Advice for the Next US President
For several years now, American pundits have commented sadly on the alleged rise of anti-Americanism abroad.
I am not aware of any such anti-Americanism. What has been growing is resentment of and opposition to certain, current U.S. government policies. America itself still stands tall in international eyes as a stronghold of democratic values and the ideals of individual liberty. All that remains is for informed citizens to stand up in November and call the country back to its roots.
Yet how does a nation accomplish such change?
South Africa completed such a transition a decade ago when it addressed the horrors of apartheid. At the time, a peaceful reconciliation between blacks and whites - between the long oppressed black majority and the controlling white minority - was by no means certain. Skeptics viewed our first black-led government with concern and uncertainty, wondering whether the natural urges for revenge and retribution would tear the country apart. That story had already played out time and again across the African continent, as it does today in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
It was thus with amazement that the world witnessed South Africa's tranquil transition. The new democracy didn't descend into the predicted pit of vengeance or become ensnared in years of frustrating red tape over Nuremberg-type show trials for the accused.
At the same time, Pretoria also rejected blanket amnesty, which would have deepened the national wound by victimizing the victims a second time around.
Instead, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which steered us through these difficult times, provided a third alternative: that of restorative justice.
The commission chose to grant amnesty in exchange for the whole truth: a complete disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to the offense for which amnesty was being sought. A confessing perpetrator bore the stigma of public shame and humiliation regarding his crime, which frequently included very real family and career consequences.
The commission also created a means by which rehabilitation and re-acceptance into the community was possible, providing healing and reconciliation for victims and perpetrators alike.
Victims were able to share their stories in a friendly and supportive forum, affirming that they had not struggled in vain, while truly contrite perpetrators were given a chance to be salvaged and ultimately reintegrated into the community. By offering amnesty for a high price, the commission managed to reconcile the bitterly wronged with the wrongdoers.
World history has proved that forgiveness is never cheap or easy. Even in South Africa, there were some who said the truth made them want to see the perpetrators facing trial and others who refused to forgive, often because they claimed that the amnesty applicants had not told the entire truth. But the rare success stories like South Africa prove that reconciliation can happen on the basis of truth and there can be no future without forgiveness. Revenge only begets further violence. In the end, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
American voters would do well to keep South Africa's lessons in mind when they head to the polls in November. America's strained relationships in the global community are due largely to the fear and siege mentality that set in after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, causing many in Washington on both sides of the aisle to reject certain civil liberties considered core American values.
If the next U.S. president cares for global reconciliation, then he will stand up for these values and reject those policies that have weakened or undermined individual liberty. In this regard, I suggest that your new president would be surprised at the reaction of the world if he were to say to the world, "We made big mistakes over Iraq." And while he is at it, shut down Guantanamo Bay. And just as in South Africa a decade ago, it never hurts to say "I'm sorry."
With honesty, humility and international forgiveness, the United States can and should remain a beacon for liberty for the world long into the future.
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.