From time to time, I will invite “guest bloggers” to share ideas and proposals that I feel deserve attention. I may not always agree with the respective blogger. However, in the spirit of principled debate about US foreign policy and national security policy issues, I think it’s important to invite some “big ideas” people into the mix. Brent Budowsky and I wrestle about policy proposals and politics frequently via email — and here is his latest ‘full flourish proposal’ on deal-making and potential deal-makers in the Middle East.
This is a big proposal — something that will be difficult for any President to swallow — but that’s why it’s big. Given the absence of any credible “deal-makers” in the administration to move America’s interests in the Middle East in a more constructive and enlightened direction, the Budowsky POTUS Plan could be an interesting and important option.
— Steve Clemons
The POTUS Plan: Mobilize All Living Former Presidents For A Historic Middle East Peace Initiative
by Brent Budowsky
At this moment of crisis and chaos, it is time for American leaders to lead and lift this land we love, to rally what Thomas Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind, and to inspire young generations everywhere with a panoramic vision for a lasting peace in the Middle East.
The real America is never a choice between the arrogance of power and the fear of failure, it is the sustenance of military and economic power put in the service of great aspirations of good and decent people everywhere.
President George W. Bush, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Leader John Boehner should announce together that the United States is undertaking a great mission to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East, with the active involvement of every living former American President.
They should announce a formal Presidential Council of Advisors that will include regular, hands-on advice and action from former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton.
They should announce that the four former Presidents will travel together on a global head of state mission to obtain commitments for a five year, trillion dollar economic, hope and reconstruction program that would become available to all in the Middle East when (and only
when) they reach formal peace accords and implement cease fires.
They should issue an open public appeal to leaders and believers of the great religions and the generation of young people throughout the Middle East.
The unity and stature of bringing together our former Presidents will send this powerful signal to the world: the United States will put the full force and power of our country behind a historic search for peace, justice, security and a better life as America’s answer to poverty, bloodshed, hopelessness, and despair.
Many will believe, possibly correctly, that President George W. Bush is incapable of a truly bipartisan, historic, panoramic peace initiative mobilizing all living American Presidents from both parties. If he is not, my advice to Democratic Leaders is to offer this proposal as a Loyal Opposition alternative that will be far more appealing, credible and realistic than any version of status quo heavy, or status quo light.
However, there are leading Republicans in the United States Senate and the Republican national security establishment who would join Democrats and advise the President to consider this. President Bush need not be doomed to a historic legacy of a failed and catastrophic eight year presidency.
If George W. Bush can emulate the last two years of the Reagan Presidency, and aspire to the higher expectations of his own version of Reagan working with Gorbachev to change the world, history will remember the nobility and aspiration of the final two years of the Bush presidency, as much as the failure of the first six.
John F. Kennedy moved the world in a thousand days and Ronald Reagan changed history in his final seven hundred and twenty. The POTUS plan would instantly elevate the President’s moral and political reputation at home and around the world. It would give him the benefit of the best advice in America, and give him the leverage to achieve key short term objectives, and raise enormous money first from governments and ultimately from capital markets, with great impact on world events.
The key that unlocks the door to a revival of true American leadership in the world would be a sea change initiative that involves the former Presidents giving regular high level advice, meeting together in on-going planning discussions, and visiting world capitals to execute a concrete plan.
Presidents and former Presidents are different from the rest of us. They have exercised the world greatest power in real life, in real time, shaping real events. The four living American Presidents today have an unprecedented scope of highest level contacts, highest level prestige, highest level knowledge, highest level global experience in decisions about war, peace, and every conceivable military and diplomatic policy and strategy.
Instead of merely recalling our Guard, Reserve and military troops to service why not recall our former American Presidents? Why not build on the growing friendship and professional respect of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton and the long term collaboration and great friendship between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter?
Why not inspire the outpouring of support from the American people that would undoubtedly result from our President working with our former Presidents, to turn our crisis into opportunity, and resume our true role of world leadership and appeal in the battle of ideas?
Why not tap the wisest and most experienced Americans who have served in our highest office to make an unprecedented show of American commitment and unity to the world, to generate ideas and credibility in the search for a better life, and to issue a call to action to offer the young generation in the Middle East the hope for a better life?
While we seek bipartisan action to rebuild our worn down military, why not mobilize the living former leaders of the free world to win the battle of ideas through more schools and hospitals, by championing an escape from poverty and despair, by building the prospect of peace empowered by aid, investment, tourism, commerce, justice, dignity, and hope?
Official Washington would be stunned and shocked at the transforming power of the POTUS plan with an American people who are desperately yearning for a new spirit of leadership, and a world community that hungers and thirsts for America to regain its historic role as inspiring and visionary world leader.
In December of 2006 the battle of ideas is between those who exploit death, destruction and chaos to promote suicide and murder, versus incremental variations of a failed status quo with virtually zero appeal to the generation of young people who turn to violence from their despair, humiliation and rage.
This need not be; as President Kennedy said we can do better. We can elevate our debate at home and our vision for the world. We can reach to lift the common aspirations of people everywhere, and mobilize with shared purpose the full force and power of America and the greatest minds, hopes and generosity of spirit from our leaders and people.
While mobilizing our Presidents would be the first step of a hard journey, it could translate to near immediate results achieving greater NATO forces and reconstruction aid for Afghanistan; renewed support for the brave Cedar Revolution in Lebanon; and bipartisan action to rebuild our overstressed military.
These actions become far more possible in the context of a sea changed American policy mobilizing all former Presidents in a powerful, historic quest for peace. It took nearly a decade for America to fulfill JFK’s dream of landing on the moon, but it took only hours from his challenge for the impact to felt in our spirit, our science, our technology and our mobilization as a country.
The POTUS plan would empower President Bush and Secretary Rice with unprecedented moral, political and economic leverage. They could and would have full access not only to our former Presidents but to our best strategic thinkers, negotiators, retired military and great diplomats who would enlist in the cause and enlarge our domestic policy making, our moral credibility and our appeal and influence in the world.
Why not enlist brilliant diplomats such as Jim Baker and George Mitchell to be available on call to participate when necessary for real time cease fire discussions, or preparatory work for peacekeeping forces from the United Nations or NATO forces when necessary?
Why not announce the immediate convening of a bipartisan conference of leaders of the appropriate Congressional Committees to seek agreement and enactment of spending bills that would address urgent military needs, to rebuild force structures, replace outdated equipment, and enact reforms proposed by the 9-11 Commission?
If the Government of the United States came together to announce such a bold and daring vision for a better world and brought together the power, experience, judgment, wisdom, contacts and credibility of all former living American Presidents there would be a standing ovation from the American people and a surge of enthusiasm from leaders in world capitals on every continent.
If the Government of the United States moved with boldness and vision to again act as the true leader of the free world, as the true and honest champion of a better life for the next generation of young people, there would be major pledges of financial support from nations that would join us, some from relief, others with enthusiasm, all with excitement that there is a new and powerful alternative to a status quo of carnage, chaos, fear, death, sectarian bloodshed and religious war.
We are a better country with a better future, than choosing between incremental variations of failure and crisis, watching leaders position themselves for blame and defeat, tolerating the biggest untruth of all: the tired, false and deadly notion that the United States of America can no longer influence Iraq or any other event.
The hard lesson of history is that we can never dominate the world. The great lesson of history is that we can always shape it, if we rally the highest aspirations that have always made America a beacon. We must turn to first principles and remember that while America must always be strong, the force of our ideas is always more powerful than the unwise use of our force.
No American policy will succeed without a clear, courageous and far-sighted project to address the great issues that tower over all events in the Middle East, beginning with and especially the need for permanent safety for Israel and honorable solutions for the Palestinians.
Any policy towards Iraq, especially what should be an American push for a cease fire and a true reconciliation among Iraqis, would have far greater appeal to Iraqis and far more support from our people and allies in the context of a sea changed strategy for the Middle East as a whole.
Our ability to pressure the Iraqi government, to appeal to the Iraqi people, and to determine rational policy affecting American troop levels, are all improved with the changed context, of a sea changed plan for the Middle East, that is a game changer for every participant in every conflict.
Our ability to inspire worldwide political support, to unify the family of free nations, to leverage this support into dramatic economic programs with widespread multilateral financing will have far-reaching impact with every player in the neighborhood, friend, foe and neutral.
Yes these are hard, tough, brutal, ugly, issues surrounded with malevolent forces that create and exploit them, made worse by obvious and disastrous mistakes of American policy. But history has a habit of great leaders, of great nations, with great vision, overcoming their seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Who would have thought in 1948, 1960, 1975 that Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, sworn enemies, would be brought together by an American President for an agreement that was a historic triumph for Israel and Egypt alike?
Things change. Great deeds are accomplished only after the first steps are taken, by those with the daring and courage to transcend the limits of the conventional wisdom of their times.
Remember the endless bloodshed between sworn enemies over Ireland; that changed.
Remember the endless apartheid, death and Nelson Mandela in prison in South Africa; that changed.
Remember when Havel and Walesa were jailed as political prisoners; that changed.
Remember the crimes against Allende and the disappeared in Pinochet’s Chile; that changed.
Remember when American children were taught to hide under their desks in school in fear of nuclear extermination; that changed.
Remember when black children in America were whipped, beaten, bitten by dogs and murdered in churches; within a generation that changed so powerfully that an African American is now one of the leading candidates to be President of the United States and the leader of the free world.
Things change, with great risk, great cost, great danger and great vision by those who fight for those changes and make them happen.
In America many of us have our own personal Presidents, those who had special impact on our lives, on our generation, that we carry with us.
My personal President was John F. Kennedy.
George W. Bush’s personal President was Ronald Reagan.
There are lessons and legacies from both that would serve us well today.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the younger generation within the great generation, fighting against fascism in the South Pacific, rallying the spirit of freedom at the gates of the Berlin Wall.
JFK knew from war and peace, that our military must always remain second to none, but our spirit, our ideals, our dreams for the world would lift the aspirations of people everywhere and lead to our ultimate victory in the battle of ideas.
Ronald Reagan fought for one of the greatest military build-ups in the history of the world, but always believed in negotiating with our enemies from strength, with vision, courage daring for the ultimate goal not only of victory in the Cold War, but nuclear disarmament that would make the world safe from Armageddon.
It is time to enlarge our discussion, our vision, our politics, our thinking, and our aspirations for our country and our world.
The POTUS plan would mobilize the enormous experience and credibility of former Presidents from both political parties to restore our spirit of national unity, our sense of higher purpose, and our renewal of national self-confidence.
The POTUS plan would lift the American people, win support from governments around the world, and rally the aspirations of a generation of young people who want a better way than the death of the suicide bomber and the mass murder of carnage, chaos and religious war.
It is time to learn from Lincoln, to think anew, begin again, and take risks for peace, as we take risks for war.
Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left government in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.