Category Archives: Civil Society

Reminders Of Who We Are

AmericansFifty years ago I was granted the privilege of becoming an American citizen.  Over a subsequent 35-year career as a U.S. diplomat I have been allowed to serve our country with great affection and a deep sense of pride abroad and at home.  Today I share the concerns of so many of my fellow foreign affairs professionals and fellow countrymen and women over U.S. foreign and domestic policy as articulated by our President.  I did not support Donald Trump in 2016 and I do not support most of his policies now, either domestically or internationally.  I do not condone his behavior.  But he is my President and I cannot simply argue that I did not vote for him.  The Presidency of the United States is too critically important an institution not to accept responsibility for it, including for its incumbent.

In private and public encounters over the past year, I have argued that it does no good to express outrage over our President’s policies and conduct in office.  He and his supporters are convinced that he is doing right by our country.  Mr. Trump has shockingly, but convincingly stated that he could literally commit murder and still maintain the support of his political base.  Simply joining the growing chorus of criticism will not change that sad misperception.  Offering a positive alternative worthy of a great nation and its remarkable people will.

Not everything Mr. Trump says is wrong or untrue.  Many things are.  The way he expresses himself and claims to be speaking for all of us is totally wrong, however, and deeply counter to our interests at home and abroad.  He will not change, but we can change how we deal with each other, both those who support the President’s policies, and those who don’t.  Here is a list of reminders of who we are as Americans, of things we believe in, that can guide us in finding back to each other and to a world community hungry for principled American leadership:

At home….

  • It does not have to be this way.
  • We embrace empathy, not populism and individualism, not selfishness.
  • Constructive relationships are based on respect and courtesy, if not agreement.
  • Partnerships and teamwork are more successful than solo acts.
  • Character-driven leaders bring out the best in people, accept responsibility, absorb risk, and give credit for success to others.
  • Good governance requires commitment, experience, and skill.
  • Politics and politicians are essential elements of democratic governance, not “the swamp.”
  • A democratic society needs dedicated public servants focused on getting to “yes.”
  • Empowered citizens of democratic societies act as guardians against extremism.

And abroad…

  • We taught the world that the pursuit of happiness is not just American and neither liberal nor conservative, but global.
  • Our national culture is built on diversity, fairness and compassion.
  • Great nations and their leaders act with character, humility and compassion.
  • Strong societies share their attributes and reduce suffering around the world.
  • Problems are best addressed at their source.
  • The future of the modern world rests on collaboration, not confrontation.
  • We are patriots, not nationalists.
  • We know who our friends and allies are and who are not.
  • Diplomacy may be tedious, but it is very cost effective and it works.

How about this as a (re)start for a country that began with “We, the people?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, diplomacy, good governance, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Leadership

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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Seriously–Two Hours in Line for Car License Plates?

I am still processing the reality that I am now home for good after three plus decades of constant packing and unpacking and bouncing between home and abroad.  First of all:  It is great to be back!  I have spent a diplomatic career extolling the dynamism, leadership and just sheer true grit of our society, and I am amazed to see how tough, resilient and still optimistic we Americans are after more than a decade of personal and national setbacks, and for too many,  real tragedies.  A lesser people would have crumbled under the pressure.  We have not.

In a few weeks we will chose our next President and other government leaders.  With the end of a long election season, the work on America’s recovery will not only continue, but intensify.  We will have to overcome political differences over the how and who and move forward — fast.  There is so much work to do!  Growing the economy and keeping our country safe are the overriding goals, but we will have to get specific on details.  As we look at other countries outperforming us in education and manufacturing or trade, it is clear that we have our work cut out for us.  We are so used to being ahead of the rest of the world that it is hard for us to have to talk about “catching up.”  So let’s not.  Let’s vault ahead, rather than just catch up to others.

Among the many macro challenges we will have to overcome,  here is a small sampling of seemingly small things that would have a big signal effect if we showed the world and ourselves a better way.  See what you think.

E-Governance:  Obtaining government services at any level in our country is much harder and old-fashioned than it should be in the 21st century.  We need state-of-the-art, fast, simple, service oriented access to our government, from obtaining vehicle license plates to passports; from mining permits to export licenses.  I just returned from tiny 21st century Estonia to vast and sometimes turn-of-the century America.  Estonians have a comfortable, even trusting relationship with their government, not because they spend a lot of time dealing with their bureaucracy, but because they spend very little.  Government services are delivered mostly electronically and fast, without long waiting lines, limited service hours, or complicated paperwork.  Most services can be obtained sitting in a comfortable easy chair at home with a laptop, tablet or smartphone, while enjoying a favorite beverage.

Wireless Communications:  I finally have my new iPhone 5, my home internet connection, and I can find he nearest Starbuck’s with free WiFi.  All good, and many around the world envy us for the technology we have invented and put in place.  But in fact our internet access is slower and/or more expensive than in other proudly “wired” — or better — “wireless” countries.  Too often during my once again daily commute from the Washington suburbs into the capital of the United States, I am faced with the “can you hear me now?” problem as my — hands free — phone connection suddenly drops put.  Outside the Beltway it is even worse.  In Estonia, broadband wireless access throughout the country — at little or no cost — is a given.  The internet is a utility, as universally available and affordable as water, electricity and indoor plumbing.  We still grit our teeth paying a hefty charge for slow internet access in top hotels in the country that invented the internet!

Cyber Security/Privacy Protection:  I spent a solid amount of my time as Ambassador on national and international cyber security issues.  It is a hot topic in diplomatic, military and international law enforcement circles.  Our leaders warn of potential “Cyber Attack Pearl Harbors.”  Serious stuff and deserving of its high national security priority.

On an individual level, protecting ourselves from identity theft and other forms of cyber crime is of similar importance.  In that latter area, the question is not whether we shield ourselves, but how.  We do what we can with computer virus detection software, encryption packages, and dozens of passwords with every internet entity from on-line stores to our banks and our digital media subscriptions.  We live on the internet, and we live with a confusing array of what we hope are adequate security and privacy protections.  Dozens or even hundreds of interloctutors in cyberspace have large chunks of our personal data and all promise “iron clad protection.”  Really?

Estonians too are fully vested in the internet age.  They embrace the reality that we work, live, shop, interact and play in cyberspace.  But  they have decided to entrust the security of these interactions, including access to government and commercial services, to a national identity access card — a most difficult subject to raise here in the U.S.   We start to shiver when we hear “national ID card” and “government central database.”  I readily share our wariness of “big brother.”   But I have concluded that big brother already exists in multiple databases that all too readily share  information to make big brother larger and more unpredictable than any single, user monitored and legally secured personal identity system would.  My friends in Estonia repeatedly demonstrated to me the utility of their ID cards as well as the electronic fingerprints they were able to monitor of those who had accessed their data, including even the police.

So I did spend two and a half hours at my local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to get my car license plates  — something I should have been able to do by inserting my ID card into a license plate vending machine similar to an ATM in about 2 minutes.   Of course my gripe is not simply about waiting in line for a government service or even slow or expensive internet access.  It is my concern that  what should be America’s leadership as a modern, agile, and innovative society is in a bit of a rut.  I am among those who believe in American exceptionalism — not arrogantly placing us above other nations, but accepting and exercising the unique role or country’s founders placed on our shoulders as visionaries and innovators.  The citizens of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” should not be waiting hours at the DMV and the people of Madeline Albright’s “Indispensable Nation” should not have to shout into their smart phones “can you hear me now?”

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A Diplomat’s New Life

I am back.  On July 22 this year I departed Estonia for the last time as U.S. Ambassador and launched the transition from 35 years in my country’s Diplomatic Service into my new life as a private sector diplomat.  On October 1, I joined the new McCain Institute for International Leadership as Senior Director.  Located in Washington, D.C. and supported initially by a $9 million gift from the McCain Institute Foundation, we are part of Arizona State University (ASU), America’s largest public university.  Our mission is to advance leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom, and human dignity, in the United States and around the world.

I will be directing a unique new global leadership fellows program that will bring emerging leaders from around the world to the U.S. to engage in a year-long deepening of their “character-driven” leadership skills, along with professional development in their respective fields.  As an ASU Professor, I will also be passing on 35 years of diplomatic and international leadership experience to the next  generation of U.S. and international foreign affairs leaders.

And of course the issues and subjects that have been important to me in the past continue to excite me in my new capacity:  cyber security, e-governance, U.S. global leadership, the trans-Atlantic relationship, American values, and technology and policy, to name just a few.  Thank you for your patience with my temporary absence from the blogosphere and stay tuned — you will hear from me on these and many other issues again from now on.  Follow me and the McCain Institute also on Twitter and Facebook.

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Free Press = Free Society

Information is power. Few people can make a living, hold their governments accountable, and educate their children without a healthy supply of free- flowing information. Citizens need accurate, timely, independent news they can trust. So do businesses and markets. And so do governments. Media freedom keeps societies and economies vibrant, energetic, and healthy. When the free flow of news and information is cut off, individuals suffer. Societies suffer. Economies suffer.

But even as we observe World Press Freedom Day this year, threats against journalists are rising. As of last December, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 179 reporters in jail around the world. And journalists continue to be threatened, attacked, disappeared, or murdered for trying to report the news.

In the past year, the world witnessed both the promise of, and the peril to, a free press. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and pundits chronicled the protests sweeping across the region, while some citizens armed with nothing but cell phones risked their lives to upload the truth – by text, tweet, and pixel. In doing so, they were exercising a fundamental freedom enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Yet too many governments attempt to censor the media, directly or indirectly. Too many investigative journalists are being silenced, many for exposing corruption – at local, state, or national government levels. Too many attacks and murders of journalists go unpunished.  In some cases, it is not just governments attacking, intimidating, and threatening journalists. It’s also criminals – drug cartels – terrorists or political factions. When journalists are threatened, attacked, jailed, or disappeared, other journalists self-censor. They stop reporting stories. They tone down stories. They omit details. Sources stop helping them. Their editors hesitate to print stories. Fear replaces truth. All of our societies suffer.

Like Estonia, the United States looks to all governments to take the steps necessary to create the same space we Americans and Estonians have enshrined in our societies for independent journalists to do their work without fear of violence or persecution. We pay special tribute to those courageous journalists, bloggers, and citizens who have sacrificed their lives, health, or freedom so that others could know the truth. And we honor the role of free and independent media in creating sustainable democracies and open, healthy societies.

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Honoring Women in an Age of Participation

Secretary of State Clinton has noted that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.” These words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women’s Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for women’s progress.

On December 10th, 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three extraordinary women who have led the fight for human rights and democracy in their home countries – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Their achievement signifies recognition on the world stage of the essential role that women must play in the hard work of building peace and sustainable communities in the 21st century.

In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.

This International Women’s Day, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the 6th annual International Women of Courage Awards, honoring 10 remarkable women from around the world. These women have shown exceptional bravery and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Their stories represent just a few of the emerging leaders found in every corner of the world.

Yet, as we rightfully honor achievements, we must also be reminded that International Women’s Day is an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women’s equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age”. This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.

Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age.  I have been privileged to meet a large number of Estonia’s remarkable women, women who led Estonia into freedom and women who spearhead this country’s political, diplomatic, business and artistic communities today.  Estonian women are no less than the very foundation of a society that has suffered much throughout history and has persevered and emerged victorious.  Estonian women rock!

Women are also a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity.  Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone – the world over.  As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.

 

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Internet Freedom AND Intellectual Property Rights

The positive power of the internet has changed the paradigm of international diplomacy, of global governance, and indeed the human condition.  Secretary of State Clinton articulated most clearly last year that the United States, “On the spectrum of internet freedom, [places itself] on the side of openness.”

Over the course of the last several weeks, interested parties in America and around the world have reacted strongly for or against efforts in the U.S. to maintain internet freedom while attempting to find a way to protect the vested property rights that creators, artists, and engineers have in their product.  At issue were two proposed pieces of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA.”) Amongst all the complexity of this issue is a rather clear goal we Americans share with our democratic partners and friends around the world:  Full, unfettered and free access to the internet by the global citizenry AND the protection of the intellectual wealth of our innovators and creative minds from on-line theft.  

As we seek to address both of these interests, it should come as no surprise that our efforts of protecting intellectual property online cause legitimate attention to the scope of any regulation of the internet.  Of course neither our government nor the American people wish unintentionally to provide a pretext to those who wish to suppress democratic rights under the guise of “legal protections.”  Once completed, U.S. legislation that would protect the rights of American intellectual property and internet freedom would likewise serve to protect such rights and values the world over.  Again, Secretary of State Clinton has confirmed that “there is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

The White House meanwhile has set U.S. Administration policy regarding intellectual property legislation, stating that while piracy is a serious problem on the internet, the President will not support any proposed legislation that would reduce freedom of expression or otherwise detract from the Internet’s potential.  Both the President and our Congress have called for legislation that is narrowly-tailored with a focus on criminal activity.  Such tailoring should address U.S. and international concerns about internet freedom and its liberating role for people seeking free expression and democratic rule from one corner of the world to the other.

Two important engines of America’s economy, represented by places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and their international counterparts, should work together and help tailor workable laws in all our countries that will protect property rights, freedom of speech, and internet assembly.

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