I found the answer to all America's questions, the ones that eluded our think tanks and professional politicians for decades. How should we proceed in Iraq? Why do people abroad hate us? How can we solve the Middle East crisis? How should we bring gas prices down?
Among all the places where a man with the humble stature of myself can have this eureka moment, it was in the High Museum of Arts in Atlanta, where it all came together.
As I browsed the beautiful and brutal civil rights photography exhibit titled "Road to Freedom,"- the pictures were stunning. A young man in pain as a police dog attacked him, while the officer watched in a complete neutral expression. A young woman dripping after the police used water cannon on demonstrators demanding the right to vote, she was standing in defiance facing an officer two times her size. I stood in front of the sanitation workers hanging on their chests large signs that read, "I'm a man,"- they filled the picture.
As I looked around the exhibit, it was packed with mostly young parents with their little children. I heard at least a few trying to explain to their kids why and how this happened in our country. However, the startling discovery came as I noticed the pain on all the faces. There was a mix of disbelief, shame, and a double dose of sadness. They were black, white, yellow, and brown with the same level of agony on their faces. It looked like a healthy type of pain. In my mind, America's foreign policy is desperate for the same type of pain displayed in front of the whole world.
Throughout the cold war, our foreign polices placed us either on the podium or in the battlefield, and although that war was won almost two decades ago our strategies and tactics never changed. We lectured strangers on how they should live their lives. We emphasized democracy as the solution for every problem known to humankind; sometimes it was hard to notice from our extremely high moral ground that we never provided any details. Is it the Zimbabwean style democracy where the leader keeps rerunning the election until it produces the desired results? Is it the Kenyan style democracy where thousands die as soon as polling stations close? Is it the Egyptian style of democracy where the single person in a population of seventy millions that was naive enough to run against Mubarak is spending his days and nights in jail? We forgot to tell!
However, if the strangers for their insane reasons decided that we have no business telling them how to live their lives, our foreign policy immediately would categorize this as an act of aggression, which shouldn't stand. In such cases, we went to battle through either sanctions or cluster bombs.
The world is a dangerous place no doubt, and real democracy is the best solution to many of the problems facing countries across the globe, no question.
The good news our message is sound, the bad news America is disparate for a new messenger.
In the globalization era, the source of power is shifting away from central governments to regular people across the internet lines. The same lines that allow an engineer in Bangalore, India to provide software to a small company in Americas, GA, give the freedom to a terrorist living in a cave to publish the latest invention on bomb making techniques. In such a world buying other governments loyalty wouldn't help, preaching from the top of a mountain is not an option, and finding an army to impose our will on is impossible.
After years of paying lip service to winning hearts and minds, this might be our only viable option.
The post cold war foreign policy needs to tell our powerful narratives. That in America white man pointed finger at his counterpart in the age of the McCarthyism. In the sixties, blacks had to carry signs saying they are humans. However, in a few months America--all of us--might be ready to elect the first biracial president. This is our history which we need to reveal. It is the narrative of humility and the triumph of the human spirit. This epic can capture hearts and minds.
The struggle that is hard to win from the podium or with guns is possible to overcome if the new foreign policy intends to lead by example. Maybe all the new administration needs to do is to come down to earth, put the guns aside briefly, and send the "Road to Freedom"- exhibit around the world!