The bipartisan conclave in Oklahoma this week was designed as a bridge between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats who seek to use "smart power" to build a new world order.
Smart power is the skillful conjugation of soft (diplomacy) and hard (military intervention) power, which kept the world at peace for half of the 20th century. (Wars in Korea and Vietnam were bumps in the road.) Smart power, bipartisan luminaries — e.g., former Sens. Sam Nunn, Chuck Robb, Gary Hart, Bob Graham, and David Boren (the convener) for the Democrats, and William S. Cohen, Bill Brock, John C. Danforth, and Chuck Hagel, the only sitting senator, for the Republicans — agreed on a formula for national salvation.
The recipe, a coalition government of national unity, has been tried in other Western democracies with varying degrees of success. In Washington, this would translate into a Cabinet of experts drawn from both parties who would reach across party lines on the most critical areas facing the nation over the next 10 years. National security, the Iraq war-drained military, healthcare, education, the environment, and infrastructure are at the top of the list.
Nunn, the elder statesman of the group, said "rampant partisanship" has paralyzed government's ability to act decisively. "If we unify," he said, "we can turn America's peril into America's promise."
Germany is currently governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. It can also be a formula for inaction, e.g., left of center wants Germany to bring back its troops from Afghanistan, right of center wants them to stay, provided they are not involved in any fighting. So Merkel won the vote to extend Germany's participation for another year.
The surprise attendee at the Norman, Okla., gathering of 17 "outstanding public servants" was New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the moderates' undeclared favorite as an independent candidate who could bring about the bipartisan consensus they seek. But judging from the early presidential smoke signals from Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Barack Obama, as the bipartisan moderates understood his message, could become a more plausible unifier than Bloomberg.
The switch from Bloomberg to Obama came when the senator from Illinois said, "The time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington." Obama's recipe: "A working coalition for change." Which is precisely what the elders from both parties originally had in mind for Bloomberg. Obama now looks like a long-distance runner who can make it all the way to the White House. Bloomberg's chances are not quite as promising.
Hagel, a moderate Republican from Nebraska and the man long rumored to be Bloomberg's running mate if he decides to run, struck responsive applause when he said, "Every one of us in this group this morning believes there are opportunities to turn things around for our country, our future, our children, the world."
Worth $11.5 billion on the Forbes list and $40 billion according to what he told a close friend, Bloomberg clearly has a decisive pecuniary advantage over both the Republican and Democratic fields. He is rumored to have scheduled the announcement of his decision to run March 18. After that, the first deadline he would have to meet is in Texas, May 12, by which time he would have to submit a list of 75,000 signatures to get a place on the ballot.
Bloomberg is doing an unusually large number of national television appearances for someone who is not interested in anything beyond being one of the most effective mayors in New York history. Recently, he also attended major international events in China and Indonesia.
A Democrat turned Republican, Bloomberg bolted the GOP last June to become a registered independent. He built Bloomberg up to a $30 billion global giant whose news services are now in a tight race for supremacy with Dow Jones and Reuters.
Both Bloomberg and Obama want a clean break with congressional shenanigans that micromanage worthy proposals into unworkable programs. Change, for both of them, means turning "America's peril into America's promise." But for the odds-makers, Obama would seem to be a better bet than Bloomberg.
The message Obama sent to the rest of the world, and that was front-page news in thousands of newspapers and television news programs the world over, was simply, "You matter to us and we want to work with you." He is seen in large swaths of the developing world as a multiracial leader of a multiracial nation in a multiracial world.
But all the speculation about future practitioners of "smart power" overlooks how Republicans scored winning hands with "hard power" on national security issues. In Iraq, indisputably, the surge has worked. And a major act or acts or terrorism between now and then could clinch the argument for Republicans and their militarized approach to coping with transnational terrorism — and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The script for "A smarter, more secure America" was published last fall by the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Commission on Smart Power. Co-chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and Harvard's Joseph S. Nye Jr., the 18 bipartisan commissioners agreed, "America's image and influence are in decline around the world. To maintain a leading role in global affairs, the U.S. must move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope."
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