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Our Next President Needs to Be Well-Seasoned
Monday, 01 January 2007 21:26
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

I certainly agree with those who regard Barack Obama as an appealing and impressive fellow. And I thought John Edwards was a dynamite public speaker with an effective message when he ran for president in 2004. But I don’t think either of them –or anyone else who lacks extensive experience in world affairs– is what America needs, or what the world needs, in the next president of the United States.


These are not ordinary circumstances into which the next president will step. He or she will be following upon a presidency that has done extensive and profound damage to the world system, and to America’s position within that system. The job of repairing that damage is of vital importance, and it is not a job for a neophyte in the workings of international affairs.

It is a vital job because American leadership has been, before the Bushite era, a valuable asset for both the United States and for the world. Many on the left don’t care to recognize this fact, but it has been widely understood by most of the peoples of the world. This is not to deny America’s various abuses of its power over the several generations before the Bushites. But had American leadership been absent during the period from, say, 1940 to 2000, the world would have been even more messed up than it has been.

The Bushites have made America into a feared and despised nation in a way the U.S. has never been before. And that leaves the world without any good and effective leadership, and nowhere else from which it is likely to come. Certainly not from Putin’s Russia. Nor from the one-party, authoritarian regime that gunned down the students at Tienamen Square. Nor does Europe show any capacity yet to act together to fill that role.

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In the face of such problems as the heightened instability of the Middle East, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, global terrorism, the increased animosities between the Islamic world and the West, the threat of a return of cold war rivalries, and global warming, the world deeply needs the re-emergence of a generally trustworthy, widely trusted, leader.

But it will take grace and expertise and judgment to re-establish any such trust and respect. The next American president will likely be welcomed by the world with some hope and relief that the dark days of the Bushite menace are passed, and new possibilities can be imagined. But hopes will not speedily undo the traumatically disturbing experience of the Bushite years.

That process will demand the skill of an accomplished player in that complex international system. It will be a task with a greater difficulty factor than most presidents have faced. (Maybe it will be on the level of what FDR had to negotiate in the years from the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 until his death in 1945.)

Just as one would not take a car in need of an overhaul of the engine and the transmission to an outfit that does oil changes and tops off the fluids, so also one would not wish to entrust this extremely demanding diplomatic task to a newcomer to the global arena.

For that reason, Obama and Edwards would not be my choice. Bill Richardson of New Mexico may have the experience. I don’t know if Hillary Clinton, as a deeply involved First Lady, learned enough during those eight years in the White House to have the necessary level of experience and expertise (there are other reasons why I hope she is not the Democratic candidate).

Of those who appear to be potential candidates, the person I think would be most qualified would be Al Gore.

Regarding the potential Republican candidates, all I feel is necessary to say is this: until the Republican Party thoroughly cleanses itself of its disgraceful abdication of responsibility (at best) and its outright complicity in evil (at worse), this is not a party worthy of being trusted with the responsibilities of power.

The argument might be made that a newcomer could function fine in the role, provided he or she was surrounded by more highly experienced advisors. To that I would respond with the question I raised in 2000 on one of my radio shows: what happens when the advisors disagree? From where will come the judgment to know which advice to follow?

I raised those questions about GW Bush before he assumed the presidency. Now, in retrospect, we know that the U.S. and the world would have been better served if Bush had listened less to Cheney and Rumsfeld and more to Colin Powell (”let’s talk to North Korea,” and “If you break it, you own it”).

With Bush, there is room for many explanations of why he chose to follow the more reckless and arrogant of his highly experienced advisors, and some of them would likely not apply to a president of better character and a greater capacity to learn and understand.

But the overall point remains: the buck really does stop at the president’s desk, and while it can be costly even in normal times for the president to need a great deal of on-the-job training, in extraordinary times –with the stakes unusually high– it is especially important that our next president have, among his or her strengths, a deep familiarity with how the international system works and well-honed skills in working the system to achieve difficult goals.

One last point: when I asserted above that the process of repairing the damage done by the Bushites “will demand the skill of an accomplished player in that complex international system,” I also realize that –such “demand” notwithstanding– there’s a strong chance that we will proceed through this difficult time without such skillful leadership. I realize, in other words, that we quite likely will just “muddle through.” Through most of history, that is what happens in the affairs of nations– even in times, like ours, when the stakes are enormous.

But saying that we would “muddle through” does not mean that it would not also be a disaster and a tragedy. America survived the post-Civil War era with poor leadership. But the difference between that kind of “survival” and the kind of “binding up of the nation’s wounds” that Lincoln envisioned in his second innaugural was huge.

Likewise, an America with mediocre leadership in the coming years would limp along into the future. Americans would regard the terrible consequences of that mediocrity as simply the way history was going to happen, and likely never realize how different a path was conceivable moving forward from 2008.

The nation needs one of those “It’s A Wonderful Life” moments with the angel showing the divergence of paths. Already, not enough Americans fully realize how the series of events that made GW Bush president has led us on a downward path that did not need to have been America’s destiny. Let us not carelessly take another downward turn.
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Comments (7)add comment

Jimmy Montague said:

You're right, Schmookler.
I think the Democrats should run Al Gore, too. He's certainly the best they've got at this point in time. That's not to say he's any good, mind, just that he's the best they've got.

And I think you'd waste your time to worry on one other count: NOBODY named Barack Obama is EVER going to be elected president of the United States. The color of his skin is NOT an issue in this case. Nobody named Barack Obama could get elected president if he could prove a pure caucasian bloodline all the way back to King Arthur.
January 02, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

Dick T said:

Not to mention Jimmy
His full name is Barack Hussein Obama.

The middle one lifted from his father who is a muslim.
January 02, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

eulupu said:

I am sick and tired about these kinds of “self petting “opinions about America and its “leading role”. Leading role in what? In exporting wars and “Pax Americana” all over the world? In not acting when real genocide (Rwanda) and the new one brewing in Darfur happen? In a barbaric execution that fades even Saddam’s worst crimes (BTW carried with the help of another Bush administration)?
“The next American president will likely be welcomed by the world with some hope and relief that the dark days of the Bushite menace are passed..” Are we talking here about a TYRANT that rules a kingdom or are we talking here about USA – the most advanced democracy in the world? Where are the democratic checks and balances tools that our founding fathers left for the PEOPLE of America to use in these conditions? Why they don’t work? It is not about “changing oils” to the system is about fundamental overhaul of the existent system that has NOTHING to do with our founding fathers dreams and everything to do with hijacking democracy.
Hillary Clinton? Now that will be terrific – Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton democracy?? “God Save the Queen “should be our anthem.
All Gore? The man that invented the Internet?
“Professional”, well versed person in international relations? Didn’t Bush have Condi Rice the “Russian” Expert that actually brushed Russia aside and “helped “Putin get his pride back?
What these country needs is an Obama and Edwards team, a team that will start working from inside out mainly on the character of a nation, a team that has less ties possible with Bushes and Clintons cronies, a team that will give America back to the its rightful owner – the PEOPLE of America. “Obama and Edwards” is just an euphemism for “new beginnings”.
January 02, 2007
Votes: +0

Jimmy Montague said:

Obama and Edwards, now, huh?
I think "Obama and Edwards" is just a euphemism for "Republicans win the White House in 2008." But hey: it's a big tent, so you got room to think what you want. Being wrong sometimes is good for people.

About the "checks and balances" thing: Schmookler says we just need to be patient and we'll get some of that by and by. But me, I say we'll never get any of it because people who thought that having a woman as speaker of the House was a revolutionary idea whose time had come, that having a woman as speaker was sure to spark needed change in that hopelessly corrupt institution we call Congress, were just plain wrong. Fact is, female Democrats are just as corrupt as male Democrats. The females just wear makeup, so it doesn't show as much. Think Nixon without his swarthy look.

Louis Jordan told me that's just like a woman, "they'll do it every time." You remember Louis Jordan, right? He'd probably say the same about Obama and Edwards, and he'd probably be right. But I'm going to wait and see. Because waiting around like a sap has suddenly become the politically correct thing to do. And I've always aspired to political correctness. Just ask any of my friends.

Through it all, one thing is certain: if you hang around the altar long enough, you'll end up married eventually. Or buried, maybe. Or just pregnant.
January 03, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

Bill from Saginaw said:

How about Bill Moyers for President, as Molly Ivins has suggested? His recent address to the grads of West Point should be required reading for anybody serious about restraining the role of militarism and racism in future American foreign policy.

So what if Moyers has never run for political office. If personal character and substance regarding big ideas are to be the criteria for this historical moment, we could have a TV journalist as President just as easily as we've had a peanut farmer, a grade B movie actor, and a spy.

Electability, unfortunately, is crucially important for '08. With four more years of GOP executive branch reign, the federal court system will finally tip all the way to its top, and there'll be spooks under every eave trough surveiling and snitching out everybody for conspiring with enemy combatants.

But let's not dwell too much on the cult of personality approach. Whether the Dems nominate someone obviously qualified (like Gore or Richardson), or an attractive, well intentioned "empty vessel" waiting to be filled up with great policy ideas (Obama or Edwards), what seems more important to me are the institutional party ideals.

Will the Democrats unequivocally reject preventive war, preemptive war, torture, and indefinite imprisonment without trial under the guise of fighting a global war on terror, or will the party leadership continue to take no position on these basic life-and-death issues, out of fear of being labeled wimps?

Will the Democrats pledge to obey international law, and make cooperative, creative use of international legal mechanisms prior American administrations helped establish in such areas as nuclear arms control, human rights and global warming?

Will the Democrats seize control over the bloated Pentagon and intelligence agency black budgets, and redirect significant money from outer space missle defense shields and GWOT boondoggles into an actual single payer national health system, one that actually puts an end to private health insurance as we know it?

Will the Democrats genuinely restructure federal tax policies that favor giant multinational business corporations and the super rich at the expense of everybody else?

Would a Democratic administration Justice Department seriously consider prosecution of top level Bushite policy makers and policy advisors (and perhaps a general or admiral or two) for their clear violations of the federal FISA and anti-torture statutes?

Smookler says "grace and expertise and judgment" will be necessary Presidential traits to reestablish respect for the United States in the international community. True, but I'm frankly more concerned about a two party system in which the GOP has a rigid, odious, institutionalized ideology but the Democratic alternative has no ideology at all.

Whether America launches wars of aggression abroad, waterboards people in secret CIA dungeons, and impoverishes its own middle class so the rich can keep getting richer should really turn upon something more enduring than the particular program priorities and interpersonal leadership skills of whatever candidate winds up at the top of the Democratic ticket.
January 03, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

eulupu said:

True, but I'm frankly more concerned about a two party system in which the GOP has a rigid, odious, institutionalized ideology but the Democratic alternative has no ideology at all."
And we all should be - isn't that funny how they keep on "recycling”?? The cycling period is almost predictable – when the acolytes of the party in power make their global economic goals the acolytes of the other party take over to reach their own goals (greed – unsatious greed)
In the process they used all the democratic principles wrapped in a well targeted propaganda so we would vote for them. With the hope that this time we got it right! And we recycle the same corrupted people over and over again to the highest offices in the land. We all better off if we have a SS N lottery for each state and send the winners for one term representation to Washington. Yeah, they have to sane and citizens.
January 03, 2007
Votes: +0

bahmi said:

You do think, really?
Yes, nearly two years into Obama's presidency, what do you see? More wars, huge debt, military madness and some of you felt this socialist dweeb was the answer. You are absurd. YOU need far more experience, not listening to someone who talks but never does. Grow up, please.
October 23, 2010
Votes: +0

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