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The New Globalism: A Vision for America's Role in the World

Obama will have to recover and renew the distinctly liberal principles and values embedded in the liberal internationalist tradition.

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To take full advantage of Bush -- and conservatism's -- poor performance, Obama and his team should offer Americans a compelling foreign policy vision of their own. This means articulating in persuasive terms the liberal values they would have their policies further. It also means learning from the success, and the failures, of the liberal internationalist tradition as a whole. Consider again the two policy areas of liberalism's approach to human rights and its commitment to economic equity as a means of promoting global economic stability.

Liberalism's democratic rights agenda (including human rights, as embodied in the 1948 U.N. Declaration) was, as noted, powerful as a set of normative ideas, but it has been weakly institutionalized. Conversely, liberalism's economic equity agenda -- the "New Deal for the World" -- has enjoyed extraordinary institutional power, but it was normatively stunted. A reasonable yet exciting agenda for Obama, then, would be to address these flaws and regenerate the best of the liberal tradition.

A reinvigorated liberal approach to human rights, for example, would strengthen non-coercive and consensual mechanisms to realize those rights. With Bush's unilateralism bogged down in Iraq, Americans are poised to appreciate anew the virtues of multilateralism, diplomacy, negotiation, flexibility, open-minded dialogue with hostile states and other expressions of the liberal temperament in foreign affairs. Americans are also ready to embrace, as a primary objective of U.S. foreign policy, the universal recognition of human rights -- among Saudis and Chinese as well as Iranians and Cubans. This willingness would extend to enforcement by multilateral means -- notably, through the International Criminal Court (ICC), created in 1998 and joined by 105 countries, but not the United States. The ICC is gradually proving its mettle as an important symbol of global justice and as an institution that can enforce a multilaterally conceived human rights agenda.

Obama could also advance human rights by supporting "substate" cooperation -- such as associations of jurists who convene to share ideas and practice. Another approach is to encourage "human security" through rule of law policies in foreign assistance, multilateral loan making, and the like, which gives more weight to the protection of human rights, for example, and obsesses a bit less about property rights. And, needless to say, Obama must follow through on his pledge to end the U.S. practices that are outright violations of basic rights -- Guantanamo detainees, renditions, torture, and the like.

Obama should also pursue a reinvigorated liberal approach to global economic stability, reminding Americans that freedom from want is just as important as freedom from fear. He could urge the Bretton Woods institutions to return to the relatively successful "mixed" development models of the 1950s-70s which, as numerous economists point out, is what the "Asian tigers" have done all along, with remarkable success, improvising with markets and government interventions. Relatively inexpensive support for health care and education in poorer countries would pay enormous dividends, as would development strategies and trade policies that protect rather than plunder the environment.

Above all, Obama must insist to the American people that daunting challenges -- which these appear to be -- are also exciting opportunities. Globally, there is a renewed need to work with civil society organizations to nourish and grow the rights revolution that gave birth to the United States, and which is still unfinished -- politically, socially, and economically. Globally, there is an urgent need for sustainable economic development, which would enable the Third World to escape poverty, disease, and social disintegration without provoking disastrous environmental consequences. As Obama and the Democrats call Americans to this vision of future possibilities, they must explicitly affirm that their policies are preferable not merely because they "work" or fulfill some smarter version of the "national interest," but because they are consonant with the deepest values of liberal democracy and American liberal culture. That was the appeal in the days of Wilson and FDR and Kennedy, and it remains a bracing vision of American globalism, wrought anew, for the coming century.

 
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