Security Advisor LTG. McMaster and Director of the National Economic Council Cohn, entitled “The Trump Vision for America Abroad” convinced me to share my views.
 
LTG. McMaster and Mr. Cohn assert that the President’s early July visit to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Germany strengthened U.S. alliances and that “the American delegation returned from the trip with tremendous optimism about the future and what the United States, our allies and our partners can achieve together.”  I am afraid that, based on a 35-year career in our country’s diplomatic service, I cannot share that optimism.
 
The two senior White House officials argue that the President at every opportunity abroad articulated his vision for securing the American homeland, enhancing American prosperity, and advancing American influence.  He did that, but he did not advance our country’s interest in having our allies and partners join, or better yet follow, our leadership.  Other countries are simply not very interested in reminders of our plans for our own prosperity, our own security, and our singular global influence.  They want to hear our views on joint prosperity, joint security, and joint exercise of positive influence around the world. That is how we actually achieve our goals and articulate our leadership — by not making them sound self-serving. 
 
LTG. McMaster and Mr. Cohn nevertheless believe that the President’s recent visits abroad built coalitions.  In support of that coalition building, during those visits, the President affirmed that his America First vision is based on American values.  I can only hope that he was well intentioned, if incorrect.  American values are generous and big-hearted; inclusive and tolerant; self-assured and compassionate.  America First conveys a much more limited, U.S. centric vision. 
 
I am an immigrant with a deep love of my country.  In my heart America is always first.  I get teary-eyed every time I read Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s eulogy of George Washington:  First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. What a powerful statement of being first as an American leader!  As an American diplomat and Ambassador, I never used America First as a recipe for achieving U.S. foreign policy goals abroad.  That  would have led to failure.  I showed U.S. leadership by example and demonstrated the value to others of joining in our initiatives.  Every country wants to be first when it comes to its national interests.  
 
So, respectfully, Mr. President.  For your recent overseas travel, you deserve credit for your support of the NATO mutual defense commitment and for achieving a ceasefire in Syria.  But you did not strengthen our alliances around the world and you did not demonstrate the resurgence of American leadership to bolster common interests and affirm shared values.  You demonstrated your vision for a chest pounding America.  For the rest of the world that vision is all about us, not about leading in partnership with others.  It is no cause for optimism about the success of American global leadership. 

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It’s High Noon for America

high-noonElection Day 2016 is High Noon for America and this time we can’t let Marshal Hillary face the outlaw alone.  Ok, so Hillary is not exactly Gary Cooper and Bill Clinton is certainly not Grace Kelly, but the villain played by Ian McDonald also doesn’t look anything like Donald Trump.  None of that matters, because our America is in danger, just like Hadleyville.  Whether Democrat or Republican, Independent or Green; Whether you love or distrust Marshal Hillary or even if you are willing to forgive the villain his past transgressions, we must not let Donald Trump take over our town! Our marshal knows that it is the citizens, however intimidated,  who own Hadleyville, and that she is not a one-woman reality show.  November 8 is High Noon, and this time, we are all her deputies! Note to all Western fans: please explain to the rest of the country.

 

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Electing a President and the True Meaning of America First

american-exceptionalismI am a Zero Generation American. Born abroad, I became a citizen at the age of 14.  For me, America has always been first, both before and after coming to our country.  For a young boy from Austria, America was a magical place, vast and full of people who live great lives and do great things. My mother used to remind me that during her childhood, as the Third Reich was being defeated, Austrians rushed to the western part of the country expected to be occupied by the American forces rather than by Soviet soldiers streaming across the border from the east.

Once a citizen, I became more eloquent but no less emotional in my love for our country.  Ultimately, as an American diplomat for more than three decades and as a U.S. Ambassador, I consistently articulated both abroad and here at home the true meaning of America first.  America is first when it comes to building a nation of strong, successful, self-reliant, and community-minded men and women.  America is first in building strong and lasting alliances and acting at home and abroad in defense of freedom and justice.  And America is first in seizing no-nonsense initiatives to change the world for the better and to push the boundaries of human achievement, no matter the obstacles or the cost. America and Americans are not perfect by any means but we are also first in facing our imperfections and correcting our mistakes.

Despite our historic weariness of foreign entanglements as we have grown to be a superpower, we have found that the world is a better place when we are fully engaged in it – diplomatically, economically, and militarily.  We do great things and we right great wrongs, both at home and abroad — as Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

In our current electoral battle two individuals are competing for our vote in leading this country in a violent, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.  One candidate defines an America locked in conflict with not just our adversaries but also with our friends, allies, and neighbors.  I am a former U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, a country that fully meets the NATO defense spending guideline of 2% of GDP.  It does serious and lasting damage to our credibility — our global currency as a superpower — when a candidate for our highest public office suggests that the security of an ally, whose soldiers have fought and died alongside our own brave men and women, is not worth defending.  The same candidate also paints America as an apocalyptic cartoon landscape and treats our global challenges as a game, forgetting that the characters in this game are real American men, women and children, not action figures.  Sadly, some of our countrymen and women are allowing themselves to be seduced by the perversely entertaining nature of this deadly serious — anything but — game.

I had the opportunity to get to know the other candidate personally in my role as a professional diplomat.  Hillary Clinton was my boss as Secretary of State.  I did my best to live up to her high expectations and the seriousness of her approach to protecting our country’s interests abroad.  I used to sit across from her in staff meetings at the State Department when she consistently demonstrated that she was the best prepared person in the room.  She gave clear leadership guidance.  She allowed opinions other than her own to be heard and to be considered.  And she demonstrated the temperament, humanity, and class of a true leader. In settings with foreign counterparts she tenaciously represented the interests of our country and used her constructive personal relationships with friends as well as adversaries on our people’s behalf.  She took her job most seriously, always putting America, not herself, first.  As a foreign policy professional, I am with her.

Since I cast my first electoral vote in 1972, I have seen our nation lose a hot war, a President resign from office, and our country landing on the moon and winning the Cold War. We have emerged stronger from these experiences, both good and bad, because of the courage and basic goodness and decency of the American people. This November will be my most important vote so far.  It may well be the most important vote for all of us in our lifetime.  The choice is not simply between two candidates.  It is a choice of how we define America first:  A wounded country that defensively sees itself as weak globally, short-hanged by its allies and trading partners, beset by terrorists, and ready to build a wall around Fortress America?  Or are we a confident nation that has never met a challenge it could not overcome, that stands as a rock of strength for its allies and against its enemies, and as a people who treat each other and the world with decency, respect and humility becoming of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City Upon a Hill.”

Our choice this fall is not simply “binary,” as some have argued.  It is fundamental.

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Going Boldly Where We Have Been Before: Reengaging America Effectively in Europe

JFK and Ronald Reagan“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

 “I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

Two decades apart, two U.S. Presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, affirmed similar American resolve in reaching for the stars. Neither JFK nor Ronald Reagan voiced concern over the views of others when it came to our legitimate ambitions. The thrust of the Apollo program and “Star Wars” was: This is U.S. policy. This is what will happen. As a consequence, we landed first on the Moon and won the Cold War. As a consequence, our words had credibility.

Scroll forward to today and we see much of U.S. transatlantic policy expressed in assertions of the limits of U.S. influence or interest and temporary, reactive engagement. At a time of dramatic challenges to European security and international law by the Kremlin, we puzzle over what Mr. Putin wants and how far he will go, rather than implementing U.S. strategic policy, regardless of what Mr. Putin wants or does.

The time has come to pronounce U.S. policy in and with Europe in JFK and Ronald Reagan terms. Here are some suggestions:

  1. To open a new era of transatlantic prosperity, we will greatly intensify and resource a comprehensive and long-term effort to achieve the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Failure or a partial deal is not an option. We can and will do big things with our European partners.
  2. We will enlarge NATO to all European countries that wish to join and that meet Alliance requirements, starting immediately with those that are ready now. No exceptions; no NATO member vetoes unrelated to a country’s qualifications. No non-NATO vetoes at all.  We will openly encourage our European allies to take a similarly ambitious enlargement approach to new European Union memberships.
  3. We choose to stop U.S. military reductions in Europe and will add a new permanent U.S. presence to the territories of all Alliance member nations unable to meet challenges to their security without our support. It shall be our nation’s policy to provide lethal defense weapons to any non-NATO country in Europe whose democratic ambitions are threatened by outside force and intervention.
  4. We will engage in a comprehensive and intensive effort to pursue the competition for hearts and minds in favor of free societies, open markets, and human rights, reclaiming the public pulpit for democratic values.
  5. We choose to take the fight to all those who threaten the safety and security of our society and that of our friends, together with allies and partners, or alone if we must. In that effort, we will bring the full diplomatic, economic, and military arsenal of the United States to bear, excluding no option available to us.

We do this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

 

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America’s Changing Global Role: Happiness is Wanting What You Get

Indispensable NationPropelled, or rather held back by our overwhelming national rejection of acting in Syria or elsewhere outside the United States, we Americans are taking another step toward a new world order of our own making.  In this new order, Russia and China set the standards for international behavior and the Syrias, North Koreas, and Irans are empowered by Russian and Chinese rules.  The United States meanwhile voices the occasional world opinion and even sets some redlines when it comes to unacceptable behavior, but accepts that our full national power will not be used unless our homeland itself is once again directly under attack.  This new reality is not the result of comments by our Secretary of State or by the decisions of the President of the United States, but a direct consequence of the vast majority opinion of the American people. Historians will of course remind us that we have been exhausted by foreign entanglements before before, since our very founding in fact, and since both after WWI and WWII, and at many other junctures of history.  They will also acknowledge that the times we have gone to war and lost precious blood and treasure, have made us justifiably weary of the next hostile engagement.

I am among the apparent minority of Americans who do do not wish to accept such a new world order.  I am proud that we engaged in and won both WWII and the Cold War.  I am proud that we fought Communist totalitarianism and global terror.  I am delighted that we threw Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait and that we dislodged Slobodan Milosevic and brought him to Justice for his crimes against humanity.  Our country paid a price for its victories as well as its failures.  Clearly not every one of our engagements was wise.  But our intentions and our principles were.  There used to be a time when the U.S. set international parameters for acceptable behavior, and both our friend and foes paid very close attention.  The 20th century was the American Century and I firmly believe that the world will be a better place if the 21st is so as well.

On Syria we are now reduced to being lectured by an autocratic Russian leader on peace, democracy and international law!  And rather than standing forcefully against a regime that has taken to kill its own people, we are breathing a sigh of relief that Russia has offered us a way out of acting on our convictions by engaging in Russian/Syrian “diplomacy” instead.  In the end, the most serious consequences  of this sad state of affairs are not the loss of credibility of the United States or our President or even the message our inaction conveys to repressive regimes around the globe.  The real tragedy is that we seem to have lost something that we Americans have long stood for:   the conviction that the whole world is entitled to certain inalienable rights and that we are the champions of these rights.

Today, our leaders are delivering to us, step by step,  the America we are asking for:  a nation that looks inward, that is less confident, that feels economically pressured, and just no longer sees itself as that exceptional, indispensable nation.  We will not like the world we are allowing to be built by others who don’t share our values.

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Keeping Transatlantic Relations Real

U.S.- EUImagine the headline:  “Breaking news:  The sun came up this morning!  Some European leaders suspect U.S. involvement and demand an explanation; others decry the lack of U.S. leadership in letting the sun set every evening.  In other news, it has been alleged that government intelligence agencies actually collect information.  The weather today: cloudy.”

It is not my intent to make light of the recent outcry among our European friends over alleged U.S. intelligence information gathering.  The accusation in all this outrage is not only  a privacy violation, but also government overreach reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, both past and current.  Frankly, the privacy argument falls a bit flat in the share-all facebook and twitter age.  And when did U.S. information gathering last injure one of our friends and allies?  And who can throw the first stone when it comes to collection of intelligence?

Even if only meant for public consumption, all this outrage is unnecessary.  The sun comes up every day.  Intelligence agencies collect information.  We want to know about our enemies’ communication patterns.  At times those communication paths cross your territory.  So give us a break and help us out.  The same groups that mean to harm us have the same in mind for you, after all.   What little we may have come to  know about you incidental to our anti-terror efforts (and no doubt discarded) is still far less than what many of you share readily with a wide audience on facebook or twitter.

As a U.S. diplomat in Europe, I routinely experienced the sense of ownership of our leaders among many of our European friends.  An American presidential election was also a European political event.  Somehow, even if unstated,  you expected your views of our presidents to be given the weight of those of our own citizens.  Following the irrational European dislike of our last president followed  first adulation and then European disappointment in our current one.  To a degree such attitudes were understandable and had in the past even been precipitated by us.  We Americans, for a long time, lived the role of leader and protector of the free world, its territory and its values.  But enough is really enough.

There was a time in the aftermath of a devastating hot and then a cold war when your focus on our leaders was logical, since to a great degree we influenced your fate even more fundamentally than did your own leaders.  But in the 21st century your dream and ours has been realized.  Nearly all of Europe is whole, free, and at peace….. and you own it!  Our friendship and alliance have never been stronger, more important, or  more equal.  Because and not despite of this, we both try to figure out what the other side thinks.  We both gather information on each other and our common enemies.  Other than the rough and tumble of free market competition and occasional policy differences, America and Europe have a critical stake in each others success and well-being.  As the co-architects of today’s Europe, we are proud of the powerful union you have become.  You in turn have every reason to trust in our paramount commitment to our relationship.  The U.S. does not act to the detriment of its European  or other allies.

So, my dear European friends, let it rest.   A man I used to work for and respect most highly, General Colin Powell, once made the definitive statement about American military engagement that applies equally to our ventures into cyberspace:  “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years … and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to live our own lives in peace.”

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