The Next 4 Years: How Obama Can Accomplish Great Things

Over the next four years, together with Congress, the President should focus American foreign policy on the service of three key global objectives: advancing freedom, peace and prosperity.
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U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the ASEAN-U.S. leaders meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the ASEAN-U.S. leaders meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Ultimately a President's foreign policy is not judged by its impact in the moment, but rather by the durable results that it produces over time. In the next four years, President Obama has the opportunity to re-establish a tradition of bi-partisanship in American foreign policy. If he does, America can accomplish great things abroad.

America's foreign policy focus is shifting. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are coming to an end. Whether we agree or disagree with his judgment, the President's reelection effectively ensures that come December 2014, most U.S. military forces will be out of Afghanistan. As we go forwards, it's crucial that we pay heed to our recent past. Along with our international partners, our military families have given much over the past ten years. We owe them a great debt -- not just with words, but in ensuring that they have the support that they may need going forwards. We also must remember what they have sacrificed for our country. Names like Byron Fouty, Alex Jimenez, Kareem Khan and Jason Cunningham have meaning. But as we honor the fallen, we must attend to important work abroad.

Over the next four years, together with Congress, the President should focus American foreign policy on the service of three key global objectives: advancing freedom, peace and prosperity.

For the cause of freedom, there are signs of great hope around the world. In the Middle East, democracy is slowly taking root. Across Africa, responsible governance is trending forwards. In Burma, a once brutal military junta is slowly ceding power to the people. In India, a superpower is rising from a base of democratic power. However, the international situation is far from perfect. As the recent news from Egypt has shown, new democracy is vulnerable. Iranians remain oppressed. In Russia, freedom exists subject to Putin's whims. In Syria, a dictator continues to kill his own people. In China, the state retains far too much power. With strong leadership, President Obama can take a number of robust steps in response to these various opportunities and challenges.

First, the President should work with Congress to ensure that our foreign aid is more tightly predicated upon respect for the rule of law.

Second, the President should take advantage of the Republican desire for stronger action against Assad and consider sending greater aid (including indirect military aid) to the Syrian rebels.

Third, President Obama should make future cooperation with Russia more contingent upon Putin's improved acquiescence to U.S. pro-democracy efforts around the world. For example with regards to Syria.

Fourth, continuing in the tradition of his engagement with Burma, the President should work with Congress to ensure that America sends a loud and clear message to authoritarian regimes around the world. A message that says, 'If you move towards freedom you will have our friendship and support. If you entrench into tyranny, you will meet our unyielding opposition.'

In the cause of peace, there are a number of other actions that President Obama can take in his second term.

First, the President should grant more latitude to State Department officers to work alongside their host partners for peaceful resolutions to internal conflicts. America has many skilled and passionate experts posted around the world. We should unleash them to do their jobs. The lesson of Chris Stevens is not to retreat behind blast walls, but to advance in a spirit of mutual co-operation. As one example, our new relationship with Burma provides an opening for American support to help resolve the internal sectarian conflicts in that country.

Second, the President should ensure that American foreign policy focuses on addressing the causes of violent conflict rather than just the symptoms. For example, while the U.S. obviously has a paramount interest in ensuring that Al Qa'ida-linked terrorists in Mali and Yemen are confronted, we must match that effort with work to remove the conditions that allow for terrorist refuge in those states. Supporting peaceful efforts to resolve the separatist conflicts in northern Mali and southern Yemen must be key U.S. priorities going forwards. Of course it isn't just these two states where action is needed; around the world, America must be ready to support social reconciliation and conflict resolution with tangible support. Doing so serves both our long term strategic interests and our deepest moral values.

Third, the President should work with the Middle East quartet to help the Israeli and Palestinian leadership return to the negotiating table. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just a moral necessity, because of its role in motivating extremist violence, it's also a U.S. national security imperative. Israelis deserve a future of peace and security. Palestinians deserve a democratic state that serves them.

Finally, prosperity. A great lesson of history is that regardless of state or culture, when citizens have access to economic opportunities and believe that their children have hopeful futures, societies are more stable. Violence is not a symptom of satisfaction, it's the result of despair. Helping advance prosperity should be a key U.S. foreign policy objective going forward. It's an agenda that should win much bipartisan support.

First, building on congressional support for existing free trade agreements like CAFTA and the Colombia and South Korea agreements, President Obama should seek new U.S. free trade agreements with other states and regions. A special focus should be the achievement of a Middle East Free Trade Agreement. If achieved, this development would provide a powerful boost to the economies of the Middle East, helping to increase wealth and living standards and strengthening the middle class in regional states. In turn, this will do much to support democracy in that region.

Second, President Obama should work with Congress to increase sanctions against corrupt regimes which enrich themselves while impoverishing their people. U.S. laws should also be tightened to ensure that American companies are unable to do business with corrupt foreign governments.

If the President and Congress are willing to put partisanship on hold, America can re-engage a tradition of cooperation at the heart of our foreign policy. Focusing on the key themes of freedom, peace and prosperity, over the next four years our government can shape a bold and durable American foreign policy foundation for the future. This will be a foundation that serves America, our ideals and the world.

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