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.

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