President-to-be Obama

By February 26, 2008Article, Atlantic Eye

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) —¬†Dear Mr. President-to-be:

On Jan 28, just a week before Super Tuesday, I co-hosted a dinner with 25 guests at a diplomatic residence in Prague. The main guest was former Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party. Several ambassadors were present. After some discussion, I was asked who I would vote for on Super Tuesday. I said I would vote for you.

A few days later, I flew back to Syracuse, N.Y. On Feb. 5 I did just that.

Mr. President-to-be, I have been a centrist most of my life. I am conservative on economic and defense issues and a libertarian on social issues. I grew up in a military family; we have lost family in war. I respect John McCain. But I support you and your message.

In you speeches you select words that unite. I believe your presidency would be marked by a similar approach. As you know, our reputation has suffered worldwide.

In many European capitals people wonder how you would be as president. You are the talk of the town. Not just young people, but seniors and middle-aged alike are fascinated by you. It does not matter, from Prague to Warsaw, from Bratislava to Vienna, from Berlin to London, from Copenhagen to Stockholm — I am asked about the elections, and shortly thereafter about you. And this was the case long before good fortune came your way.

In October 2007, at the time you were down in the polls, I met Mrs. Obama in London as part of a fundraiser for your campaign. In her speech she expressed the same hope and optimism that you do. She spoke about healing and helping to bring back America’s reputation overseas. Many times her speech was interrupted by spontaneous applause. She was a superb stand-in.

Later a small group of us co-hosts had a chance to speak to Mrs. Obama privately. She is someone in her own right — the model of a modern woman — self-made, studied at Princeton and Harvard, a mother who glows about her daughters — a first lady. A wife says a great deal about her husband — she was down-to-earth, tough, warm and friendly. Of course, you know all that, but I feel compelled to share it with others.

Mr. President-to-be, the world is also looking for your stand on issues.

I was recently in Berlin and was asked by a leading adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel what I thought you would do about NATO. I said you would ask members to contribute troops to collective security; that you would ask them to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization; and that you supported a streamlined decision-making process. I found out later that you have also talked about giving field commanders more flexibility. One question I could not answer: What is your threshold for use of force Mr. President to-be?

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is in Washington this week to talk about the missile site with President Bush. I have talked at length to successive Polish and Czech foreign ministers about it. You will decide the future of the missile shield. I have told the Czechs I would support them. But the Azerbaijani proposal merits serious consideration; and it is high time to improve our relations with Russia.

Most of Europe has felt neglected and unconsulted during the Bush years. A ranking prime minister suggested to me that you spend the first 100 days of your presidency meeting overseas with as many leaders as possible. I think this is an interesting idea. It would show the world that you will take the United States in a new direction. It is not just Europe that is restless to see your first steps. As you know, Mr. President-to-be, actions speak louder than words.

Chancellor Merkel has proposed a trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. It is a good idea, but the Bush administration has refused to move on it. It seems to me, Mr. President-to-be, 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). I recommend it take place in Ohio, a state that is a virtual microcosm of the United States.

At that meeting Mr. President-to-be, you could sign the Kyoto Protocol. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia did that as one of his first acts after winning last year. You could make a similar move. It would not just be bold; it is good environmental policy.

You would engage and talk to friend and foe. Global Panel has a history of doing just that — behind the scenes and off the record. We have proposed a $750 million North Korea/Korean Peninsula Investment Fund. The NKIF/KPIF will be used for entrepreneurial ventures, for knowledge transfer, healthcare and for building, energy and infrastructural projects. The fund should sit in escrow until the point that change takes place. The NKIF targets the private sector and those who know a return of investment is years in the future but recognize the need for such a fund.

Mr. President-to-be, you would increase diplomacy and engage the American people on foreign policy. Global Panel agrees. We advocate pooling the economic power of U.S. states and giving them a role in international affairs. California has the economic power of Italy; Texas of Brazil; New York of Russia; and Ohio of Belgium and Morocco combined. This makes California the world’s seventh-largest economy, Texas 11th, New York 12th and Ohio the 22nd largest worldwide.

Having each state partner with a nation would enable the United States to pool currently unused soft-power resources, much like the states of the European Union. Some states do this ad hoc. But a coordinated effort by all states would add immeasurably to the U.S. ability to regain footing internationally. The states are resources of great credibility that have been underutilized.

A senior Republican said to me today, “I’d like to see the country benefit from having a choice between two great candidates — Obama and McCain. The race would be tough, but it is good for America.”

Mr. President to-be, Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are, and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were, and say ‘why not?'”

You are someone who heals. And you are best equipped to make the dream a reality.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party and a vice chairman of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)