Sunday, February 25, 2007

A U.S. Foreign policy fit for the 21st Century challenges

U.S. Foreign Policy for the past several decades and longer, has been based upon the notion of trying to get governments and their leaders to change behaviors to be more in line with U.S. positions on issues. These methods have not worked. Permanent changes can only be created when people's mindsets change, which drives their behaviors. Our Government has tried to use diplomacy, often using the carrot and stick approach, which is defined as rewarding good behavior (carrots as a metaphor for rewards and incentives) and punishing bad behavior (sticks as a metaphor for imposing trade and other sanctions, with the implied use of Military force should the sanctions not be enough to discourage the bad behaviors). Looking back as to whether that approach works, one can site examples both for and against those approaches.

The same is true on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we have captured suspected terrorists or other "bad" guys, we have used both the carrot and stick approach in our interrogation of prisoners. Much has been written on this subject after it was revealed that the U.S. Government used torture in Abu Ghraib prison, as revealed by those pictures we all were shocked in seeing and were embarrassed as conscientious people of all political parties. Many have written about torture and that it has been shown not to produce the desired result and often cause people to tell you anything you want to hear. We have examples of this with even one of our 2008 Presidential hopefuls, Senator John McCain, who made statements during his confinement as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Senator McCain has apologized for his comments during that time and we have forgiven him. But the data is strong in showing that behavioral measures to change behavior have a mixed result at best and much evidence can be presented which shows it often works to our own detriment and against our National interest.

I have studied how to influence people and change behavior most of my adult life having given 30 plus years to a profession as a coach of other leaders in mostly business but in I have in rare occurrences influenced some political leaders as well. History provides some clues to us for other means to change behaviors of people and influence them in ways that has garnered us much admiration from all corners of the earth. But we have not paid attention to the effects those means have played much longer than the mere two decades I speak of here. Remember what affect the Peace Corps. has had in projecting America's image across the globe. Remember the Marshall Plan after World War II and the effect it had on our adversaries after the war. Even today, as badly as we have treated our friends around the world, there is still remains admiration for us. How did this occur?

It is because we endeavored over the past 100-200 years to change the "mindset" of people, not through carrots and sticks, as we tend to use too often. But by leading by example and letting our way of being positively influence the mindset of those less fortunate than those born or living here. President John Kennedy did much to change the mindset of many people in the world. His way of speaking transcended our limits and called upon us to think more globally. I still remember when I was young and he was delivering that speech, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." This is a clear example of Kennedy's influencing mindsets here in America. What followed was the Peace Corp., the race to the Moon and a whole planet in awe of our achievements, instead of our shortcomings. I yearn for those days again. That may partly account for why Senator Barack Obama has begun to ride such a wave of popularity. He connected to that theme when he chose the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope".

Al Gore is the best recent example of the goal of changing mindsets. Today he will most likely receive an Oscar for his work on behalf of the world by raising our awareness and acceptance of the notion that Global Warming is real, is here, and we must come together as a world and act collectively to save the planet. President Bush and VP Cheney for the past 7 years have dismissed this as not real. They have ordered government agencies to not report findings in support of Global Warming, criticized scientists who have, and they pulled out of the Kyoto accord.

U.S. Foreign policy needs to reconsider methods of inspiring and influencing mindsets, rather than forcing temporary behavioral change with carrots and sticks. We are in the 21st Century and yet we are using prehistoric tools to solve current problems. I suggest Americans wake up and ask ourselves if we want to change how we are perceived in the world, forge new relationships based upon common visions, not react to every dictator that wants to pull our chain and start to develop policies which will attract others to follow because of our model of leadership. It speaks to the spirit in all of us, as one thing President Bush has spoken about correctly; freedom speaks to everyone, as it is an innate spirit and embodied in us by God. Wake up America! We The People need to take responsibility for what we have allowed to happen in our name by our leaders. Only then will we be as great as we once were.

UPDATE: 8:30pm P.S.T. Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, has won the Oscar for Best Documentary. He has indeed changed mindsets without shooting a single bullet, but shooting instead many thought provoking scenes.

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Anonymous AE said...

Nice analysis

5:07 PM  

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