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Imagining Another Foreign Policy

February 2, 2008

For many young Americans – such as myself – our entire adult life has been watching the Bush Administration run the country. We watched a President rise to power on the coattails of his father, and through a deeply contested election. Our trust in our government has fallen during the Bush era, as we watched an incompetent administration launch a war in Iraq based on lies , trample on American constitutional rights to due process and radically expand the power of the presidency.

We have seen the effects of mismanagement post Hurricane Katrina. We have seen the effects of corruption and cronyism in Iraq, where Defense contractors and private firms like Blackwater and Halliburton have benefited enormously from the Bush Administration’s strategy of preventive war. While claiming to be a uniter, we have watched an administration divide the country and the world for political gain. For the Bush Administration, American politics is a game of divide and rule, rather than make compromises to better the country. Only after the Democrats swept the Republicans out of the power in 2006 did “Bi-partisan” become in fashion once again. Yes, watching the Bush years has been depressing and turned many young people into cynics. It has been difficult to imagine another world during the Bush years.

As I watched President Bush give his last State of the Union Address this week, I was both refreshed and anxious. Refreshed, knowing that this time next year, a new administration would be in power. And Democrat or Republican, the debate has changed since the start of the Iraq war. In Washington, there is greater recognition regarding the limits to military power, and the need for better foreign relations to undo the damage done by the Bush Administration’s cowboy unilaterlism. Anxious, because the leading candidates in both parties still have yet to articulate a radically different foreign policy.

Democrat or Republican, the next President of the United States must bring big ideas to the table. Just prior to the winter recess, both chambers of Congress sent letters to the President urging a substantial increase in the President’s request for the international affairs account – which funds non-military tools – in fiscal year 09. Despite modest increases, the international affairs budget is 17% less than during cold war years, adjusted for inflation. We need a president with the courage to reduce the Pentagon’s half a trillion dollar budget, and increase funds for diplomacy, development, post-conflict reconstruction and civic action abroad.

We need an administration with the courage to renounce the failed global war on terror, and pursue an ethical foreign policy based on diplomacy and international cooperation. One of the most mentioned words in the State of the Union Address – terrorism – is something that will be with the world for some time. But preemptive war and imperial occupations are innapropriate means of combating terorrism. Rather, the U.S. should use spy agencies and security services to locate and capture terrorists, while undermining the conditions which create terrorists. After the Tsunami in Indonesia – the most populous Muslim country in the world – the military and U.S. aid agencies mounted a massive relief effort. As a result, public opinion polls showed the first major rise in support for the U.S. in the Muslim world since the Iraq war. While we at FCNL want to get the military out of delivering aid, the next president should capitalize on American economic power to help those suffering, and subsequently shore up U.S. national security.

Change comes through incremental steps to improve peoples lives, not revolutionary tactics like preemptive war, which undo the fabric of societies. A post-Bush world requires a President with vision, hope and reason to pursue a foreign policy rooted in Wilsonian idealism, yet tempered with realism.

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