Dear Mr. President

What politicians, statesmen, artists and other global leaders would like to see U.S. President Barack Obama accomplish in 2010.

Doug Mills | The New York Times

MARTTI AHTISAARI, Nobel Peace laureate and former president of Finland

My experience in Namibia and Kosovo has taught me that without the active support of the United States, international conflicts cannot be solved.

There is a great urgency to act on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this conflict both societies need to make painful concessions. If no progress is achieved in 2010, the conflict could transform radically. The two-state solution may be history, and new, unforeseen security challenges may emerge. To make the region more secure, it is essential to address the conflicts between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s regional position must also be dealt with to limit its impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The best contribution to world peace is to give prospects for employment and enterpreneurship to the young, particularly in developing countries. If unemployment persists there will be many potential recruits for radical and violent movements.

Nuclear proliferation is the third issue. It is also likely to continue as long as the main nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, fail to live up to their pledge to strive toward nuclear disarmament. Action now is crucial.

These issues cannot be settled by a wait-and-see approach. Those with power carry the responsibility to act. This responsibility lies on both sides of the Atlantic.

LOUISE ARBOUR, jurist and president of the International Crisis Group

President Obama should continue to aim high. In fact, he should set his sights on the extraordinary: a second Nobel Prize. This time, it will have to be based on his creating new realities in three fields: —conflict resolution, conflict management and conflict prevention.

First on the list is the Middle East. A high-level political process between Israelis and Palestinians won’t be enough. There have to be visible steps on the ground that improve people’s lives — like opening checkpoints and ending rocket attacks — so people on both sides see immediate dividends and buy into the process.

With conflict management, Obama should focus on Afghanistan. There are no quick fixes, but reforming institutions and establishing constitutional governance must be the top priority if the insurgency is to be stemmed.

Finally, conflict prevention is the goal in Sudan, which is dangerously close to returning to a civil war that killed millions. The United States and the international community have to help shepherd the process through to a stable outcome, while resolving Darfur and dealing with a president indicted for war crimes.

This won’t be simple, but it would put Obama in a good position to own a handsome pair of Norwegian bookends.

DANIEL BARENBOIM, conductor and pianist

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of the most important and urgent conflicts of our time.

Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have convinced the world that they feel an urgent need to make peace: the Israelis are primarily concerned with their security and the Palestinians want justice. Israelis must be consciously confronted by the devastating effects of the occupation of Palestinian territory and Israeli settlements on the future of both peoples. The obvious disregard for human rights will inevitably make Israel look like an apartheid state in the long run. The inability of Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement on their own makes me believe in the necessity of an evenhanded, externally imposed solution. The United States’ friendship has been a great boon to Israel in the past, but true friendship encompasses honesty and courage in addition to support and generosity. Israel now desperately needs help because its current position is morally and strategically hazardous to its own future as well as that of the Palestinians. If President Obama wants to bring about an end to the conflict, I urge him to take the following three steps:

1. To bring the Palestinian problem to light amongst Israel’s population, because a solution will only become possible once the problem has been identified and recognized.

2. To apply pressure to Israel to do what is essential for the survival of both Israelis and Palestinians. As I have said so many times before, the destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked and therefore they are either blessed or cursed to live side by side, not with their backs to each other. What is good in the long term for one must by definition be good for the other, and what is bad for one cannot be good for the other,


3. To apply pressure to Palestinians to have transparent democratic elections in all Palestinian territories (including Gaza) in order to then enter into dialogue with all Palestinian factions regardless of their current stand.

I write these words as an Israeli as well as a Palestinian citizen. President Obama seems to me to be the only one who can, through the vision he presented in his Cairo speech, bring security and justice to the region.

JORGE CASTANEDA, writer and Mexican statesman

I look forward to seeing a different type of U.S. involvement in Latin America, one that can ease the way for firmer democratic roots to develop. Many traditionally anti-interventionist nations — Mexico, Brazil, Argentina — are painfully coming to understand the need to anchor the region’s democratic systems and commitment to human rights in a strong, intrusive and detailed legal framework. This would be similar to the way free trade agreements, World Bank and International Monetary Fund programs and the markets themselves have “locked in” economic policies that are finally beginning to bring results.

The United States must be part of this framework. It must coax these countries along and bestow the credibility stemming from Washington’s involvement. The United States, despite its limited involvement in the region in recent years, has persistent and inevitable credibility within the region.

U.S. involvement is instrumental for dealing with regional crises, such as recent U.S. involvement in the Honduran crisis. Where do the violations of the democratic order by the coup in Honduras end and those by the authoritarian drift of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela begin? When does the legitimacy of a democratically elected president transform itself into the illegitimacy of undemocratic governance? When should sanctions kick in: only after a coup, as in Honduras, or also after a stolen election, the suspension of individual liberties, a shutdown of congress or wide-scale attacks on property rights? When should free trade privileges be extended or suspended: when labor and environmental rights are threatened, or when democratic rule is interrupted?

These questions must be answered if the region is to perfect its increasingly democratic political systems. The responses will lack teeth and relevance without the United States. That’s why Latin American attempts to replace the structure of the Organization of American States with one that excludes the United States and Canada — perhaps Mexico, too — are futile at best and counterproductive at worst.

Yet they are also a powerful reminder of how important U.S. engagement remains. The void left by U.S. retrenchment will be occupied by someone: Mexico is too consumed by domestic issues; Brazil is still hostage to its traditional, anti-intervention diplomacy; only Chavez and Havana (one with money, the other with skill and experience) can fill the vacuum.

In a region that long suffered from excessive engagement by the “colossus of the North,” the end of the era of intervention can only be welcomed on many levels. A less intrusive presence by Washington broadens the leeway of certain regional governments, and will force other nations to assume their responsibilities.

An indefinite and complete U.S. disengagement from the region, however, is not desirable — too many items on Latin America’s agenda depend on U.S. cooperation or support.

What we need is a different form of engagement — neither the interventionist policies of the 20th century nor the lack of policy in the 21st. Perhaps this engagement could come as part of a regional body, allowing the Obama administration to address challenges presented by Chavez and the Latin hard left openly and within an internationally accepted legal framework.

This might permit the United States to distinguish between matters that fall properly within a country’s domestic policy and those that violate accepted international treaties or agreements. The United States would not be violating international law by imposing its views; instead, Chavez would be doing so by not complying with his country’s obligations.

JORGE RAMOS, Univision anchorman, writer, immigrant

My advice is very simple. Don't forget the most vulnerable: the undocumented immigrants here in the United States. They have no rights, no hope, no one to fight for them.

President Obama, you can change their fate and help the country in the process.

Great nations are known for how they treat the neediest, not the most powerful. Millions have benefited from the United States' historically generous immigration policy. I am one of them. This country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin, Mexico, couldn't.

Right now at least 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are living in the shadows, being persecuted and in constant fear. Their children can never be sure mom and dad will come home from work or that they won't be deported. That’s not the American way.

That must stop. Not only because most immigrants are not criminals or terrorists, but because they make the United States better. Their contributions greatly surpass the cost of any public services they draw on, like health care, education and social programs.

If you legalize undocumented immigrants, you’ll ensure a faster economic recovery; they’ll pay more taxes, and they’ll contribute more to social security and Medicare. More importantly, if you unleash their buying power, they won’t take jobs from other Americans; they’ll open small businesses and create new jobs.

This is the economic argument. But there is also a moral argument.

The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal." Well, that is not the case right now in the United States.

In an interview on May 28, 2008, when you were campaigning for president, you told me: "What I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support." It hasn't happened, and the end of the year is drawing close.

It is urgent to find a solution. Now.

New Latino voters will remember who gave them a hand when they needed it the most. Without comprehensive immigration reform — giving legal status to those who are already in the United States, and a realistic and effective system to handle those who arrive later — this problem will bring dramatic and unpredictable consequences.

Added to this is the possibility of a new wave of Latin American immigrants once the message is out that the U.S. economy is recovering. The country is not ready to deal with them.

Around the world there are about 200 million immigrants. The most powerful nations, including the United States and members of the European Union, should not be persecuting the weakest and most distressed.

Barack Obama, your father was an immigrant from Kenya. Take the first step and lead by example. The world just might follow.

SHASHI THAROOR, writer and Indian minister of state for external affairs

The three things I’d like President Obama to do in 2010:

1. Strengthen relations with the global South. President Obama is uniquely placed, by virtue of his personal history, to transcend North-South divisions. The United States will find across the South many partners willing to work constructively with him. The world’s largest democracy, India, will not be found wanting in its desire or ability to play its role.

2. Strive for universal nuclear disarmament. President Obama has become the first serving U.S. president to call for universal nuclear disarmament. He joins India in recognizing that nonproliferation alone is not enough, because the idea that some countries are entitled to possess weapons that are so terrible that others must not have them, is inequitable and untenable. India remains committed to a complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

3. Reinforce multilateral approaches to global problems. The world today is full of what, at the U.N., we used to call “problems without passports” — the problems of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, contagious disease and chronic starvation, mass illiteracy and massive displacement. These problems require solutions that cross all frontiers. That is why multilateralism is even more important in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

A good place to start would be reforming the institutions that have underpinned the global order constructed in 1945. It makes no sense in 2010 that the five permanent members of the Security Council are there because they won a war 65 years ago, or that Belgium’s weighted vote at the World Bank should count more than China’s does. Global institutions should reflect the geopolitical realities of today if they are effectively to solve the problems of tomorrow — but that won’t happen until the United States leads a genuine effort for change from the top.

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS, president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Assuming that the overwhelmingly most important challenge — crafting a workable strategy for Afghanistan — is met in 2009, President Obama confronts three “must do’s” in 2010. Each is politically costly at home, critical abroad and long overdue.

The first is to secure ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The world’s non-nuclear states have come to believe that the nuclear states don’t intend to live up to their Nonproliferation Treaty commitments to eventually give up nuclear weapons. As a result, non-nuclear states are unwilling to discuss the additional obligations all states will need to take on to meet new threats from terrorists and to plug glaring loopholes in the nonproliferation regime. Britain, France and Russia have ratified; China is waiting for the United States. It is a linchpin of U.S. national security.

Second is passage of energy legislation with commitments to drastic reductions in carbon emissions. Without congressional action the United States cannot negotiate a global deal, and without that, the world faces irremediable harm.

My third hope is even tougher. The possibility of peace in the Middle East has eroded. Obama rightly tried to open channels that had been closed (especially with Syria) and laid down the gauntlet on continuing Israeli settlement activity. A year later he has nothing to show for it. He must make a fresh start.

YULIA TYMOSHENKO, prime minister of Ukraine

Although governments around the world, including my own, feel renewed confidence that economic recovery is near, we know that the strategy that underpins the global economy cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Painful as it may be, the U. S.’s financial fundamentals need to be brought into line. Only by doing so can President Obama meet his three greatest economic challenges: assuring the U.S.’s fiscal future, stabilizing the international financial system for the long term and rebuilding faith in the dollar as a global reserve currency. Ukraine just lived through a year of doing what the U.S. must do. It was painful, but we survived. Our people were resolute, and we are looking forward to emerging from the crisis with healthy finances and a strengthened banking sector. President Obama has the political gifts needed to convince Americans of the need for fiscal resolve.

Greater political stability — in the East and West — is the key to lasting reform and economic prosperity.

HELEN ZILLE, premier of Western Cape in South Africa

In Cape Town we not only share the hopes of President Obama for a more just and tolerant world, we feel a deeper kinship with him. His father comes from one continent, his mother from another. In Cape Town many of us have a similar ancestry.

But a curse remains on our elections: South Africans vote not according to ideas but according to our racial grouping. This stifles democracy’s most important prospect: the chance of changing the government. The fact that many American voters chose a man of a different skin color from their own was an inspiration to us.

In the United States, the president has severe restraints on his power. Africans wish they were so lucky. The best thing an African country could do is simply to copy the U.S. Constitution. We have not yet learned the lesson of how lethal “Big Men” with a monopoly on power are to any society. Robert Mugabe, the tyrant on our border, is a prime example. In Ghana this year, Africans applauded when President Obama said, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.” We wish he would repeat this message wherever he goes in 2010.

Finally, we wish he would come to Cape Town for the soccer World Cup in June-July. In contrast to American football — a game of obscure purpose, limited action and incomprehensible rules — he would see the “beautiful game” flowing gracefully across a green field surrounded by mountains and sea. If he walked through the streets of Cape Town, he would be right at home, because it is here that the human family reaches its most glorious variety.


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