It is impossible to measure the cost of opportunities lost. One and a half years ago, world sympathy poured into the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Today, we have come to be seen by many across the globe as a threat to world peace rather than its protector. Emboldened by the triumphal scenes of exuberance in liberated parts of Iraq, the United States may have another opportunity to show the world instead that our values are as important to us as we say they are.
There is an increasing global apprehension about the role of the United States in the world, even among the populations of America's closest allies. Sept. 11 taught us that terrorists with global reach must be fought and eliminated, and the Bush administration has focused the lion's share of its energies during the past year and a half on this effort. But while 9/11 fostered a deeply felt American vulnerability, it also created new opportunities for creative world leadership.
It is impossible to know what would have happened had President George W. Bush announced that, while America would commit all necessary resources to eliminate global terrorism, we would also use a similar level of energy to address the hopelessness fueled by poverty and disease. Hopelessness may not have been the proximate cause of the 9/11 attacks, but addressing it is certainly one critical, long-term element of effectively responding to it. What would have happened if the Hobbesian view of the world put forward by the Bush administration were accompanied just as vehemently with a positive view of a better future for all, backed by the full force of presidential focus, American diplomacy, close cooperation with our allies and meaningful financial commitments?
The opportunities raised by 9/11 may have receded, but they may not be lost completely. First, we must listen to our allies. Because of America's economic, cultural and military predominance, America must lead. But, we must lead by listening and by example. When we disagree with our allies, we must explain why and how we are seeking to achieve our goals in a manner respectful to our allies. Such an approach would serve in stark contrast to our rapid withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on the greenhouse gas emissions and other actions. As powerful as we are, we still rely heavily on our allies to address the biggest threats to our nation - global disease, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among them.
Second, we must take imaginative steps to better address the scourge of AIDS and other communicable diseases that threaten global populations. The president's announcement of additional funds for AIDS in the State of the Union address was a step in this direction, but more needs to be done. Jeffrey Sachs, director of
Columbia University's Earth Institute, has estimated that $20 billion is needed per year to successfully combat HIV and other infectious diseases in Africa. We must think in these types of numbers, matched by the types of committed attention we are now focusing on Iraq.
Third, we must reinvigorate the global system for poverty alleviation. Poverty is today greater in Africa than it was 30 years ago. There are no easy solutions to this problem, but it will certainly not be addressed without consistent, long- term, high-level focus backed by sufficient resources.
Finally, we should take consistent, meaningful steps to promote democracy where it does not exist, including among our allies. Democracy is risky and unpredictable, particularly in transitional societies, but over time, promoting real democracy will be our best investment in a more secure future. Citizens with democratic outlets are more likely to become street protesters than terrorists.
Without putting forward a more positive vision of American leadership and working with our allies to achieve it, we will have squandered another opportunity to build our most secure future.
Jamie F. Metzl, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a former official of the National Security Council and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.