Category Archives: American Values

Advancing Western Values

 imageLast month I had the opportunity to address the American Chamber of Commerce In Tallinn on the subject of advancing western values. What follows is the text of those remarks as addressed to my good friends in Estonia.

Tallinn, Estonia, April 5, 2018.  Good evening.  I am so happy to be back in Tallinn together with my friends here at the AmCham. Thank you so much for inviting me. I have never felt as cold — or as warmly received — as my wife and I were for more than three years in this beautiful 100 year-old republic. Elagu vaba eesti !

I would like to talk to you about values.  Values in your country and mine, on your and my continents, and in our world. Last year, at the 2017 Munich Security Conference Senator John McCain defined “the West” as a world order based not on blood-and-soil nationalism, or spheres of influence, or conquest of the weak by the strong, but rather on universal values, rule of law, open commerce, and respect for national sovereignty and independence.”

He declared that the West included “any person or any nation that honors and upholds these values.” And he concluded his remarks referring to the current troubled state of world affairs.  He said: “even now, when the temptation to despair is greatest, i refuse to accept the end of the west. I refuse to accept the demise of our world order. I refuse to accept that our greatest triumphs cannot once again spring from our moments of greatest peril, as they have so many times before. I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the west, and i believe we must always, always stand up for it—for if we do not, who will?”

Thanks to John McCain and thanks to other resolute political and private sector leadership, including the powerful role of AmCham Estonia, the West is alive and well here.  I applaud with you the improved level of tangible “western” security engagement throughout your part of Europe.  NATO has added important teeth to the article 5 common defense commitment.  And I know you are doing your own part to secure the West — diplomatically, politically, economically, militarily, and ideologically. But let’s remember that the need for such reassurance is in response to the added threat to our joint security, emanating from your eastern neighbor.

But the West is sadly also in peril in your country, in other parts of Europe, and around the world.  A renewed “western” agenda must give definition to our age. An agenda that systematically goes on the strategic offensive on behalf of our values rather than lamenting the lack of commitment to these values among some on the world stage.

As an American diplomat for more than threedecades, I consistently articulated and advanced the interests of my country and those of the American people. In all these years I never, ever used the words “America First.” It would have been an arrogantly self-serving and self-defeating tactic for achieving my country’s foreign policy goals.  But none of my international interlocutors were ever in doubt that in my eyes, America isfirst –  First when it comes to building an ever more perfect union of strong, self-reliant, open-minded, generous and compassionate men and women.  America is also first in building powerful and lasting alliances and acting at home and abroad in defense of our freedom and that of our friends.  And America is first in seizing strategic initiatives to change the world for the better and to expand the boundaries of human achievement, no matter the obstacles or the cost.   America and Americans are not perfect by any means, but we are consistently first in seeking good, facing our own imperfections, and in correcting our mistakes.

For all of you who despair or, for all of you who may even have given up on Trump’s America, take heart.  During my lifetime, i have seen our nation lose a hot war, a President resign from office, and our country land on the moon, win the cold war, and save millions of people suffering from hunger and disease.  We have emerged stronger from our experiences, both good and bad, because of the courage and basic goodness and decency of the American people.  We are still those people.  Despite our historic weariness of foreign entanglements, we have found that the world is a better place when we are fully engaged in it.  Speaking boldly:  we will continue to do great things and right great wrongs, both at home and abroad.  That is the true America.

At a time of Brexit, significant other tensions in and around the EU, the rise of autocratic populists, and geopolitical “pivots,” let me be clear:  Americans strongly support a free, prosperous, confident, active, and unitedEurope.  After all, European democratic unity and a strong trans-Atlantic bond were also an American idea!  A Europe whole, free, and at peace, is a powerful force for good – for the West — and a key partner to the United States in global leadership.

A few years ago, a senior American foreign affairs analyst pointed to what he called an apparent emerging European cultural norm of not accepting any casualties in the prosecution of a war. Along with an Asia-centric shift in world power and economic might, these were indicators that old alliances and relationships were dead or on their death-bed. More recently, the President of the United States called NATO obsolete and pulled our country out of trade deals and other international commitments. Ironically, but good for Baltic regional security and the Alliance, the current Administration also supports the European Reassurance Initiative and the new NATO Urgent Response Force.

Some policy analysts have described a decline of a common U.S. and European set of interests, that in the past have been based on historical patterns of American elites that traced their ancestry to Europe.  These same analysts argue that today’s broader elite in the U.S. relates to African, Asian, and Latin American roots.  We, so it was argued, do not share the emotional or intellectual ties to Europe that defined transatlantic relations in the 20th century.

Well, it is certainly true (and good) that American elites are much more diverse today than in the mid 1900’s.   But I contend that a Chinese-American living in Boston has more in common with an Estonian from Rakvere or a German from Stuttgart, than he does with a Chinese man or woman from Chengdu.  Shared American and European values of democracy, individual freedom, and open markets transcend ethnic heritage and continue to bind us as Americans and Europeans, regardless of ethnicity.

Admittedly, Europe is not the singular center of America’s universe.  It never really was.  America, since its inception with powerful European roots, has steadily continued to develop its global vocation. But our ties to Europe form a critically important partnership – and, by the way – one that has never been characterized by full harmony or parity in national power.  France kicked out NATO headquarters in 1966 and did not return to the unified NATO military command until 2009.  In 1983 Germans threw Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Embassy in protest over the introduction of U.S. Medium range nuclear missiles to Europe – for the defense of Europe!   And yet NATO stands strong today, more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact –With increased capacity and engaging in support of the West right here in your neighborhood and as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq. Pretty good for an obsolete alliance.

Of course, NATO, like any partnership, requires constant attention and the full commitment of all the members.  Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once stated that he harbored concerns about NATO becoming, “a two-tiered alliance that is split between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”  He was right.  But that frank statement does not suggest that the alliance, and the trans-Atlantic relationship have lost their meaning and importance.  Our very disagreements, sometimes loud and in public, bear testimony to the continuing strength of an alliance not simply based on realpolitik or pure national self-interest – and certainly not on coercion.

Ours is a value partnership, freely entered into by free peoples – a transatlantic bulwark that remains essential not despite an increasingly multi-polar world, but because of it.  If recent strains in the fabric of western values affecting both Europe and the United States – from populist nationalism, to refugee flows, to illiberal governments and attacks on our democratic systems – have taught us anything, then it is the de-bunking of the notion that Europe is somehow “solved.”  That more pressing issues in other parts of the world need U.S. attention. You and we share not only values, but also challenges, and we are both better off seeking joint solutions.  Abdication of our commitments to each other or to our joint global responsibilities is no more acceptable an option for Europe today than it has ever been for the United States.

Held back by Obama era international leadership hesitancy and now trump administration ham handed unilateralism, America is allowing others to attempt to roll back the successful world order the west created over the past 70 years.  In this roll back attempt, Russia and China claim to set the standards for international behavior.   Political voices even among NATO allies like Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, and Turkey assert values foreign to us.  And even the U.S. Administration seeks to settle our legitimate trade fairness concerns through unilateral tariff actions.

I do not wish to accept such a new world order. Together with you, 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.  And I strongly support the international economic and trade structures that have brought unparalleled prosperity and market opportunities to so many, including the United States.  Our countries, yours and mine, have paid a price for our victories as well as our failures.  And we have set the standards and remain the guardians of character-driven leadership in a world of western values.

Think of these pronouncements of just two past American Presidents:

“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. One landed a man on the moon and the other ended the Cold War.  Great ambition — great results.

It is high time that we retake the initiative of acting on our ambitious values.  In a poignant way some weeks ago, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, showed us the way. Together with our allies and friends, we have to take the lead. There is no substitute for American leadership.

The “western agenda” is vast and there is much to be done.  You don’t have the patience for me to try to list every element of that agenda. So here are just a few thoughts on showing renewed transatlantic, renewed “Western”  resolve:

  1. Champion a new era of transatlantic prosperity with a renewed push for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership.
  2. Continue to enlarge NATO to include all European countries that wish to join and that meet Alliance requirements. Europe should take a similarly ambitious enlargement approach to new European Union memberships.
  3. Rebuild U.S. Military presence in Europe, including the addition of a permanent U.S. and NATO presence in the territories of alliance members unable to meet challenges to their security without our visible on-the-ground support.
  4. Provide lethal defense weapons to any non-NATO country in Europe whose democratic ambitions are threatened by outside force and intervention.
  5. Aggressively pursue the competition for the hearts and minds of people in favor of free societies, open markets, and human rights, reclaiming the public pulpit – in person, in cyber space, in traditional and new media –for “Western” values.
  6. Resolutely commit full moral and physical resources to building global good governance, rule of law, protection of the environment, a responsible and secure digital world, and protection of the most vulnerable among us.

The answer to the challenge of our age demands the unapologetic articulation and the decisive actions of all of us who subscribe to character-driven leadership and the values of John McCain’s “West.” The time for such leadership is now.

 

 

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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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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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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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A World of Opportunity Ready for U.S. Leadership

U.S.-EUDemocratic 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.

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