American presidents, rarely introspective by nature and driven by hubris and a sense of national exceptionalism, are not particularly motivated to make serious New Year’s resolutions. Past presidents sometimes declared themselves prepared to make lifestyle changes, to exercise more, quit smoking, or eat healthier. But what a change for the better it would be to have a president look back on the past year in a serious way and resolve to implement a redirection of policy that would actually benefit the American people. President Barack Obama has promised change, even if he has rarely delivered, so the time would seem to be right for some shifts in policy to restore America’s reputation and return to the principles of the Founding Fathers. I would like to propose that President Obama make eight resolutions, largely in the foreign policy area, but also including a restoration of constitutionalism and civil liberties. Those resolutions might look something like the following:
"First, recognizing that the United States has obtained absolutely no benefit from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and conceding that those wars were unconstitutional, misconceived, fraudulently sold to the public, and disastrously executed, I will order a reversal of the surge that is currently taking place and will begin the withdrawal of all US forces from both conflicts. All US forces will be removed from both countries by the end of 2010. I will establish a policy of non-interference by Washington in both regions and will recommend that all of Afghanistan and Iraq’s neighbors join together in multilateral security conferences that will reduce the threat level for everyone living in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Second, in an attempt to make the use of force more difficult, I will further pledge my administration to support the constitutionally mandated practice of asking Congress to engage in a full and public debate before declaring war. If American soldiers are to go into combat anywhere in the world, a formal declaration of war will be required. I will also insist that Congress fully fund any war that it declares.
"Third, if American soldiers do go to war my administration will explain clearly the imminence of the threat, will outline achievable objectives in the fighting, and will incorporate into the planning a timetable and exit strategy. The Obama administration will not endorse any wars of choice or preemption where the use of military force is not in response to a direct threat against a vital US national interest.
"Fourth, I will establish an openly declared policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, whether or not I approve of how those countries are governed. Interference in Latin America and Asia by the United States has only served to distort the natural political processes and inhibit genuine development of democracy and pluralism in many nations. The United States will be a friend to all but will no longer tell others how to govern themselves. As part of that non-interventionist policy, the United States government will not directly or indirectly support dissident groups seeking to bring about regime change in any country.
"Fifth, recognizing that Israel has absolutely no interest in stopping its illegal settlement policies and enabling the development of an independent Palestinian State, I will disengage the United States from any involvement in the region and let the two sides work out their own solution. I will further cancel the $30 billion in military aid for Israel that I recently approved as the assistance is completely counterproductive, distorting the power relationship between Israel and its neighbors and enabling Tel Aviv to engage in a feckless policy of military dominance in the Middle East region. The United States will continue to be a friend to Israel but will also be a good friend to every other country in the Middle East.
"Sixth, I will restore the rule of law both inside the United States and also governing the activities of federal agencies and departments that have a presence overseas. I will call on Congress to repeal both the unconstitutional Patriot Acts and the Military Commissions Act. There will be no CIA secret prisons, no torture, no extraordinary renditions, and Guantánamo and Bagram prisons will both be closed within ninety days. Those detainees who can be charged with criminal activity will be given their day in court and all other prisoners will be released and compensated for their illegal and immoral incarceration. Government employees who have engaged in or ordered torture will be identified and prosecuted. The use of pilotless drones to attack and kill suspected terrorists will be discontinued because there is no due process for the victims of the attacks, most of whom are completely innocent civilians.
"Seventh, I will order the Pentagon and State Department to evaluate the costs and benefits in maintaining hundreds of military bases worldwide. There will also be an examination of the relevance of NATO now that the cold war has ended. I will also be looking at expensive weapons systems designed to fight enemies that no longer exist. I am willing to be convinced that America’s vast military industrial complex somehow benefits the nation, but if that is not the case at the conclusion of the review I will order most of the bases to be closed and will likely also recommend that NATO be disbanded. Given the absence of any major international military threat, the Pentagon and the intelligence services will be required to show cause why their budgets should not be reduced by 50% over the next three years.
"Eighth, convinced the federal bureaucracy is bloated and unproductive, driving up costs for all citizens and creating needless regulation, I will order an immediate twenty percent reduction in force across the board in the federal government and will close the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Homeland Security. As the Director of National Intelligence needlessly duplicates the function of the CIA, it will also be disbanded."
Will the president of the United States resolve to do what is needed to make our country a better place for each and every citizen and to restore the nation’s standing in the world? Unfortunately the changes that are needed would require him to look at the world and our own country in an unconventional and almost revolutionary way, which means they are extremely unlikely. But it is perhaps not too much to hope that even a president, surrounded as he is by claques of advisers spewing conventional wisdom, can begin to perceive that there is something very wrong about continuing business as usual while the ship of state is foundering. Most Americans, if allowed to have a say in the matter and if given genuine leadership embracing change, might well endorse most of the eight resolutions appearing above. American foreign and security policies are not working to benefit the nation while the civil liberties of every citizen have been infringed upon in response to poorly understood overseas and domestic threats. Perhaps it is time to abandon all the old assumptions that have shaped the consensus politics of the past sixty years and start from zero, a journey back through the Constitution and to the debates of the Founders in a bid to restore our Republic.