Tag Archives: United States

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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Filed under American Values, diplomacy, Peace and Security, U.S. Foreign Relations, Uncategorized

Diplomacy: High Value – Low Cost

Things are tough right now.  The U.S. and European economies are seeking to regain their footing after a recession.  In the midst of European countries’ debt issues, the very structure of European unity is being examined.  Many government budgets are in defict and on both sides of the Atlantic we are faced with tightening our belts and reducing public expenditures.  People without jobs are struggling and many with jobs are deeply worried about their future as well.  In this hard reality, no public outlay can be held sacrosanct.  Of course our political leaders are looking for equitable ways to distribute cuts in spending, including in our diplomatic services.  

In nearly 35  years as an American diplomat, this is hardly the first time I have seen, discussed, and experienced reductions in my country’s foreign affairs budget affecting, among other things, our diplomatic capacities.  A few short decades ago, our intake of new diplomats had fallen to such a low level that we literally could no longer staff some positions in our embassies.  The watch word was “do more with less.”  In fact, our dedicated Foreign and Civil Service team worked long and hard hours to do what had to be done.  Morale stayed amazingly high, but at some point “more with less” in reality became “less with less” and U.S. diplomatic engagement inevitably suffered.  Eventually, under inspired foreign policy leadership, we rebuilt our diplomatic strength, enabling us today to strongly serve American interests globally, including in the most complex and dangerous environments such as Afghanistan and Iraq.   

Today I see cost cutting challenges facing European diplomacy.  Here in Tallinn, and in other parts of Europe, some European embassies are closing or reducing staff, in some cases even after opening diplomatic missions only a few years ago.  All public expenditures are understandably subject to scrutiny.  That said, it is important to recall what the cost and value of diplomacy is to any nation.  In the United States and in Europe, the foreign affairs part of national budgets generally hover around the 1% mark or even lower.  That means that for most if not all countries, even the complete elimination of all diplomatic functions and facilities (a ludicrous notion no one is suggesting) would mean a reduction of no more than a tiny precentage of public outlays.

Unacceptably high budget shortfalls will not be fixed by cutbacks in countries’ embassies or diplomatic staff.  On the contrary, just at a time when we need maximum diplomatic cooperation, coordination, and contact, the loss of even one diplomat or one embassy makes a difference.  In short, we need the 1% to help fix the 99%.  Really!

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I Have Been Thinking

Breaking no doubt multiple rules of blogging, I have been quiet on this site for a bit.  In fact, you have not heard from me since last December.  Let’s just say that I have learned from my Estonian hosts that contrary to the American norm, not every silence has to be filled with sound.  Holiday observances have lasted well into January of this year.  Here in Estonia, the introduction of the euro at last year’s end, now the final weeks before Estonians elect a new parliament and thus a new government, and the celebration of Estonia’s 93rd independence year have now decisively opened the 2011 policy season.  In the U.S., the holiday lull (which is never as quiet as we hope it to be), has come to a dramatic halt with our intense debate over nothing less than the shape of our country’s future as we deal with our deficits and our public expenditures.  Dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East are revolutionizing  societies with great hope for the better and with significant acompanying risks.  Afghanistan and other challenges around the globe continue to demand our action and attention.  

Already this year, I have signed an agreement between the U.S. and Estonia on oil shale research cooperation.  We commemorated together the historic legacy of the Reagan Presidency and its meaning for our alliances and other relationships in the 21st century.  For this spring, we are preparing the formal U.S. membership in Estonia’s NATO Cyber Center.  As a key asset to Estonia’s role in the international economic and political arena, I am pushing to secure the status of the International School of Estonia as the  international school in Tallinn.  My staff and I are working to expand the availability of U.S. digital entertainment content in Estonia, and we intend to see multiple U.S.-Estonia business deals consummated this year.  

So, I’ve been thinking……2011/2012 will be years for the history books.  Years when global, regional and national changes not only multiplied, but also accelerated.  President Obama recently affirmed the American vision for the future that dates back to the founding of our nation: “We do big things.”   Estonia’s President recently proclaimed “Estonia will never be finished.  It will grow better and stronger.”   We Americans look forward to doing big things together with our ever stronger Estonian — our European — allies as we embrace, rather than fight, change.

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Happy to Connect Estonians

Our Embassy recently organized a visit to the United States by a group of Estonian local government leaders from various parts of the country.  Such programs to visit the U.S. for all kinds of Estonian professionals are an important part of our Public Diplomacy and outreach programs.  Among the participants of this local government program was Mr. Innar Mäesalu, the Deputy Mayor of Vöru, in southern Estonia. We always look for feedback from such visits to hear what worked for our guests and what did not, so we can repeat the good and fix the not-so-good.  This time, I was particularly pleased with a comment Mr. Mäesalu offered after his return.  He had met civic leaders from Narva and Sillamäe for the first time during their U.S. visit together and and he now planned to visit them in northeastern Estonia this month.  “Without this program, I would have never met them,” Mr. Mäesalu told us.   People to people diplomacy in action.

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“Open House” and “Town Hall” – A Translation

During more than three decades of diplomatic service, I have greatly enjoyed exploring different cultures and societies and in turn sharing with them the “odd”  things Americans do.  Of course, unique or similar (but rarely if ever the same) holiday celebrations were among those sharing experiences.  But among the most consistently challenging American events to bring across the cultural threshold have been the “Open House” party and the “Town Hall” meeting.     Let me say up front that I have obviously not served everywhere and that are some countries where one or the other of these two forms of getting people together are similar.  But from Latin America to Western and Eastern Europe in my experience, the two concepts were not routinely in the local vocabulary or practice.

An “Open House,” such as my wife and I will once again be hosting at our home this coming Christmas for our Estonian and American colleagues and friends, is a warm, informal, and uncomplicated way of hosting and enjoying some holiday good cheer without the pressures of coming on time, a formal receiving line, or dressing appropriately.  The house is literally open for several hours for guests to come and stay as long or as briefly as they wish to enjoy a relaxing time with us and in each others company.

The “Town Hall” — literally of course a seat of local government — is in this case a short form for a meeting open to a large number of people, regardless of rank or position, to discuss issues of common interest with each other and a principal figure, be it a president, school principal, or ambassador.  Participation by a maximum number of attendees is key.  Format is not.  While common courtesy and respect for divergent views is most important, everyone gets to voice an opinion and anyone gets to speak.   The idea, again, is to discuss issues in a non-threatening and informal atmosphere that encourages interaction and engagement by folks, including those who are normally more reserved.  It can get a little messy and loud at times, but it can be a great catalyst for dialog.

If you are not an American and are invited to either one of these two types of events, watch us among each other and go with the flow and break into the conversation.  It may feel a bit foreign at first, but it grows on you quickly.

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An Exchange on American Values

With her permission, I would like to share with a broader audience, an email exchange I recently had with a student at Tartu University after a speech I delivered there on March 16.  The student’s questions and comments were both thoughtful and thought provoking.   Here is the exchange:

Dear Sir,

Before your lecture at the University of Tartu I only knew what Google had to offer, after it – I knew I had to get your e-mail! : ) Thank you for this oportunity to speak to you once again. I appreciate it.

Thank you for a substantial and thought-provocative speech. The questions addressed were timely, if not to say urgent. As you might have already noticed as a people we are not that talkative (well, except for myself, but I’m a mixture of cultures :), therefore I am also proud of the audience, for they spoke. What you usually get is a silence not only during the speech, but also after it. I am more that satisfied with your explicit and straightforward answers. It’s a pity that we had such little time to discuss them.

And because you happen to be a representative of the country that I study and have a wide range of expertise and experience, I would be very much interested in finding out what you think about some issues concerning USA. In my thesis I study political documents, sort of the core documents of the country, namely The Constitution along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Combined they fullfil each other and give a nice overview of the transformation of american society in terms of inclusiveness and exclusiveness throughout time. Having studied them line by line (taking into account the historical background) there are good reasons to believe that the notion of ‘americanness’ has tremendously expanded. But, taking this a stage furhter, would you agree, considering globalisation as well as the latest developments as 9/11… etc. in the world, that while the notion of ‘americanness’ has expanded (including more and more people), the notion of ‘non-americanness’ (or  America as opposed to the outer world) only strengthened? In the sense that, the notion of  the ‘other’ became more prominent? Which, in fact, is contrary to what globalisation with it’s ‘melting borders’ is supposed to bring.

Once again, thank you for your help. And if it’s not  too much to ask, I wonder if I could maybe once in a while ask you about something that occupies my mind and that you might have a better understanding or experience of? I promise not to bother you with tons of questions, to use it only for learning purposes and not to disclose your email to the third parties 🙂

All the very best & have a great stay in Estonia (the sunshine’s on it’s way)

Zanna

Zanna:

 It is good to hear that the Tartu speech struck a responsive chord with many of you in the audience.  I certainly enjoyed greatly my meeting with all of you and the interesting questions and comments.  I look forward to other opportunities to engage with Estonia’s next generation of leaders.

As to your question about America’s view of the world post-9/11, I would agree that there was an unquestionable reaction of pain and anger among Americans, reflected in comments such as the one by President Bush noting that those who did not stand with us in the aftermath of the murderous attack on our people, were against us.  At that time, you will no doubt recall that there were spontaneous expressions of solidarity among European publics saying that in this tragedy, they were “all Americans.”  NATO invoked the common defense clause of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty responding to the attack on our country.  And there certainly were instances of fear and suspicion toward individuals who were identified in the minds of our citizens with those who had perpetrated the attack.

But at the same time, there was also a counter-reaction with calls by our government and civic leaders, and individuals throughout the country, not to tar certain ethnic or religious groups with the stain of the 9/11 outrage.  I would argue that this counter-reaction to this day has worked in maintaining our sense of justice and fairness, including through our engagement in Iraq , Afghanistan, the Gulf region, and elsewhere.  Today, I would argue, we have not become more exclusionary, but actually more inclusive.  In President Obama’s current Administration, we are reaching out to our partners as well as to our adversaries in seeking common ground and peaceful solutions to problems.  As you know from our founding documents, Zanna, we still believe that “ certain truths are self-evident”  —  that all men (and women) are created equal, and have the same rights to life, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness.  We hold these values not just for Americans, but for mankind.  Of course we do not always live up to our high ideals.  As human beings we are obviously fallible, but the American ideal in my view is as vibrant today as it was at its inception.  The United States and what we stand for remains a work in progress and will always remain so.  I think that is also the beauty of being an American.

 Hope this gets at your question.

 MP

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Iraqis Elect a New Parliament With A Quarter of the Seats To Be Held By Women

On Sunday, March 7, Iraqi citizens went to the polls in their country and 16 other countries around the world to elect their next parliament.  Attempts by extremists to discourage Iraqis from exercising their civil rights by killing their own citizens were unsuccessful.  People turned out in large numbers and  gave their young democracy new meaning and hope for the future.  The participation of women candidates from across the political spectrum with 25% of the seats in parliament set aside for women helps assure that  that all Iraqis will be represented.  The Iraqi people deserve our congratulations.  Together with our Iraqi partners, Estonia and the United States have worked hard and sacrificed to help the Iraqi people take back their country from dictatorship and terror.  While much work remains to be done, this past Sunday was another historic milestone in the life of a  new democracy and in the cooperation between our three countries and other coalition partners.

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