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Stop Talking and Start Doing

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On the campaign trail the buzzword is “change,” and the two remaining Democratic candidates are all for it. A particular “change” each one promises is to improve America’s standing in the world.

Sens. Clinton and Obama vow to deliver that change by ripping up long-standing trade agreements such as NAFTA (signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton). Of course, it’s difficult to see how shredding an agreement that has helped the United States, Canada and Mexico all improve their economies is going to raise world opinion of us. And in fact one of Obama’s advisors actually gave the game away.

After a meeting in Chicago last month, a Canadian official wrote that his advisor had hinted Obama’s position “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” So the senator’s not really against free trade -- he just wants voters to think he is.

That’s the problem with our international relations, too: We talk, but don’t often do. If the next president really wants to “change” how America is perceived, that president will need to make us “doers” again.

We should start with the “Middle East peace process.” For years the U.S. has allowed the focus to be on maintaining “peace talks” between Palestinians and Israelis. The Clinton administration insisted on keeping talks going, and now the Bush administration has wandered down the same path. No matter how much violence there is in the region, we pretend things will work out if the sides keep talking.

Maybe. But it would be reasonable to try a different approach.

As Glenn Kessler wrote in The Washington Post on March 2, “There has been little clear movement in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, while the Iranian-backed militant group Hamas has shown increasingly that it can set the region’s agenda.” Kessler’s article hinted the U.S. is becoming irrelevant to the process. But that’s exactly what happens when we focus on talks while terrorists focus on killing.

In his post-Sept. 11 address to Congress, President Bush famously announced, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” So why not make it our focus to crush Hamas militarily, just as we’re now doing to al Qaeda?

It’s worth remembering that the only real breakthrough in the Middle East “peace process” came at Oslo in 1993 without American involvement. Yasser Arafat’s PLO decided to come to the table because it respected the strength shown by the U.S. in the first Gulf War -- a war in which Arafat foolishly backed Saddam Hussein. If we could take Hamas and Iran out of the picture, perhaps Israel and the Palestinians would finally make peace.

It’s also time to unbuckle ourselves from the United Nations.

The United States built the U.N. during the Second World War, and used the organization to help shape the peace afterward. But it seems to have outlived its usefulness. The U.N. General Assembly is dominated by non-democratic nations that don’t want to see us succeed, and even in the smaller and more influential Security Council the U.S. can be easily countered by autocratic China and Russia.

We should ignore the U.N. as MacArthur ignored Japanese strongholds in the Pacific, island-hopping past them and leaving them to wither on the vine. We can slash our funding and support, and allow the General Assembly to twitter away in New York while we move on and form an organization of democracies to defend liberty in the world.

This would be a small club at first, made up of the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, Poland, Japan, South Korea and perhaps a handful of others. But that would be the point. Only nations with true democratic governments and a record of protecting individual rights would be invited to join.

Together, this group would have virtually unlimited economic clout and military might. Through its very existence it would encourage other nations to join us by meeting our high standards of freedom and liberty.

Finally, the U.S. should reconfirm our support for free trade, the policy that’s helped lift millions out of poverty in recent decades. The biggest stumbling block to new trade agreements is farm subsidies, so we should unilaterally end those.

This would have a double benefit, since most subsidies go to big agribusiness, anyway. In one step we’d slash corporate welfare at home and demonstrate selfless leadership abroad.

If there’s one lesson Americans should learn from our supposed fading popularity overseas it’s that preaching doesn’t work -- leading does. Let’s get to it.

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