Saturday, December 06, 2008

Changing Directions

Earlier today, Ruth posted on President Bush's disastrous Middle East foreign policy. As she pointed out, Mr. Bush still hasn't figured out that every position he held and every step he took was wrong, deadly wrong. The rest of the world is anxious for the new administration to take its place, hoping that Barack Obama will operate differently, that he will stay in connection with consensual reality, that our foreign policy will once again make sense.

During my weekly visit to Watching America I noted all of articles minutely analysing President Obama's cabinet selections and pronouncements. There were also several articles containing thinly veiled pieces of advice to the new president. Not surprisingly, the most cogent was from the Middle East.

Written by Galal Nassar, this op-ed piece in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly has some very sensible pointers for Mr. Obama.

Obama is likely to try something akin to Bill Clinton's economic programme to kick-start the economy, but will it work? The current economic crisis, with its global dimensions, requires a new kind of medicine, perhaps even a rethinking of its fundamental premises. To resolve the current crisis something will have to be done to revive time-honoured notions of justice, equality and partnership.

We need to revive respect for the International Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter and the right of nations to self-determination. And we may need to rethink the selfish consumerism in which the world has indulged for decades, perhaps even start thinking in terms of self-sufficiency.

Obama must steer away from the rhetoric of war and seek instead to build consensus. The world needs to rethink the rules of non-proliferation, invent new ways of eliminating poverty, and continue to fight illiteracy.

The new US president should admit that US plans for Iraq have failed and that the Iraqis must be left to decide their own future. The same goes for Afghanistan, where invaders have been repulsed repeatedly by a nation determined to fight in the valleys and the hilltops.

The war on terror doesn't make sense unless we comprehend the relationship between oppression and hatred. We have to understand the reasons that lie behind international tensions in order to emerge from the disasters that have beset us at every turn. It will take courage and resolve to turn things around, but it is not an impossible task.

What Mr. Nassar is asking President Obama to do is to craft a foreign policy that will lift the entire world, not just the US (as the neocons wanted). The US can still lead, but it must recognize that it no longer is the dominant power in the world, if it ever really was, and must work with the other nations in solving the difficult problems, both economic and social, that have beset the world, especially the last eight years.

The world is once again calling to us to be our best selves. I hope someone on Mr. Obama's staff is listening and taking notes.

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