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US foreign policy priorities: Leading by example rather than force can restore our global luster

POSTED: January 5, 2014 1:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is hoped the new year will bring fresh thinking in the Obama administration on foreign affairs. Prompt decisions on a few key issues could enhance our posture, improve our security, and contribute to the pursuit of peace.

Here are moves that should be on the Obama agenda:

• Declare victory in the “war on terror.” We invented this new kind of war in 2001 and have used it to rationalize assassinations, long-term detentions, brutal interrogations and military actions in other countries. Lethal drone strikes, which seem to generate more militants than they kill, should be ended. The prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. Any detainee who cannot legitimately be charged with a crime should be freed.

• Bring home our 60,000 troops from Europe. We stationed forces in Europe during the Cold War to keep the Russians from storming across the continent. But today, most of eastern Europe has defected and is now on our side. Russia is isolated politically and militarily. Russia can barely launch a winter Olympics, much less an invasion of France or Portugal. Cost-savings from a European withdrawal would be several billion dollars a year.

• Ratify international treaties that most other nations accept. High on the list would be the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The reasons for our reluctance on these treaties are often hard to find, yet the advantages would be immense. We come off as hypocritical when we criticize other nations for violating international norms that we ourselves have not signed on to.

• Focus on justice in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Secretary of State John Kerry is writing up so-called “bridging proposals” to bring Israel and Palestine together. But like his predecessors, Kerry is mired in arm-twisting the Palestinians to accept what Israel wants. He avoids the issue of repatriating the Palestine Arabs who were forced out of Israel in 1948, and whom Israel refuses to let back in. Kerry should devise a serious “bridging proposal” on this highly resolvable issue.

Kerry criticizes Israel for its settlements in Palestinian territory, which he understands are taking up more and more of Palestine’s territory. Yet he refuses to say what the World Court has said about the settlements — that they are simply illegal and that they should be removed. Kerry keeps threatening Palestine for wanting a role at the UN and in international treaties. He should accept the fact, as the United Nations does, that Palestine is a nation-state.

• Follow up on the handshake in Johannesburg with Cuban President Raul Castro by ending President Dwight Eisenhower’s economic embargo against Cuba. Whatever one thinks of Cuba, the embargo has not forced reforms there. The embargo imposes great hardship on Cubans, whether they live in Cuba or in the diaspora.

Change may come in Cuba, but it won’t be because of our embargo. We are widely seen as bullies for refusing to let Cuba engage in normal commerce with us.

These five initiatives might ruffle a few feathers in Washington. But they might just convince people around the world that we promote fair outcomes, and that we follow the rules we ask them to follow.

Despite widespread envy of our prosperity, pollsters who inquire abroad about attitudes toward the United States generally find negative views toward our foreign policy. Those negative views might diminish if we were to act more like a good citizen. Shouts of “Death to America” might find less resonance. Recruiters of suicide bombers might come up empty.

These five moves could well lead to others, but they are good for starters.

John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.


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