Democratic political transitions always provide a good opportunity for strategic policy reviews and fresh starts. That includes second terms of incumbents. Many expectations of a new beginning accompany Barack Obama as the American people prepare to swear him in for his second term. The Administration’s dance card for the next four years is already full, even before the first inaugural ball strikes up the band. Critical economic deadlines loom, along with other complex domestic concerns, from gun violence to immigration policy. All of the toughest foreign policy challenges of the past remain, with several coming to a head in the near term: Afghanistan/Pakistan future, Syria civil war, Iran nuclear ambitions, Putin’s Russia, China’s global role, Al Quaida’s and other terrorist whac-a-mole appearances around the world, and the list goes on.
The President’s new national security team is taking shape. Stacks of briefing papers will greet the new cabinet members in their offices, many reiterating the past and some projecting the future. Much of the focus will be on the trouble spots and less on new opportunities, especially in foreign policy. We have become a bit cautious in our ambitions. Americans are exhausted from years of recession, economic uncertainty and personal sacrifice and loss — from Kabul to Newtown. Our friends in Europe and many other parts of the globe share in this weariness.
Our governments are responding to citizens’ concerns, as they should. But that’s not enough. Even as we are calling on our leadership to “do something,” and often make conflicting demands, we are actually not asking for what we really need — a new project, new hope. We have been to the moon, but U.S. astronauts now need a ride from the Russians to the International Space Station. We need new “moon missions.” And they have to be bold and exciting. President Obama has called for investments in domestic infrastructure, research, and education. Yes, absolutely; and maybe bold given our fiscal state, but hardly exciting.
So what would be an exciting effort to pull us out of our doldrums? How about a tremendously ambitious project that, if successful, would result in happy, prosperous, employed people enhancing and powering the largest economic and political relationship in the world? How about the much talked-about, but never realized U.S. – Europe Free Trade Agreement? How about totally eliminating redundant and expensive barriers to trade such as differing standards from car bumpers to yogurt? How about turning a $16 trillion U.S. economy and a $17 trillion EU economy into a $33 trillion transatlantic economic juggernaut? Expected GDP bumps range from 1% to 2%, yielding hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of Atlantic. Now that’s exciting! As a confidence building measure between Administration and Congress, the two should agree on fast track legislative approval for a deal. Reaching for this goal would signal hope. Success would signal U.S.and European energy, confidence, and commitment in a critical relationship. The markets, and our other trading partners and competitors, would be impressed, as they should be.
We must snatch the initiative for creating good news from reacting to bad. This is just one new “moon mission.” We really need this — and more — on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.