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A 12-step program for Obama

By
February 9, 2009

The Bush administration dug a deep hole for our new president. In the best tradition of self-help programs, here are 12 steps to get back to where we once belonged.

— 1. Admit that we Americans are powerless over globalization.

Globalization comes with rules — not a ruler. We must collectively better manage those rules, not just in their constant extension to new territories and domains, but in their persistent improvement and progressive de-conflicting.

— 2. Come to believe that only a bipartisanship far greater than that displayed by our national leaders can restore sanity to America’s foreign affairs.

Fear-mongering extremists from both parties increasingly view globalization as a zero-sum game in which the rise of a global middle class threatens our way of life. That misguided myopia can place America on the wrong side of history.

— 3. Make the decision to coordinate all elements of America’s national power according to a grand strategy that we have collectively defined.

The Pentagon continues buying the "big war" Navy and Air Force while starving the "small wars" Army and Marines. When 95 percent of our casualties occur after the war of liberation, that’s unforgivable.

— 4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of the "global war on terror."

For the Middle East to embrace globalization, we must respect the many compromises that Islam demands in return. The problem of threatened cultural identity cannot be allowed to overwhelm the benefits of economic connection.

— 5. Admit to the world and to ourselves the exact nature of our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Long addicted to the Powell Doctrine’s Vietnam syndrome, we went into Iraq with a military that didn’t plan for insurgencies, equip for them or even have a credible doctrine for them.

— 6. We are entirely ready to work with the international community to remove these defects of wartime injustice.

While America struggles with an alternative judicial system to prosecute terrorists for war crimes, the International Criminal Court continues to grow in stature, competency, and — most important– actual cases. Closing Gitmo was a start, but accommodating the world’s sense of justice comes next.

— 7. Humbly ask the new president to reverse America’s recent unilateralism.

Sometimes America is called upon to break old rules while making up new ones; 2001 was such a year. But a new rule-set recognized only by America constitutes an abdication of our global leadership.

— 8. Make a list of all the great powers whose national interests we have harmed, and become willing to make concessions to them all.

George W. Bush was right to lay a "big bang" on the calcified Middle East, but his refusal to launch a regional security dialogue was dead wrong. When we deny fellow great powers a chance to shape outcomes, we invite their meddling.

— 9. Make direct overtures to violent non-state actors whenever possible, except when doing so would damage existing alliances.

Only the locals can ostracize violent non-state actors, but rehabilitation must be accompanied by the prospect of better lives. Bottom line: jobs are the only exit strategy.

— 10. Continue to review our goal of accelerated democratization and, when we are wrong in our strategic approach, promptly admit it.

Democracies typically feature a large middle class and a "middle aged" population. Neither comes quickly.

— 11. Seek to create strategic alliances with rising powers through diplomatic linkages and military-to-military cooperation.

A smart America co-opts China’s rise just as Britain shaped ours a century ago. What China must do is what America did then: re-brand its military as a force for global stability.

— 12. Having had a strategic awakening as the result of these steps, America must try to sell this grand strategy to the world, and practice these principles in all its efforts to make globalization truly global.

History is calling your name, President Barack Hussein Obama.

Heed its voice.

This column was adapted from Thomas P.M. Barnett’s just-published book, "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush."

(Thomas P.M. Barnett is a visiting scholar at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center. Contact him at tom@thomaspmbarnett.com.)

3 Responses to A 12-step program for Obama

  1. AustinRanter

    February 9, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Throw in fundamental classes on Government for the rest of the nation. The voters don’t have a clue what is wrong with our government.

  2. woody188

    February 9, 2009 at 11:21 am

    We are not powerless over globalization. This is global-corporate propaganda non-sense to make us feel powerless in the face of massive job loss to other nations. We make our destiny, not some group of nameless, faceless board of directors hell bent on pocketing more money for themselves by selling out their blue-collar American neighbors to foreigners.

    I’d argue more of the points but I simply don’t have the time this morning.

  3. griff

    February 9, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Wow. First we’ll solve the problem of inflation and currency devaluation with more inflation and currency devaluation. Second we’ll solve the problem of globalization with more globalization.

    I’ll agree with woody. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? No thanks.