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Looking Forward: A Model State of the Union Address for January, 2009
Published on Monday, January 22, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
Looking Forward: A Model State of the Union Address for January, 2009
by William D. Hartung
 

The 2008 presidential race is already well under way, with candidates beginning to clarify their positions on Iraq, climate change, and other key issues. In advance of President Bush's State of the Union address tomorrow night, it would be interesting to look ahead at what a new president might address in his or her first State of the Union address in January 2009. Below is an optimistic model of one such address, which assumes that the United States has fully or partially withdrawn from Iraq, creating room to discuss other pressing foreign policy issues.

My Fellow Americans,

The State of the Union is strong. And working together with partners around the world, we can use our strength to make the world an even better place for our children and grandchildren.

Our fundamental principle in working towards a safer, better world must be the concept that every human life is precious, from America to Iraq, from China to North Korea, from Chile to Colombia, or from the Sudan to South Africa. We must protect humanity from all of the threats we face - whether from terrorism, or nuclear weapons, or environmental destruction, or outbreaks of disease, or entrenched poverty.

Not only must we preserve life in all corners of our interconnected world, we must make it worth living. Every person on this earth should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, to unleash the intelligence and creativity that makes each of us unique.

And we can only reach our full potential by working together to foster cooperation rather than confrontation; unity rather than division; and hope rather than fear.

In moving forward on this ambitious but essential agenda, we have much to learn from our experiences of recent years. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is the recognition of the basic generosity of the American people. From aid to tsunami victims in Asia to help for those displaced and devastated by a hurricane on our own Gulf Coast, Americans from all walks of life have given of their time, their energy, and their money to respond to these immense human tragedies. Now, we need a government as decent and generous as its people.

We also need to recognize that we are most effective when we work together with other nations to solve the complex problems that we face.

We ignore this lesson at our peril. In Iraq, we have seen the danger of plunging forward without heeding the advice of our friends and allies. After expending hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, we are no closer to a solution now than we were at the outset of the war. We would be far better off today if we had done more listening, and engaged in less arm-twisting, in crafting a solution to the threats posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

By contrast, when we have contributed to global efforts to deal with threats like the HIV-AIDS crisis, we have made progress. We have far to go, but the common understanding of the scope of the problem and the need to solve it on a global basis has had a genuine, positive impact on the lives of millions.

Just as our communities work better when people are encouraged to participate in community organizations from the PTA to little league to kids' soccer, so will the world work better when more nations feel empowered to participate when decisions are being made on how to address global threats like climate change or childhood disease.

I have spoken thus far about the values that should inform our foreign policy and the goals we should try to reach by applying those values to our real world problems. Now I'd like to talk a bit about how we go about this by developing policies that are both pragmatic and principled.

One basic underlying theme for all of our policies must be the idea that in addressing complex problems, we need to use all of the tools of statecraft, from military force, to diplomacy, to economic cooperation, to intelligence and information sharing, to public education. To make an analogy to the human body, we need to use all of our muscles, not just one set. We need to be both strong and agile, fast and flexible, able to address the threats of the moment while anticipating those yet to come.

In the 2004 election campaign, both Al Gore and George W. Bush identified the greatest threat we face as the prospect of a terrorist group getting hold of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, in recent years our ideas of how to address this frightening problem have leaned too much on saber-rattling and military force, and not enough on effective diplomacy and genuine cooperation. This is true despite the fact that in the modern era, no nation has given up its quest for nuclear weapons as a result of military force being used against it.

On the other hand, diplomacy has a track record of success. Since the end of the Cold War, more countries have given up nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programs than have started them: Brazil, Argentina, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Libya. In each case, it was diplomacy, not military threats, that got the job done. At the same time, the United States and Russia are in the midst of cutting their deployed nuclear weapons by two-thirds. Thousands of "loose nukes" and tons of bomb-making materials have been secured or destroyed in the former Soviet Union. And none of the major nuclear powers - not the United States, not Russia, not China, not France, and not the United Kingdom - have tested a nuclear weapon for over a decade.

This is not to suggest that we have solved the nuclear dilemma; far from it. The emergence of India, Pakistan and North Korea as nuclear-armed nations shows that in key parts of the world, our diplomacy has failed, at least in the short-term. And it remains to be seen whether the conflict over Iran's nuclear aspirations will be solved peacefully and effectively. But this is all the more reason to address these complicated problems in a multi-faceted way. Countries need positive incentives to change, not just threats of what might happen if they don't. Diplomacy may need to proceed on many tracks - on a regional and international basis; on a one-on-one basis between nations that view each other as threats; and through citizen diplomacy, cultural and economic exchanges, and other methods that go beyond the reach of what governments can do on their own.

This doesn't mean that there is no role for military power. There are cases in which diplomacy backed by force can be successful; by contrast, force without diplomacy is a recipe for disaster.

There are immediate steps that can be taken by the United States, sometimes alone and sometimes working with allies, to stem the nuclear threat. In confronting what President Bush has described as "the nexus between technology and terror," we can start by serving as a role model of how to radically reduce the nuclear danger.

The best thing we can do to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists is to invest more funds and more energy in the process of destroying and securing existing nuclear bombs and bomb-making materials against being spread as a result of theft, corruption, ideology, or incompetence.

We already have a program that has been highly effective at meeting this objective. Started with the leadership of Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, this bipartisan initiative is known as "cooperative threat reduction." It has been utilized to destroy thousands of bombers, missiles, and loose nukes, and thousands of tons of nuclear bomb-making materials in the former Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia. It has been a result of cooperation between Washington and Moscow in sharing expertise and funds to accomplish this essential goal. Our European and Asian allies have also contributed funds and personnel to this effort. Now we need to accelerate the pace of this program, and, as Senator Lugar has suggested, apply it on a global basis to any country whose nuclear materials could be stolen or bought by terrorists.

If we are going to lead by example, we need to get our own nuclear house in order. First and foremost, that means abandoning plans to build a new generation of nuclear weapons. Our goal should be to eliminate nuclear weapons in the next generation, not "improve" them. No government, dictatorship or democracy, team player or reckless isolationist, is responsible enough to possess these "weapons of mass murder," as former President Bush has called them. We need to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us, by design or by accident. It is well within the power of the international community to do this, if key governments - backed by strong public advocacy - make it a priority.

Perhaps the other most urgent threat to humanity is climate change, also referred to as global warming. Even what might seem to the lay person as relatively small increases in average global temperatures can wreak havoc with life as we know it, by melting the polar ice caps, flooding coastal areas, fostering growth of new diseases, undermining agriculture, and striking at the basic building blocks needed to support human life.

As with the case of the nuclear threat, there are clear steps that can be taken to address this issue, if we devote the time, energy and attention that the problem deserves. More fuel efficient vehicles; clean energy sources; energy efficient homes and workplaces; government-supported investments designed to create greater markets for recycled materials; and tapping the same creativity and technical prowess that put a man on the moon. These are just some of the ways we can address this problem. But it won't mean anything if we do it alone. We must enlist India and China, Russia and Brazil, Japan and South Korea, Nigeria and South Africa and every other major and minor energy-using nation in this effort. And far from being a drag on our economy, the steps we need to take to stop climate change and keep the world livable for our kids and grandkids can spawn whole new industries built on the concept of keeping harmful gases from despoiling our atmosphere.

As a start in the right direction, I pledge tonight to double the government's commitment to fighting global climate change tenfold, from $5 billion per year now to ten billion dollars four years from now. And we should continue to increase that investment as needed in the years to come. If we can spend hundreds of billions on military security, we can afford to do what it takes to ensure climate security. We have no choice but to act; the only question is whether we will do so effectively, in cooperation with other nations, or ineffectively by going off on our own path, disconnected from the needs and aspirations of the rest of the world.

You are the key to making all of this happen. Every major change in our nation - from abolishing slavery, to establishing a woman's right to vote, to defeating fascism in World War II, to promoting civil rights and environmental protection - all of these massive changes for the better have begun with citizen action, not government policies. Whether it involves recycling at home, pressing your schools and workplaces to implement better environmental practices, or sponsoring a speaker at your community organization or place of worship to talk about how best to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger, you are the leaders. A president can raise issues, but only what President Eisenhower described as an "engaged citizenry" can resolve them.

I look forward to working with you to make our country and our world a better place, a world in which cooperation is the norm, not the exception. Even if we fall short of some of our most ambitious goals, we will be better people, a better nation, and a better world for trying. Together we can do this, for ourselves and the generations to come.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City. This speech was developed in cooperation with the U.S. in the World Project at the New America Foundation.

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