How Obama Can Improve the World

Yale World Fellows advise Barack Obama on his first term, with tips on how he can transform the energy economy, advice on Afghanistan, and suggestions for how he can help create a global democracy.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Two years ago, during my third year at Yale Law School, I had the privilege of participating in the Yale World Fellows Program. Over the course of a semester I engaged in an intense period of intercultural exchange with an incredible group of journalists, entrepreneurs, civil servants and activists from around the world. Even for a well-traveled American, it was impressive to witness how engaged and invested these emerging leaders were in our domestic political process. After graduating and moving on to work on President-elect Obama's campaign, I wondered how my new friends were viewing the historic decision that America was making about the future of our nation, and therefore necessarily the future of the world. When I asked them what their suggestions would be for the next American President, regardless of who was elected, these were the responses that I received.

These essays are remarkable not just for their insight, but also for their foresight. There is a broad consensus that the President-elect must not shy away from the international challenges that await him. For instance, Orzala Ashraf, a human rights and civil society activist from Afghanistan, makes a plea for a more enlightened American engagement in Afghanistan. It is also clear that in those challenges lie unprecedented opportunities. As Nicky Newton-King and Sioban Cleary from South Africa note in addressing the need for an overhaul of global financial markets, the next President "will take office at a point when the pain of the current crisis is still fresh -- often the best time to take radical action."

However, as several of the essays point out, it is also important that these issues be perceived of and addressed as global -- rather than as just American -- challenges. As Stefaan De Rynck, Communications Strategist for the European Commission, notes, the next President must carefully walk the line between American leadership and American exceptionalism. John Haffner, a Canadian energy expert, strikes a similar chord when he calls for the next President to "move away from the misleading rhetoric of 'energy independence,' and instead embrace a new discourse of 'energy interdependence,' a more enlightened language that recognizes that energy nationalism is dangerous for everyone, and global energy challenges will be solved together or not at all."

Finally, there is a clear sense that in order to re-engage the world, America must lead the way toward a broader, more inclusive global dialogue. Whether partnering with Europe to create common "eco-innovative markets," as De Rynck suggests, or developing an innovative online forum to engage global citizenry in the search for solutions to global problems as advocated by Balazs Szekfu, one of Hungary's leading Internet entrepreneurs, American simply cannot afford to go it alone.

# Articles Index #

Changing the US, Changing the World? From Hubris to Modestyby Stefaan De Rynck

Challenging Circumstances in International Financial Regulationby Siobon Cleary and Nicky Newton-King

The Future of Afghanistanby Orzala Ashraf

Transforming the Energy Economyby John Haffner

A Transition toward Global Democracyby Balazs Laszlo Szekfu#

Changing the US, Changing the World? From Hubris to Modesty

by Stefaan De Rynck

At the Democratic Convention, Joe Biden told Delaware delegates that Barack Obama will "not only transform the nation; he's going to transform the world." This idea of the special role of the US, leading the world by virtue of power and example, is not the best starting point for a new foreign policy. The incoming President should start from the question "who does America need to achieve our ambition?" The interdependence of public policy challenges in today's world -- from containing terrorism, to stopping global warming, to the regulation of the financial system -- means that they must be confronted multilaterally. It would be wrong to think that a restoration of US leadership by itself will do the trick to improve the state of global affairs. We live in a truly multi-polar world where all powers need each other to make progress.

Why would the US need the EU to realize its ambitions? At a time when there is a risk of increased protectionism, cooperation is increasingly valuable. But the US and the EU should do more than simply negotiate and cooperate. They must increase their level of joint ambition. Both candidates have identified the challenge of global warming. How about creating a common market between the EU and the US for "eco-innovative products," such as bio-diesel from waste (and not corn), or a zero-emission car? Imagine the push to technology that would come from the prospect of serving a market of nearly a billion consumers with tremendous purchasing power? This joint push is in the US interest: today, Chinese car manufacturers are adopting EU standards, with a risk of marginalizing US producers over time if they do not follow the ecological lead.

The unprecedented crisis of the US banking system, and its fall-out on banks elsewhere, calls for global rules to accompany the global market and offers a chance to rethink the current economic paradigm along the lines of what EU and US leaders were doing in the 1990s under the leadership of Bill Clinton. At a minimum, the EU and the US should move away from a narrow focus on "easing the regulatory burden," as the current EU-US economic cooperation stresses, to finding the right joint regulatory oversight and transparency in the global financial marketplace.

The financial crisis should not affect the EU and US commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. But their development policies are an ocean apart in terms of their conception. From the recipient perspective, the fragmentation of such important donors is absurd. The two powers should give a joint push to meeting the ambition of the MDG immediately in 2009, before the goals are out of reach and the momentum stalls. In addition, the US and EU should work together to cancel the debt of the poorest countries of the world.

Over the last few years, cooperation between the US and the EU on communicating with Iran intensified. The new US President should step up this joint diplomatic approach, and make sure that both powers use each other's diplomatic channels to reach changes in the behavior of Russia, Iran and other threats to regional stability. It makes no sense to isolate these countries, so let's reconsider before creating new exclusive mechanisms such as the Alliance of Democracies. Preventative diplomacy is the key to progress. Using EU diplomatic communication channels can serve US foreign policy goals in dealing not only with rogue states but also sub-state groups that cause chaos and insecurity. This may even go as far as envisaging talks with Hamas -- an official no-go area that some EU leaders would privately admit is necessary in order to make progress in the Middle East.

A stronger engagement by the US with powers it currently ignores should also extend to the UN Human Rights Council, which the US currently boycotts. China and Russia are increasingly determining the outcome of the HRC and the EU sees its influence dwindling in the face of arguments that privilege sovereignty over human rights. The risk is that certain powers manage to present their autocratic model as workable alternatives to the world, delivering economic growth and prosperity without freedom. Joint US-EU efforts on human rights would also give them credibility to work together on international criminal justice rules that could bring some order and more effectiveness in how to tackle sub-state terrorist groups. The US needs the EU to regain some legitimacy after eight years of assuming to be in the know on "how the world works" without having listened to voices of reason in that world on issues as diverse as international criminal justice, global warming, building democracy, anti-terror policies, and the role of diplomacy in talking to people who order or proclaim atrocious acts of violence.

Challenging Circumstances in International Financial Regulation

by Siobhan Cleary and Nicky Newton-King

President-Elect Obama: It is the nature and the great challenge of our times that a country's leader must think not only in terms of national self-interest but also in terms of global well-being. In some fortunate instances, the two coincide. But often the linkages are not immediately apparent or, in even more challenging circumstances, they may appear to be in conflict. The President of the United States, for the moment the global hegemon, is particularly susceptible to these challenges, facing a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" international expectation.

This letter, written from the southern tip of Africa, hopefully speaks to the first category -- where national interest and global well-being coincide. It asks you to use your term(s) of office to strengthen the system of international financial regulation. Recent events will have reinformed the reality that financial markets are the most globalised of our markets and that, as a consequence, a financial crisis in one market is seldom contained by national borders. In the past ten years alone, South Africans have seen and felt the effects of the Asian Crisis, the burst of the dot-com bubble and most recently the Sub-Prime Crisis. It is worth stating the obvious: namely, that not one of these crises, with their varying impacts on the South African economy, originated in South Africa or spoke to South African macroeconomic fundamentals.

The need for some form of international financial regulation is already recognised and the Bretton-Woods institutions (via the Financial Sector Assessment Programme) and the Financial Stability Forum already perform some of the functions of a surveillance authority and a policy adviser respectively. Nevertheless, there are four areas on which we think you should focus urgent attention:

First, you must help the world reach an agreement on the regulatory framework to be applied to financial market activities characterized by the assumption of bilateral risk. Exchanges and transactions on exchanges are highly regulated and it is noteworthy that they have weathered the recent crises far better than the other parts of the financial system (Over-The-Counter markets, investment banks and the like), which are relatively unregulated despite their intrinsically higher risk. Given the very sophisticated nature of transactions in banking and over the counter markets, the lack of regulation and accountability regarding the nature of the products they create and the risk management of those products cries out for closer attention. This requires critically examining the regulatory gap between unregulated financial activity and regulated financial markets and reaching a global consensus on how to close this gap.

Second, getting global commitment to the notion of international financial standards and specifically the International Financial Reporting Standards must be a priority. In times of global crises, one needs to get a rapid understanding of the nature and scale of the financial impact of specific events. Without a global standard against which to interpret financial transactions and products, this is time consuming and can lead to a false sense of the magnitude of the concern. The time for the pursuit of narrow self interest has passed and as the largest financial market, the US now needs to recognize that it simply cannot forge a lone path on issues such as these.

In addition, you must lead an effort to subject ratings agencies to some form of regulation that will hold them accountable for their ratings. It is noteworthy that ratings agencies could at one moment give certain sub-prime assets decent credit ratings, only to reverse the ratings when the real risks to the assets became apparent. In the meantime of course, many investors relied on the ratings to their detriment.

Finally, you must ensure that financial markets proactively identify and assess systemic risk, putting globally accepted preventative measures in place and using top brains to do so. The fact of rapid financial innovation means that it is insufficient to develop policy recommendations after the fact to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen again. We need the brightest minds available to think proactively about the policies which should be applied and the regulatory environment which should be created. Also, the type of analysis and output required is only possible if those involved don't seek to perpetuate their narrow domestic policies but recognize that global markets by definition require reciprocal access and global policies which don't seek to protect or promote one market to the detriment of others. If the US is serious about the global financial markets evolving to the benefit of all the globe's citizens then the US should not only promote, but lead this initiative. To do so it will have to move away from some of the positions it has taken at the recent Doha/World Trade Organization negotiations, specifically the barriers it places on access to US financial markets and look instead at how one evolves standards which are globally applicable and accepted.

You will take office at a point when the pain of the current crisis is still fresh -- often the best time to take radical action -- before the memory of the pain fades and we once again manage to convince ourselves that the "paradigm has changed" or that that this time round we really are operating in a risk-free system. We wish you much success in your endeavors.

The Future of Afghanistan

by Orzala Ashraf

The war on terror is one of the key issues in your foreign policy, President-Elect Obama, and Afghanistan is a key battlefield for eliminating extremism and terrorism worldwide. Strengthening worldwide security against terrorism must begin with an increased investment in the improvement of Afghan security forces. This is an essential step toward alleviating the responsibility currently placed on the shoulders of international forces and will empower Afghans to fight against terrorism on their own.

The last seven years of military intervention have failed to ensure overall security. Corruption is on the rise, the drug trade is booming, and militants and warlords are violating the human rights of our most vulnerable citizens. Most importantly, Afghanistan still lacks the basic social facilities that are necessary to secure the future of the country. Militarization of development aid has jeopardized the work of civilian humanitarian assistance organizations, and as a result, hundreds and thousands of people are deprived of basic health and educational opportunities. A major lesson could be learned from the case of Afghanistan if old-fashion prescriptions of what is "good" for the nation can be put aside, and instead the Afghan people are asked to define what they want and need.

Civil society and tribal leaders are instrumental in maintaining support for a strong democratic Afghanistan that will deny terrorists a safe haven. However, such a strategy should not be confused with "negotiations with the Taliban." The Taliban do not represent in any way, shape, or form the Afghan communities and suggestions by some members of the international community that we negotiate with those who behead civilians, use women and children as human shields, manipulate young people and brainwash them to become terrorists, cannot be allowed to influence Afghan policy. Furthermore, women in Afghanistan, despite some claims to the contrary, have not been liberated. They remain under-represented in the leadership of political decision-making bodies and continue to face daily persecution. In order for the country to follow a path to peace and development, women must be included in the process. In the 21st Century, the most important weapon that must be given to Afghan people, over 50 percent of whom are youth, is the pen. Education for a nation with a 71 percent illiteracy rate will significantly limit generations of prospective terrorist recruits and contribute to a sustainable peace in the region. Finally, the real end to the war on terror can only be achieved if there is accountability for war crimes committed during the recent upheavals and an effective system of justice is established in the country. Only then can we begin to re-establish basic infrastructure and make progress in fundamental economic development. Investments in security, women's rights, social justice, education, and basic infrastructure will improve the Afghan economy and create employment opportunities.

Mr. President-Elect, we have followed your promises during the elections campaign and as a nation at war, we now hold out great hope for what we may expect from you. We deeply respect the sacrifice your nation has made to end this war. We hope that we will all look back with pride in this endeavor we undertake together to free the world of terrorism and sectarian strife.

Transforming the Energy Economy

by John Haffner

With volatile oil prices, growing global energy demand, and the spectre of catastrophic climate change, energy has become a front-page and household issue -- not just in the United States, but around the world. The next president has the opportunity to lead a radical energy transformation towards a future based on low carbon, reliable and sustainable energy. There are seven steps the next administration could take that would help drive this transformation.

First, the United States must lead global climate discussions before and after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in late 2009. Carbon reduction targets for the period from 2012 to 2050 must be rooted in the latest scientific findings on the pace of climate change, and the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol must include aggressive intermediate reduction targets so as to drive investment decisions.

Second, the United States should introduce a federal moratorium on new coal-fired plants that do not have carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as an aggressive time frame for retirement or retrofit of existing coal-fired plants without CCS. It should challenge other countries to do the same.

Third, the United States should challenge every country to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and 30 percent by 2030. It should commit to underwriting global and regional financing and policy mechanisms that support this objective.

Fourth, as the global community prepares to expand the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the administration must undertake serious efforts to restore the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to begin a discourse that looks beyond non-proliferation and towards disarmament. The president should review how to strengthen the oversight capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and devise a plan, in collaboration with other countries, towards universal (or near-universal) adoption of key international legal instruments to be used against proliferation: the Additional Protocol, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

Fifth, the United States must adopt aggressive energy efficiency standards and codes nationwide, and the president must be willing to exercise strong leadership in challenging builders, cities and companies to adopt a wide array of visionary efficiency measures in homes, buildings, and transportation.

Sixth, the United States should reduce its domestic agricultural subsidy policies and apply sustainability criteria towards ethanol production -- in comparison with other options -- so that the United States will be able to expand the use of biofuels in a sustainable manner.

Finally, the next president of the United States should move away from the misleading rhetoric of "energy independence," and instead embrace a new discourse of "energy interdependence," a more enlightened language that recognizes that energy nationalism is dangerous for everyone, and global energy challenges will be solved together or not at all.

A Transition toward Global Democracy

by Balazs Laszlo Szekfu

Global government has to consist of a globally, democratically elected body; no other option will be regarded as legitimate. Since the enlightenment, more and more countries have followed the path toward democratization. Through many milestones and detours, countries eventually realize that barriers to equal representation must be dropped. I see information communication technologies (ICT) as a last phase in the path towards global democratic government. In the future, technology will provide new ways of deciding important matters around the globe. And the next American president has the power to accelerate our path toward the future of participatory global democracy. The key for democratic decision-making is to have the votes of all citizens be accounted for. To be accounted for means to leave a trace, which in today's political world of mail-in registrations and in-person voting is a complicated business. By using digital technology, however, leaving a trace is not only easy but often inevitable. People vote all the time by visiting websites, choosing a brand, sending text messages to the American Idol competition or choosing a school for their kids. Using emerging technology we can create an environment in which humans can participate in politics with much less effort. The next president of the United States of America is in a historic position to sow the seeds of world government by growing and harvesting the labor of an engaged global citizenry.

Currently, about 15 to 20 percent of the world's population is connected to the global information network. To realize real global government we will have to get the information superhighway to every village on earth, so that everybody can participate. In the meantime, my suggestion for the next president of the United States is to create a model, a first step towards creating global democracy. I suggest the creation of an online participatory forum for the discussion of global issues. Call it the UP, the United People. This consultative body of concerned global citizens can serve as a prelude to the global democratic governance that will be our inevitable future.

Starting in the late 20th century, the Internet helped accelerated individualization. But the Internet has also given momentum to the building of communities. The next president of the United States can use his global power and the connecting power of ICTs, which incidentally are mostly developed by American companies, to create a model of global direct democracy based on the general principle of open source politics: everything happening publicly on the Internet. With the use of proven moderation methods, like the community-moderation used on many websites, a readable and valuable discussion space can be created.

Following the same pattern of using proven solutions to common challenges, a global political organization can use a Wikimedia environment for knowledge sharing, common document editing resources to reach consensus on policies, a interface to coordinate meetings, a Delicious-style application for knowledge-sharing, and so on. The solutions already exist and open source engineering is out there to make all of this feasible for a global community.

America is a beacon of hope, with the noble aim of spreading democracy. In our age of information and communication technologies, America is closer to her high goals than ever before. Instead of spreading democracy country by country, overthrowing governments and waging wars, America -- with the will of its next president -- can start to create democracy globally.

Popular in the Community