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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Holbrooke

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Holbrooke

Last Build Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 00:41:04 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

The Next President's Daunting Agenda

Mon, 25 Aug 2008 00:41:04 -0600

The presidency of the United States is the most extraordinary job ever devised, and it has become an object of the hopes and dreams -- and, at times, the fears, frustration, and anger -- of people around the world. Expectations that the president can solve every problem are obviously unrealistic -- and yet such expectations are a reality that he will have to confront. A successful president must identify meaningful yet achievable goals, lay them out clearly before the nation and the world, and then achieve them through leadership skills that will be tested by pressures unimaginable to anyone who has not held the job. A reactive and passive presidency will not succeed, nor will one in which a president promises solutions but does not deliver -- or acts with consistent disregard for what the Declaration of Independence called "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Although not every issue the new president inherits requires change, every major one requires careful reexamination. In many cases, new policies and new people -- loyal to the president and capable of mobilizing the support of the permanent bureaucracy -- will be necessary. But a comprehensive national security policy is more than a collection of individual positions. A coherent vision for the United States' role in the world must be based on its enduring national interests, its values, and a realistic assessment of its capabilities and priorities; not even the most powerful nation can shape every event and issue according to its own preferences. The days when a single word, such as "containment," could define U.S. foreign policy will not return in this world of many players and many, many issues. Still, there is a need to define a broad overarching concept of the United States' national interests. (The Bush era's focus on the "global war on terror" was simultaneously too limited and too broad.) To restore the United States to its proper world leadership role, two areas of weakness must be repaired: the domestic economy and the United States' reputation in the world. Although the economy is usually treated as a domestic issue, reviving it is as important to the nation's long-term security as is keeping U.S. military strength unchallengeable. This will require more than a cyclical upturn; to repair the economy in the long term, a new national policy on energy and climate change will be essential. And restoring respect for American values and leadership is essential -- not because it is nice to be popular but because respect is a precondition for legitimate leadership and enduring influence. The president should address both issues as early as possible in order to strengthen his hand as he tackles pressing strategic issues, including the five neighboring countries at the center of the arc of crisis that directly threatens the United States' national security -- Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. A few early actions that lie wholly within his authority can make an immediate impact. The most compelling such actions would be issuing a clear official ban on torture and closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which now holds only 260 prisoners. Because the Bush administration limited itself to punishing only those at the very bottom of the chain of command at Abu Ghraib, the damage to the United States' image has been immense and continuing -- the gift that keeps on giving to the United States' enemies. Presidential directives making clear that the U.S. government does not tolerate or condone torture are necessary in order to separate the new administration from that costly legacy. As for Guantánamo, closing it is complicated, as Bush administration apologists (and many lawyers) say. Well, a lot of things in life are complicated. Guantánamo must not become the next president's albatross, too; closing it, no matter how difficult, is not just desirable but imperative. A NEW FACTOR History is not immutable. But there is one pattern that comes very close to being a law of history: in the long run, the rise and fall of great nation[...]