Listen To The World A Minute, Please

Back in 2000, Hillary Clinton spent months on a “listening tour” of New York State, convincing voters she wanted to be, not their boss, but their responsive public servant. Letting the world know who’s boss has been the persistent theme of President George W. Bush’s failed foreign policy. To begin to repair the resulting damage, a global listening tour is in order for him.

Fortunately, some of the work has been done. Every year the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the polling organization WorldPublicOpinion.org team up to survey citizens in the United States and 17 other nations, representing over half of the world’s population. This year’s poll shows majorities of US citizens united with their fellow citizens of the globe on many of the elements of damage-repair.

Here’s a short list of items that upon which most of the world’s peoples agree:

Climate change is a pressing problem that poses a significant threat.

The United Nations should have its own standing peacekeeping force, rather than being forced to cobble together ad hoc assemblies of the troops individual countries are willing to donate in response to particular crises.

While international trade has benefits, trade agreements should include standards protecting the rights of workers and the environment.

The conventional wisdom in Washington, uniting Bush with most of the folks who are trying to replace him, is that the United States should try to keep the job it has defined for itself as dominant world leader. Most Americans, and most people outside America’s borders, reject this. They believe the United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should. They want us to participate in international efforts to address the world’s problems, but in a more cooperative way.

Poll results like these point out the direction most Americans and most of the rest of the world would want a new post-Bush foreign policy to go. A new report entitled “Just Security,” from Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies (located in the belly of the Washington beast), fleshes out some of the details.

The report argues that a foreign policy putting most of its energy, and dollars, into combating terrorism by military force is off course. It identifies five key challenges to our security in addition to terrorism: climate change, income inequality, nuclear weapons, regional conflicts, and health care, and explains how to deal with them in a way that links safety and security with justice. Like the global majority represented in the poll, the report calls on the United States to rejoin the world community and its effort to constrain international lawlessness through international institutions and laws. And it outlines a plan to cut back on the global policing role by reducing America’s global military presence and the astronomical spending that currently supports it.

The majorities represented in the poll and the conclusions of the “Just Security” report don’t agree on every point. But together they make clear that there’s a debate over foreign policy that we need to have, and that’s missing from that one the foreign policy elites are having. These elites clearly don’t have all the answers. But they will control the debate if we let them.

Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, writing and speaking on demilitarization issues for its Foreign Policy In Focus project.