Our Next President's Challenge
the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Nov. 25, 2007
Without assigning blame for the current state of affairs, let's recognize that we are divided as a nation on a number of issues. From the war in Iraq, to the global environment, to our attempts to encourage our form of democracy around the globe, huge segments of the country and the international community are camped on different sides.
The good news is that, as Americans, we can discuss our differences without fear of arrest or ridicule. The bad news is that we can't seem to find common ground to move forward in a constructive way. That will be a major test for our next president—finding a way to pull us back together.
We are clearly better together than we are apart. When the people of the United States share a goal and we set our hearts and souls to achieving it—from winning World War II to reaching the moon—we demand respect and command the day. When our people disagree and can't focus, we forfeit international respect and the nation drafts. History will decide who bears responsibility for the circumstances we find ourselves in today, but our next commander-in-chief will set the tone for reconstructing respect and teamwork in our great country.
To put the next president's job jar in order, the first priority will have to be engineering a consensus on the elephant in the room—Iraq. As I have noted before, there are no good answers now—it's too late for that. The question has become, "How can we gracefully extract ourselves so that we maintain a moral foundation that preserves our ability to lead the world, without keeping tens of thousand of our sons and daughters involved in a sectarian war that consumes hundreds of billions of our national treasure?"
Our next president will have to devote energy and time and political capital to drawing us together. The divisions over the war will continue to suck the oxygen from the air in Washington and drain our intellectual capacity to pull together, unless we find middle ground that Americans—and our international partners - can live with.
Let's hope that our next leader can somehow resolve this huge task and that statesmanship and strategy will offer a mechanism that permits us to rally around a broader, better defined national plan. Moving forward will require a strategy that uses all of our tools—not just bombs and bullets—to exercise leadership at home and around the world.
We have used the military security component of our national strategy routinely over the past decade. Whether we have overused it, again, will be for historians to decide. But there is a sense that we have not exercised the diplomatic component as much as we should have. Throughout our history we have taken—even demanded—the moral and ethical high ground. Our national reputation lost some of that luster, however, as we failed to convince some allies of our good intentions in Iraq. I believe our national intent to maintain the moral high ground was intact, but our execution suffered because we didn't use all the diplomatic tools at our disposal.
Another job for the next president will be to reestablish our preeminence in the global economy. We still have the most innovative business leaders and strongest work ethic in the world. But we need to pull together an economic strategy—including a coherent environmental component—that we can all get behind. This strategy has to include leadership on the environment, while recognizing that our quality of life relies heavily on good-paying jobs. This is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It is possible for us to be sensible stewards of the environment without driving the United States out of business.
Our economy is going great, although that is sometimes obscured by the debate over Iraq. But we haven't figured out how to incorporate our economic strength into a national strategy that complements either the diplomatic or the military component. We have the most respected and feared military in the world to enforce the security aspects of a national strategy. Our economy is doing well and should be the driving force for more of the world's business policies. And we have skilled and experienced diplomats who can deliver a coherent message about our national strategy. We just need a coherent message for them to deliver.
Our next president's greatest challenge—and hopefully greatest achievement—will be articulating and implementing a national strategy that unites us. We're all waiting to get on the same train and move down the tracks. Such a strategy will require broad-based support—from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Part of the next president's challenge will be involving all sides in constructing a national strategy, from development through execution.
And since our future is so intertwined with that of our global partners, the next president must at least bring our allies into the discussion—and accommodate their concerns as much as our national interests permit. Allies are also waiting to join us on the train to a safe and secure future. All aboard!
How does the next president reach out and build bridges across every aisle and every border? First, by doing what's best for America and the world, rather than what's best for the next election. That will require a dramatic change of tone in Washington. We need the next president to be the team captain, the ethical leader, the prince of the people, and the go-to adviser in a global as well as national sense. We're all waiting to be on the team.