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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> May 2008
file under: transitionpeacemoderate majorityfrom hate to hopeforeign policyeconomic developmentcommon sensecharitable investment 28 May 2008 6:34 PM
If you were Barack Obama, how would you Sell a Vision of Hope for the Middle East? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Given the choice, most voters would rather forget about the Middle East. With so many pressing problems here at home, it is hard to keep worrying about that precarious place. But the Middle East is not easily forgotten. In the first place, our oil supply, which continues to fuel our economy until we find feasible alternatives, requires a measure of stability in the region. And in the second place, John McCain has stated repeatedly that the threat of Islamic extremism is the transcendent issue of our time. So how should Senator Obama speak about the Middle East, so as to inspire Americans with a sense of hope in that regard, and so as to meet the challenges he will face from Republicans on this important issue?


Americans are responding enthusiastically to Senator Obama's call for hope and change. Along these same lines, there is no reason why a message of hope and change cannot include the Middle East as well. In fact, Senator Obama would be well advised to give substance to his message of hope and change by selling Americans, and people around the world, on a Vision of Hope for the Middle East. In a very real sense, if people can become inspired with hope when it comes to the precarious Middle East, then they could definitely become inspired about a whole host of other issues, which are a lot less contentious. So let the Middle East be the test for the possibility of hope.


Keeping all this in mind, how would you go about inspiring people with a Vision of Hope for the Middle East?


Selling a Vision of Hope has five parts to it, like the five fingers of your hand:


The thumb is for Ideology:  The world, which is increasingly becoming globalized economically and technologically, is ready for a new ideological framework-an Ideology of Common Sense-based on universal principles of common sense;  by which we speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. Instead of believing what we want to believe, it is time to start believing in what makes sense. In a more perfect world, common sense will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. How do wed begin to come together?  In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.


The index finger if for Investment: We should invest in one another to create good paying jobs which inspire a sense of hope, which protect the environment, and which help to neutralize ideological extremism. If the West is good at anything it is making and investing money. Why not use this strength as part of our strategic arsenal to promote the peace and to defeat extremism? We can use public and private funds to create an International Fund for Economic Development in the Middle East, under the banner, "We stand ready to invest in you, if you are ready to invest in yourselves." Good paying jobs there could create good paying jobs here at home, by opening up new markets for our goods and services. And with green technology jobs, we could help convert oil profits into green profits, and begin to clean up the environment as well.


The middle finger is for Hope: We could use an Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to sell a Vision of Hope-a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom-on the Arab street, in the Muslim world, and in the world as a whole. Einstein came up with E=mc2. Thankfully, the formula for world peace is a lot simpler: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.


The ring finger is for Public Diplomacy: Once you sell a Vision of Hope, it becomes important to sustain the vision, by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up and to carry it forward, such as: a Media Campaign, a program to Empower Women, a Student Exchange, a Cultural Exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, and a series of International Conferences on economics, religion, and education.


Take, for example, the program to Empower Women. Empower women in the Middle East, in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East. Who are women? They are the givers of life and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.


The pinky is for the willingness to Fight: If we already have to fight against ideological extremism, and we do, then we should fight, and fight hard, but we should position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We should elevate the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain, by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. People will fight harder once they know what they're fighting for. We're not fighting a war against terror. We're fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.



By speaking this way, Senator Obama will neutralize any attempt to cast him as soft on terror, while at the same time inspiring a sense of hope for the Middle East. In effect, he will empower our nation to face the ideological extremists head on. Selling a Vision of Hope is a way of beating the extremists at their own game, of doing what they do only better, of co-opting their strategy and thereby marginalizing them in the eyes of their own people.


If the extremists are ideological about violent Jihad, we will be ideological about Common Sense. If they invest peanuts in charitable handouts, we will invest some serious dollars in jobs. If they sell a vision of hope for 72 virgins, or martyrdom, or paradise, or a caliphate, or what have you, we will sell a Vision of Hope for Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom.


At every turn, we will cut them off at the pass, and beat them at their own game. We will marginalize them in the eyes of their own people. They will become pariahs in the midst and will come to know the loneliness of being out of step with the will of the people. The will of the people will not be deterred. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public's imagination, once people begin to imagine the possibility of a better life for themselves.


Ask yourself this: Where will peace ultimately come from? When all is said and done, peace will come from the heart and the mind of the man on the street. We can win his mind by speaking to him with Common Sense and with a sense of personal dignity. We can win his heart by investing in him-by giving him a place at the table, a stake in his future. And we can win the peace by selling him on a Vision of Hope. Give the man on the street a sense of hope and you will have turned the corner on world peace. Nothing less will suffice, and nothing more is needed.


As Barack Obama is suggesting, start with a vision, a big Vision of Hope. Give it some substance on the ground. And soon enough, the reality on the ground will fill up the space created by the vision. Such is the dynamic for change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East. This may well be the time, before time runs out, to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true.


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file under: peacenational defenseforeign policyextremists 23 May 2008 10:25 AM
Talking To Our Enemies: Why Even Bother? Posted by Nissim Dahan
President Bush's recent trip to Jerusalem hinted at what will surely become a contentious issue in the upcoming presidential election. In addressing the Israeli Knesset, the president said something to the effect that talking to Iran's leaders was tantamount to "appeasement," which history has proven to be a failed policy. In fact, the Bush administration has been repeatedly criticized for refusing to negotiate with certain, specifically selected enemies, like Iran and Syria.


Presidential candidate Barak Obama immediately countered, and reasserted his position that a refusal to talk to one's enemies is not a sign of strength, but is rather a sign of weakness, and that a policy of robust negotiation, even with our enemies, would be part and parcel of an Obama administration.


Who is right on this score? Should we be willing to talk to our enemies, as Obama suggests, or should we shun them, as the current administration contends?


Both points of view have some measure of validity. President Bush could say that we sacrifice some of our prestige, as the most powerful nation on earth, when we talk to our enemies. It is as if the President lowers his stature when he talks to leaders like Iran's Ahmadinejad. And what could be accomplished with such talk? Do we have any chance of changing Ahmadinejad's mind? Obviously, his actions speak louder than words. He does not even hint at being open to suggestion. And conceivably, even in the face of the most persuasive arguments, he is not likely to budge from his extremist views. So what's the point?


A lot of the reluctance to talk to one another has to do with pride, both personal and national pride. You don't become President of the United States without having a certain amount of pride in your country, and without being able to inspire a sense of pride in the hearts of your fellow Americans. And so, when you accuse Ahmadinejad of being complicit in the killing of American soldiers, or of sponsoring terror, or of pursuing nuclear weapons for the sake of consolidating control of the region, it becomes almost impossible to swallow your pride, and to sit down and talk.


But the fact is that not talking is a way of saying something as well. If we refuse to talk to Ahmadinejad, we're saying that his policies are so off the wall, that we cannot even imagine brokering a deal, and that we don't want to waste our time even trying. And Ahmadinejad, whose only claim to fame is his ability to arouse passions in his people, can use our refusal to talk as confirmation to his people that there is no alternative to resistance, and that Iran has no choice but to protect herself from the arrogance of the West, as exhibited by a failure to talk. As such, our refusal to talk plays right into Ahmadinejad's hands.


So who is right? One approach may be to sit down and talk to leaders like Ahmadinejad, and to talk tough to him, but not for the purpose of convincing him, but rather for the public consumption of the people of Iran, and of the world at large. So, for example, you could say to Ahmadinejad, and the leadership he represents, something along these lines: "Look, with all due respect, we're not about to let you acquire nuclear weapons, and we're prepared to go to the mat on this; but we are also prepared to offer you a deal that gives you the energy you need, and that compensates your nation for giving up its nuclear aspirations."


If you say something along these lines, you're still making your point, you're still able to hold your head up high, but you're also driving home the point that you're open to making a deal, and that such a deal will allow Iran's leaders to save face. Saving face in the Middle East can be the difference between success and failure in negotiating our differences away. And truth be told, even the Bush administration has proven that negotiation, and allowing your adversary to safe face, are possible even with the most intransigent  and irrational of enemies.


It is difficult to imagine a more off the wall leader than Kim Jong-Il of North Korea. He was much closer to having a nuclear weapons stockpile than Iran. And his country was much more isolated than Iran. The U.S. did not refuse to negotiate. The U.S., instead, negotiated within the framework of the six party talks, thus utilizing the common interest of other countries in the region, particularly China, to exert even more pressure on North Korea, than could have been exerted by any one nation. It proved successful, at least for the time being, and U.S. food shipments are on their way to North Korea even as we speak. Success in North Korea contrasts sharply with stalemate in Iran.


Each adversary has to be handled differently, in relation to the circumstances at hand. On balance, however, if handled properly, it could well be argued that Obama is right to suggest that robust and direct negotiation is preferable to a failure to talk to one another. Such negotiation could convince a leader like Ahmadinejad that he can save face by cutting a deal, and thereby strengthen his position, and that such an outcome is preferable to military intervention.


If Ahmadinejad is not moved, than at least the willingness to talk, and to place a reasonable offer on the table, may convince Iran's citizenry that it is in their best interest to pressure their government into a deal. And if such negotiation, as in the case of North Korea, could be undertaken within the framework of a consortium of nations with vital interests in the outcome, then so much the more reason why the outcome will likely be a positive one. And if we fail to solve the matter peacefully, we can at least take comfort in knowing that we did everything we could in that regard, which in and of itself is at least worth something too.

file under: Saudi Arabiapeacenational defensemoneymoderate majorityhuman rightsglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic development 5 May 2008 9:12 PM
ISRAEL@60: A Light Unto The Nations? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Sixty years have passed since the founding of the State of Israel, and it is fitting, therefore, to look back and to assess. Since her founding, the expectation was that the Jewish State would become "A Light Unto the Nations," in keeping with biblical prophesies to that effect. Has this hope been realized, or has Israel failed to measure up to the hopes of its founders?


In many respects, the light of Israel has shined brightly for the world to behold. Due in large part to the boundless courage of her defenders, she came into being out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and in spite of a concerted and protracted effort to destroy her. She nurtured and sustained a vibrant democracy even in the face of persistent and existential threats to her security. She prospered economically using very few natural resources, save the natural resourcefulness of her citizenry. She successfully absorbed disproportionately high numbers of refugees with open and loving arms. She has pioneered untold advances in science and technology, while holding fast to a love of art and culture. In these, and many other ways, Israel's accomplishments can be considered A Light Unto The Nations.


And yet, Israel's history remains a mixed bag of good and bad, as is the case with almost all nations on earth. Each accomplishment is offset by a detriment of sorts. True, she has met the security challenges forcefully, but at the expense of occupying and subduing a neighboring population which feels hopeless and dispossessed. True, she has prospered economically, but at the expense of an increasingly wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. True, she maintains a vibrant democracy, but at the expense of a contentious vying for power between secular and religious Jews, and between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority within its borders.


At every turn, each success is countered by an equally significant threat, either from within, or from without. It is as if the path to Israel's perfection is lined with a multitude of impediments, like a ship passing in the night through treacherous waters teeming with hidden mines and explosives. In this regard, Israel's light does not always shine as a beacon of hope, but as the light of a lighthouse, pointing to unseen dangers, and lighting the way toward a safe passage.


The threats to Israel, as she turns 60, are the threats we all face in this increasingly globalized world: How do we usher in an age of peace in the face of ideological extremism which is hell bent on war? How do we defend our way of life, when extremist elements are aligning to take that life away? How do we empower the dispossessed with a Vision of Hope for the future, when that vision seems to be slipping away? How do we close the gap between the wealthy few, and the impoverished many? How do we prosper economically while protecting the health and sanctity of our environment? How do we defend ourselves militarily without dashing the hopes and aspirations of the innocent? How do we advance scientifically and technologically without losing sight of the values and emotions which make us human?


The answer to these and other questions rests in the promise that Israel offers as she forges ahead toward the next 60 years. And the answer she comes up with can shine a light for others to follow. And what would that answer look like? It's not all that complicated: Israel will use her technology, her knowledge, her drive, and her inclination toward business, to partner with Arab entrepreneurs, to solicit Saudi investment, to hire and train Arab workers, to produce green technology products, to clean the earth, and to safeguard our place upon it. The answer is staring us in the face, if we care to look; Good- paying jobs, aimed at green technology products, with the ultimate goals of: revitalizing the stagnant economies of the Middle East, conditioning people for peace, neutralizing the effects of extremist ideology, protecting the environment, and giving the impoverished and the dispossessed a helping hand out of the clutches of extreme poverty and hopelessness. All this can be done, believe it or not, while enabling all concerned to turn a healthy profit.


With God's help, Israel will continue to shine her light unto the nations. Every once in a while her light will shine with pride; the pride born of success. But more often than not, Israel will have no choice but to face the same challenges that all nations now face in this, the 21st century. And in that struggle, she will continue to shine her light, to point to the dangers which lie ahead, and to point to solutions which are effective, equitable, and just. In this manner, Israel will truly fulfill her destiny to shine as A Light Unto The Nations.