Obama and a crisis ridden world
ON January 20th history was created in the United States and the spirit of democracy vindicated. The world will now wait and watch how a transformed America, with its renewed emphasis on human rights and dignity, engages with crisis ridden situations under President Obama.
There exists a spirit of readiness for constructive engagement not only among the European leadership but also among others in Asia. All of them know that President Obama will have to take decisive action on some of the issues left behind by the Bush administration. They will also hope that "the tactics and tone" of the solutions will be different, particularly with regard to the three key challenges -- the economy, foreign policy and climate change. It is also being anticipated in this regard that there will be a more meaningful and non-unilateral approach on the part of the USA. This last factor assumes that much more importance given the need for close EU-US cooperation, particularly on regulatory issues, the "carrots and sticks" approach towards Iran, and getting in place a new international climate change agreement.
The Obama administration has hit the ground running because it set up policy working groups and candidates for key cabinet positions prior to his stepping into the Oval office. This has also included agreeing on personnel who would be retained or appointed in key positions in the State department. I believe that this will help the new team to quickly establish links with the outside world.
The incoming Administration has drawn up an 'American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan' to restart the US economy and save jobs. This plan is designed to create jobs through investment in green technology, improved infrastructure and tax cuts. It is clear that critical aspects of the drive to rebuild the US as well as the world economy will require not only US-EU cooperation but also a more active engagement between the USA and the other members of the G-20. Such an approach can underline the need for strong action to address the crisis, strengthening transparency, reinforcing international cooperation and strengthening international financial institutions.
The crisis in Gaza and Israeli obduracy has reiterated once again that the Middle East [finding a just solution in Palestine, gradual withdrawal from Iraq ('responsibly leave Iraq to its people') and curbing renewed growth of the Taliban presence in Afghanistan] will remain the greatest challenge for the new US Administration from day one. Former General Jim Jones, as National Security Adviser in the new team, will have to work very closely with Secretary of State Clinton to show to a sensitive world that there has been a clear shift in focus from the unilateral approach. A participatory and multilateral emphasis will be desirable. The United Nations must be made an essential instrument of US foreign policy.
In Palestine, for example, after the horrible and disproportionate response by Israel on unarmed Palestinian civilians, the US can regain the moral threshold by re-establishing parameters of US policy -- based on the two-state solution with the US committed to discussions that will help to build better lives and institutions for the Palestinian people on the one hand and also provide the Israeli citizens living within Israel the right to live in peace on the other. It might be useful in this regard to persuade the Arab League to create a peace-keeping force under the UN flag to help monitor peace in Gaza. At the same time pressure must be brought to bear on Israel to vacate occupied territory and cease building settlements in total violation of international law.
Similarly with regard to Iran, Obama could pursue a meaningful engagement by showing the regime the advantage of adopting a different approach. I know that the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act was co-sponsored by the then Senators Obama and Joe Biden in 2007 but now there needs to be a "sticks and carrots approach" with direct diplomacy playing a central role. The EU could play a big part in such a scenario. Iran has direct trade ties with Europe and Iran's growing reliance on Euro as the preferred currency may create that extra nudge.
Afghanistan is another key US priority. The country has moved forward a long way since 2001 in terms of access to health care and education. Unfortunately, however, the security within that country continues to deteriorate due to poor governance and serious corruption among its leadership. This is alienating the population in many parts of Afghanistan and also assisting the Taliban. President Obama is on record that his Administration will be prepared to send in more troops to Afghanistan. That will however not solve the problem. Seven years after Karzai's coming to power, civil society activists and media in Afghanistan are both citing the need for democracy being practiced in the country. They are also pointing out to the absence of economic and employment opportunities outside Kabul. It might be useful to take a fresh look at that war-torn country and to identify common denominators which will help to create local government partnerships and regenerate the economy aided by the collective commitment from Europe that is already in place.
The next key policy issue that will require committed engagement from the new US Administration is climate change. The US must not act as an obstacle towards the achieving of an international agreement on this matter. There has been some progress on creating a framework and this has to be continued.
The new US government will also have to focus not only on India, Pakistan and China but also on the building of relationships with the emerging democracies in Asia through the Asia-Pacific Democracy Partnership (APDP). There is need to widen this initiative through meaningful engagement with moderate democracies like Bangladesh (greater access in matters of trade). This can be undertaken through the Millennium Challenge Corporation which gives economic support to countries which have undertaken internal reforms.
President Obama wants China, Russia and the emerging economies to view themselves as responsible global players. Such a view is welcome. However, to make this effective, these countries also need to be given a stake in the international system so that they can perform as significant stakeholders within the paradigm of crisis management rather than outside it. They could then be interlocutors of stability and peace.
Today, we have an incremental chance for change and a new relationship between the United States and the rest of the world based on mutual respect. This is an opportunity that should not be lost due to prejudice or narrow self-interest.