What can the 44th president really achieve in his second term? Here are 10 ideas.
George Papandreou: Save Greece, Save Europe
During a different era of American leadership on the European continent, U.S. diplomats and dollars midwifed an audacious political project, one that sought to end war and usher in prosperity. With Soviet tanks looming across the Iron Curtain, European prosperity would prevent the spread of communism and balance Soviet power in the East. The fruits of this project would primarily be economic, but its basis was firmly political -- a broadly accepted consensus that European wars must be brought to an end and that the horrors of World War II must never be revisited. This was an idealism tempered by Cold War logic, and it was the greatest triumph in American 20th-century diplomacy. Today, that European project finds itself under threat, and the moment requires a return of American leadership. Only Europe can lead the way out of this crisis, but in his second term, President Obama needs to help save Europe from itself.
The first step has to be saving Greece. Time and again, my country has pledged fealty to the prevailing European doctrine of harsh austerity, but for the world bond markets, it seems, we can never cut deeply enough. The reason is a crisis of confidence: Prevailing uncertainty over whether Greece will remain in the eurozone has crippled our economy, eliminating the prospect of any business activity until the problem is solved -- thus almost guaranteeing that it never is. Europe has to say, "The crisis ends here. Greece is part of the eurozone, full stop."
To make such a declaration credible, however, it needs the backing of the world's largest and still most dynamic economy. Here's where Obama comes in. The U.S. president can help solve the European crisis with the kind of deft economic diplomacy that has admittedly eluded his administration to date.
America's greatest successes in Europe have mostly been projects of integration, from supporting the creation of the European Union to the reunification of Germany. Reclaiming that mantle requires that Obama and his diplomats publicly declare their faith in a more integrated Europe. Above all, Obama must remind the German people of how the United States stood by Germany not only throughout the Cold War, but through the tumultuous decade that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And he must persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to do whatever it takes to make Europe work -- and assure her that the American people will once again help.
Obama's team, led by the Treasury Department, has urged Europeans to take decisive steps, from funding infrastructure projects to collectivizing debt, to restore growth to sagging European economies. European leaders have rebuffed those entreaties, viewing the Americans as hypocritical for exporting their financial crisis to Europe while also telling European officials how they should respond to it -- without bringing any of their own still-considerable resources to bear.
We're not asking for handouts. Along with an end to the uncertainty that is crippling our economy, what Greece needs most of all is investment: investment in a Greece that is changing and in a Greece that has great potential.
And it's not just Greece. From Southern Europe to North Africa, the Mediterranean basin, a part of the world that is critical to U.S. national security, is in transition. Obama could dispatch high-level business delegations, sending a powerful message about the region's investment opportunities. But Obama could set his sights even higher. One of his predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower, famously said, "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." So it is with us: Obama should throw his weight behind a major energy, diplomatic, and peace initiative linking the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Europe through energy cooperation. That effort could include both existing and recently discovered conventional resources, but would also target investment in a new grid for clean, renewable energy -- one of the Mediterranean's most plentiful, yet largely untapped, resources. Such a "Green Marshall Plan" would be important not just in economic terms, but also in its potential to support and expand democracy. What is needed most of all is the vision.
Finally, to help revitalize a country that has a deep history with the United States, a visit to Greece, in support of the Greek people's potential, would be a true vote of confidence in Greece and Europe's capacity to resolve the eurocrisis.
Obama is fond of invoking the grand sweep of history. He wants to be remembered as a consequential president. What better way to secure his legacy than to hitch it to the Democrats who began the European project: FDR, Truman, and Kennedy?
George Papandreou is former prime minister of Greece.