Dear President Clinton:

Now that your first hundred days in office are about to arrive, I’m writing to you now to urge that you fundamentally rethink our country’s foreign policy.

I’ve seen 10,000 years of history over the past year. This has a way of changing one’s perspective. I’ve seen perhaps the world’s oldest city, Catal Huyuk, in Turkey, which goes back to 8,000 years before Christ. I’ve seen the massive felled statue of Ozymandias, the “king of kings,” in Egypt. I saw the pyramids, those silent tombs to long-dead pharaohs that were built over 4,000 years ago.

I’ve seen ancient Athens, the cradle of Western civilization, and the modern mess that Greece has become. I’ve seen the crumbling Roman ruins in France, England and Italy, a reminder of what was the world’s greatest empire before the modern era and how it eventually fell.

Then Secretary of State Clinton greets South Korean President Lee Ayung-Bak in 2011. As president, could Clinton embrace a new foreign policy idea?

Then Secretary of State Clinton greets South Korean President Lee Ayung-Bak in 2011. As president, could Clinton embrace a new foreign policy idea?

Or did it?

We can make a good case that the U.S. is the direct heir to the Roman empire. Our culture is undeniably Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian in origin. Our most important buildings are built in the Roman style. We inherited the idea of the Senate from old Rome’s imperfect system of democracy. Our economy is by far the largest in the world. We straddle the entire world militarily and are the only global hyperpower. Our military budget dwarfs all other nations. We are the most powerful nation that has ever existed.

But we are now seeing major fractures in our global reach, as Russia rises again as a once and future foe, as China continues its long road to becoming once again a world power, as the Philippines abruptly separates loudly from its long-standing relationship with the United States and throws its lot in with China and Russia instead. As Syria and Yemen become major proxy wars between the United States, its allies and its foes. As Israel becomes increasingly isolated due to its domestic and foreign policy, with the United States almost its only ally.

We are also seeing now the beginnings of a major shift in secrecy and dishonesty. Wikileaks and their allies around the world are making it more and more difficult for dishonest and corrupt organizations to remain dishonest and corrupt. Sooner or later, bad behavior will be made public, due to the power of hackers, hidden cameras and leaks. We are, perhaps, entering a new age of honesty and plain dealing.

History tells us clearly that our moment of glory — albeit a century-long moment already — will very likely be fleeting. All empires fall eventually. Is our fate to become like France, a faded and still slightly bitter former empire (I’m writing this from Arles, France, the capital of the Roman provinces that included modern day France and England), or is it our fate to become the nation that sets the world on a course where no empires are needed and are no longer even possible? Could we indeed become the last empire?

You have a long history of “strategic” politics and shading the truth, and many would say outright lying. But this kind of behavior is pretty standard in U.S. politics. We expect politicians to lie, at least a little, because of the demands of being elected and of governing.

Foreign policy is a world of realpolitik — of national interests and machinations. It is perhaps the last profession where dishonesty is expected and normal ethical rules are assumed by almost all nations to not apply. We’ve seen in the last three years compelling evidence from the Snowden revelations that our government (under both Bush and Obama) has been hyper-aggressive since the 9/11 attacks in creating a comprehensive system of surveillance not only of suspected terrorists, but of communications from around the world.

Beyond mere communications monitoring, we have also seen aggressive growth of U.S. military and CIA drone strikes in various countries as the White House attempts to use surgical strikes against perceived enemies. But are we really safer with all of these new programs, monitoring and weapons?

U.S. Foreign Policy: Might Makes Right

Despite a hue and cry over the Snowden revelations in 2013 and alleged changes in U.S. policy since those revelations, most people paying attention have little doubt that not much has changed: We are now living in a surveillance state and in an increasingly monitored world even outside of our own borders.

More generally, U.S. foreign policy has been led since 1893 — the year of the first U.S.-backed overthrow of a foreign government, the Hawaiian monarchy — by an aggressive and expansionist philosophy of “might makes right.”

Our leaders almost always cloak expansionism and realpolitik in the language of human rights, self-defense and enforcement of international law, even as we regularly break international law when that approach suits our needs more. This attitude was called “manifest destiny” for some time and now is often described as “American exceptionalism,” or a mission to spread democracy and free markets to other nations, or at least the rhetoric of democracy and free markets.

Foreign policy is a world of realpolitik — of national interests and machinations. It is perhaps the last profession where dishonesty is expected and normal ethical rules are assumed by almost all nations to not apply.

But when we look below the rhetoric, it is the law of the jungle, might makes right, that seems to be the only constant. Stephen Kinzer’s latest book, Brothers, is an excellent review and critique of 20th Century American foreign policy realpolitik, driven equally by American corporate interests and a fear of communism. Terrorism is the new communism and, as the threat of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda fades, it looks increasingly like Russia is back as the old/new bête noir to excuse our overly aggressive foreign policy.

Given this history, and the broader sweep of human history, both equally marked by violence and realpolitik, what if the law of love could replace the law of the jungle? What if love could truly be our guiding principle in foreign policy? What does this even mean?

Here’s what’s new, it seems: 1) radically democratized access to a wide variety of information through the Internet, 2) the heightened cost of privacy that will lead to more honest and less corrupt organizations; 3) the growth of nongovernmental organizations that are active in foreign policy and in domestic debates; 4) the social media revolution, which played a large part in the Arab Spring and other social revolutions during the last decade.

Are these ongoing revolutions strong enough to allow love to become foreign policy? Can these intertwined information revolutions overcome the deeply entrenched realpolitik of U.S. foreign policy and similar attitudes to foreign policy in other nations?

I don’t know, but I know that if they can, change might start with the kinds of questions I’m asking here.

Applying International Law Fairly, Equally

It seems that the first step is indeed a movement toward greater honesty and transparency by our government and all centers of power. The trend to more and more data, on just about everything, is a good boost for this first step. We’re going to become more honest and transparent whether we want to or not because of the increased role of everyday surveillance, hacking and spying.

The second step will be greater respect for international law, including in particular by the more powerful nations like the United States. It is sometimes said that international law is like a spider web — strong enough to catch the small bugs, but the larger creatures just fly through it as though it’s not there. For international law to truly be a factor in the dealings of all nations, it needs to be applied equally and fairly to all nations, including those with permanent veto power at the United Nations (this small club consists of the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom; we have exercised our veto power far more than any other nation in the last few decades).

Many observers see the G20 meetings, which take place a few times a year in different venues, as the new centers of collaborative world power since the United States has shifted its efforts away from the UN in recent years. Even if we do view the G20 as the new center of power, my point still holds: We need to apply international law fairly and equally. To do otherwise is the law of the jungle.

The third step will be to honor our support for spending at least 0.7 percent of our GDP on foreign aid, a goal created way back in 1970 but never achieved. This commitment was designed to lift living standards in other countries, with no other agenda behind such aid. The United Nations has for many years urged all developed countries to honor this level of foreign aid in order to create a more equitable world.

The United Kingdom enshrined this commitment in domestic law in 2015, becoming the first nation to do so, under a conservative government no less. But the United States has for many years spent only about 0.2 percent of GDP on foreign aid to developing countries (which excludes military sales).

Due to the size of our economy this still adds up to a very substantial foreign aid commitment, but it is the percentage commitment that should be the yardstick for our efforts. We have consistently fallen short by that measure.

Are these actions worthy of being described as a “foreign policy of love”? Let’s do it and find out. As our first female president and a former Secretary of State, you of all people could be the one to truly turn our foreign policy culture around.

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