- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009


It was noticed in his historic Inaugural address that President Obama spoke not only to his fellow American citizens, but to the citizens of the world. World leaders were challenged to open their societies to freedom and equality, or else find themselves on the wrong side of history. The people were assured that an enlightened humanism does not constitute American exceptionalism, but the world’s destiny.

Raised and educated in a multicultural environment, Barack Obama’s vision of universalism informs his call for a new era of responsibility.

Not unlike the Framers of American independence in another Age of Enlightenment, the president holds that “Providence has charged America with making a new world, not reforming the old” and that in advancing an “Alliance of Reason” we, as “Peoples of the World,” are called upon “to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

For the first president with a global constituency, the challenge ahead will lie in harnessing the campaign’s momentum to provide postelection movement. Serious editing of the Inaugural in various closed societies therefore does not surprise.

Inspired by the great 18th-century thinkers, the gentleman from Illinois sees “society” at the center of public discourse, not “government” which, in failing the people’s needs, loses its legitimacy. Leaning on “The Rights of Man” by Thomas Paine, who declared slavery the birth defect of America, the president considers political revolutions permissible when a government does not safeguard its people, their natural rights and national interests. In this context the definition of what constitutes a government as having failed its people in safeguarding human rights on the basis of national humanitarian law becomes crucial in countering accusations of interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

To be sure, in the new push of democracy into the center of a new American foreign policy transforming its conduct and principles, the deconstruction of an established order failing the people over their establishment’s preference of stability becomes an issue that will test the president’s mettle. The Indonesian experience, which saw America on the side of the people in the struggle for independence only to end up on the side of dictatorship because of a false choice between safety and ideals, becomes a guide to action. It is an issue that will not please all of the president’s stability-minded European admirers.

The forthcoming showdown with China over Darfur and human rights in general will be an important litmus test. Will the United States hold to principle, at the same time that we need to borrow a $1 trillion from the Chinese? Standing down those who oppose change in the critical relationship between people and their governments may help establish the U.N. Human Rights Council’s intended close involvement in multilateral diplomacy.

The scholarly Mr. Obama expects that a rational and moral order, derived from universal principles, can be achieved by a system of checks and balances. Yet being a realist, he also understands that in the national interest we must “defeat those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents.”

Being the champion of change is a formidable task. Confronting two wars and a recession, the president must mobilize his grass-roots resources at home and abroad. Based on mutual interest and respect, the president intends to engage old friends and former foes to identify global priorities, defined by shifts to nonmilitary means of power.

An assertive multilateral approach to foreign affairs is echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Advocating the use of “smart power,” she means to employ the “full range of tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural - picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.”

A formidable task, considering that our friends of the European Union, a bloc of 27 nations, still have not learned to speak with one voice and that an outdated 60-year-old NATO is in dire need of renovation.

In advancing the Rights of Man, the administration will look to constructive engagement of both governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders in its quest for new venues for international cooperation.

Within this context, early support for “Universal Remembrance,” the concept that the camaraderie and bonding between men and women at arms are universal and transcend borders, provides an inspired venue for American public diplomacy outreach. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, maintains the “universality of Remembrance” is an idea that transcends the pliability of politics and whose time has come: It allows us as citizens of the world an opportunity to recognize the sacrifice of patriots of all nations as we advance reconciliation, peace and understanding among nations and peoples, no matter their religious, cultural or political differences.

The 2009 International Year of Reconciliation provides an opening for a new approach, as set forth in the Washington Declaration emanating from the “Universal Remembrance Convocation” held on Veterans Day 2008. Chaired by the military adviser of the Iraqi defense minister, it brought together representatives of the U.S. Uniform Services, the Defense Attaches Corps, veterans and families in advance of an “International Day of the Soldier” to remember the fallen the world over.

In our interconnected world where no nation can solve problems alone, it is the soldier who reminds us that what human beings have in common is greater than that what divides us. Therefore it is promising when great military leaders caution against the militarization of our foreign policy by noting the neglect of diplomacy and civilian instruments.

Surely, President Obama will help us break that cycle.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee of American Foreign Policy, a former member of the White House Commission on Remembrance and a recent recipient of the Iraqi defense minister’s Commendation Medal.

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