As the dust begins to settle

By November 11, 2008Article, Atlantic Eye

SEATTLE, Nov. 11 (UPI) — The dust is beginning to settle, Mr. President-elect.

You have had precious little time for a breather; it is good so. The last transition from President Clinton to President Bush was abysmal. Your appointment of Mr. Emanuel should help, as he knows the ropes. Nonetheless, our county needs every bit of your time to lead it in a new direction.

I arrived in Chicago last Tuesday, Nov. 4, from Syracuse, N.Y., where I voted the same day. I had met with then-candidate, now-congressman-elect Dan Maffei in upstate New York and placed phone calls to General Clark, Stu Eizenstat and Tom Pickering. I also spoke to several European foreign ministers.

I called Charles Adams, the co-chair of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council, who was leaving to the VIP tent at Grant Park. We agreed to meet the next morning. I am not a crowd person and spent the night talking to the man and woman on the street.

As I walked back toward East Grand Avenue, a group of young people stopped me, wondering who this chap was in a jacket and tie. It was — as you remember — a warm evening. I told them I had been part of your International Finance Committee and a vice-chair of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council. They began to ask me a series of questions, so I invited them to join me for a coffee.

Most of the young people, somewhere between 17 and 25, were concerned about the reputation the United States has around the world. One of the young men, a Chicago kid, could not stop glowing at his pride for you. But he was concerned about how equality would manifest itself in U.S. society despite your victory.

A college-aged woman was concerned about the economy. “I am not in favor of the bailout,” she said. “I do not know why we are rewarding the folks who caused the damage in the first place.” I agree with her. It seems to me we could have taken the $700 billion and set up a holding company that could have protected the assets of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and the the common man without having to rescue companies who have proven themselves greedy and incompetent.

One of the men was getting ready to join our Armed Services. He was concerned about the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq. But he also felt it would be impossible and unwise to get our troops out of Iraq in two years: “We promised the Iraqi people stability. We should stand by them.”

We might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater if we pull out of Iraq. I agree that we should negotiate below the presidential level with Syria and Iran. I also think we should strengthen our negotiations with Saudi Arabia. We also must be unmistakably clear about U.S. support for Israel.

On the campaign trail you talked of persuading NATO members to contribute troops to collective security, asking our partners for more investment in reconstruction and stabilization, and supported a streamlined decision-making process. You also talked about giving field commanders more flexibility. All of these things will help the United States with stabilizing Iraq.

One of the young men was of Russian/Polish origin. He is leery of Russia. Russia is chomping at the bit. We must make it clear that we seek a partnership with them, but not at the expense of democracy within their own borders. They do not want to hear this, but you must express it to President Medvedev, forcefully but respectfully, without embarrassing them. Nonetheless, we must stop making sport of agitating the Russians for no reason, even if they are baiting us with their aggressiveness.

I have talked at length to successive Polish and Czech foreign ministers about the Missile Defense Shield. You will decide its future. If you keep it, the Azerbaijani proposal merits serious consideration.

Previously a prime minister suggested to me that you spend the first 100 days of your presidency meeting overseas with as many leaders as possible. Due to the financial crisis you cannot do this. But you could send Vice President-elect Biden on the road. It would show the world that you will take the United States in a new direction. Actions speak louder than words.

The Bush administration refused to move on Chancellor Merkel’s trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. One of the first things you could do is call an expanded Group of Seven (Canada, United States, Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Japan, and add Russia, India and China) to coordinate the financial crisis. I recommend it take place in Ohio, a state that is a virtual microcosm of the United States. At that meeting you could sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The states are a resource of great credibility which are being underutilized. The United States should pool currently unused soft-power resources, much like the states of the European Union. Some states do this ad hoc. A coordinated effort would add immeasurably to the U.S. ability to regain footing internationally.

I have been a centrist most of my life, conservative on economic and defense issues and a libertarian on social issues. I grew up in a military community overseas.

On this Veterans Day, I am reminded that your victory speech was a call to unity.

Your presidency must be marked by the same approach.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist and entrepreneur, he has advised political personalities.)