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Re-elect Barack Obama, the better choice for America, Ukraine and world

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Nov. 5, 2012, 10:44 p.m. | Op-ed — by Brian Bonner

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 5. After a grueling 18-month battle, the final U.S. campaign day arrived Monday for Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney, two men on a collision course for the world's top job. The candidates have attended hundreds of rallies, fundraisers and town halls, spent literally billions on attack ads, ground games, and get out the vote efforts, and squared off in three intense debates. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad
© AFP

Brian Bonner

Brian Bonner has served as the chief editor of the Kyiv Post since 2008. He also held the job in 1999, three years after first arriving in Ukraine to teach journalism. Bonner is a veteran American journalist who spent most of his professional life with the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, where he covered international, national and local news during a nearly 24-year career in which he was a staff writer and an assigning editor. Bonner left the St. Paul newspaper in 2007 to become the associate director of international communications at the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. He also served as a political analyst with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during six election observation missions in Ukraine, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. To contact: email bribonner@gmail.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/brianbonner, Twitter @BSBonner and Skype at brian.bonner1959.

Whether U.S. President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins the White House, America’s foreign policy to Ukraine is not likely to change a great deal. But the stakes for the world, including Ukraine, are still very high.

America’s policy towards Ukraine has been remarkably consistent and bipartisan through successive Republican and Democratic administrations.

The pillars of U.S. policy are: Promotion of a democratic and economically independent Ukraine that is able to escape from authoritarian Russia’s shadow; encouragement of Western integration; and support for exchange programs that send Ukrainian students to American high schools, universities and that allow them to work in the U.S.

The Sept. 22 unanimous resolution of the U.S. Senate attests to this unanimity. It’s a rare day when anything so meaty gets approved by a chamber of Congress with 100 percent support. But all 100 senators went on record and put President Viktor Yanukovych on notice about human rights abuses. They demanded the release of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and raised the prospect of punishment for those responsible for her imprisonment and other human rights abuses.  

If anything, U.S. policy towards Ukraine could be characterized as a sort of benign neglect or likened to the relationship one might have with a distant relative who lives far away – warm, cordial, but not particularly explosive or at the top of the priority list.

And Ukraine is not likely to be a top American priority anytime soon, as the U.S. works to solve its own enormous problems economically and politically. For the foreseeable future, the Middle East and Asia are likely to trump Europe, the former Soviet Union and Latin America as the focus of U.S. foreign policy.

But America’s choice on Nov. 6 should be looked at more broadly because the next president will affect the whole world. For that reason, Democrat Obama clearly deserves a second four-year term in office.

Romney has scored his most credible points against Obama in foreign policy by criticizing the administration’s “reset” of relations with Russia. Obama does, in fact, appear to have done little to help curb the imperialistic and human-rights abusing excesses of President Vladimir Putin.

Consequently, Putin remains a menace to his own people and to his neighbors, including Ukraine. It appears that Obama has decided that the U.S. needs Russia’s cooperation too much on Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and other hotspots to spoil the relationship with pointed criticism of Putin. Romney also rightly chastised the administration for abandoning a missile-defense system that Poland sought over the Kremlin’s misguided objections.

However, Romney comes up short in almost every other category needed to be a successful president in the 21st century. And his ridiculous notion that Russia remains America’s top geopolitical threat shows that his mind is stuck somewhere back in the Cold War.

Worse, however, is that Romney is an unprincipled man who is willing to say anything or, it seems, do anything to make a buck.

The Huffington Post, for instance, last month dove into the tobacco industry’s archives – which became public after a landmark lawsuit against the industry – and discovered that Romney’s Bain & Company made millions of dollars advising British American Tobacco on how to brand and market their products more successfully. As a result, more Ukrainian women and children started smoking; the smoking rate among men remained among the highest in the world. This is evidence of a man who doesn’t care what he does to hurt – or prematurely kill – other people, as long as he cashes in.

Romney would be a bad president in almost every other way as well.

He holds to a simplistic and outdated world view. He is not likely to surround himself with advisers who will take seriously the need to understand the complexities of other countries in order to make bilateral and global diplomacy effective. He seems prone to blundering and blustering America into another misbegotten war, as Republican George W. Bush did twice with his neo-conservative advisers.

Romney’s economic policies of tax cuts for the rich, budget cuts for the poor and no regulation are a prescription for another global economic recession of the kind Bush Jr. delivered.

As anyone in Ukraine during the 2008-09 global downturn knows, when the world catches a cold, Ukraine gets the flu. This nation’s currency lost 40 percent in value, its exports suffered and credit dried up. This nation has still never fully recovered.

Obama offers the most reasonable and enlightened path to progress, both in the United States and globally.

Despite opposition from Republicans, Obama managed to craft economic policies – such as stimulus spending, bailouts of the financial and auto sector and new regulations -- that mitigated and shortened Bush’s recession. The global economy is in a fragile state but recovering, no thanks to intransigent Republicans.

Obama has also managed other global hotspots well, considering that Americans are loathe to go to war against anybody now, Syria and Iran included.

When it comes to this part of the world, we hope a second Obama administration will indeed support the Sergei Magnitsky bill that is making its way through Congress. It’s wrong to oppose this legislation as the administration appears to be doing. We hope for a law that allows the United States to freeze the financial assets and deny visas not just to those in Russia who abuse human rights, but also to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.

 At this point, sanctions may be the best way to get the attention of the world’s authoritarians. Such sanctions would require help from many European nations whose banks welcome stashes of cash of suspicious origin from Ukraine and other places. The end to excessive banking secrecy and offshore havens is a movement political leaders, including Obama, should be supporting.

We also hope that a second-term Obama administration will actively press Ukraine’s leaders at all levels to release political prisoners, to create democratic institutions that everyone can respect and to act in the public interest. We also hope he keeps the effective U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft on the job in Kyiv as long as possible.

But engaging with Ukraine’s leadership won’t be enough.

America must continue to bypass Ukraine’s leaders with generous financial aid that helps Ukraine’s best and brightest students and other potential leaders escape the dead-end economy in Ukraine and work and study in America. Over time, enough of these educated minds will return and transform Ukraine for the better.  Continued funding for these programs will take intense lobbying, given America’s likely deficit-reduction measures in the future.

This race shouldn’t be decided by one or two pet issues. Although I'd like to see more fire and a bigger vision from the president in the next four years, Obama’s overall course is far preferable for America and the world. This race also shouldn’t be as close as the polls show.

Obama has demonstrated character and competence in the last four years.

By contrast, Romney has demonstrated that he’ll change his position on anything to gain power. He rides the the wave of support from too many Americans who will vote for him – even if it means voting against their self-interests economically. They're not going to find respect from a Romney presidency either. As he showed in remarks to a private fundraiser, the Republican candidate has contempt for 47 percent of Americans -- hardly something people should want in a president.

Others will simply cast their ballots for the white guy in the race. The Obama haters in America -- and there are too many -- simply don't want him to succeed, even if the country suffers for it.

I was very proud of my country four years ago for not just electing the nation’s first black president, but for picking the better candidate in the 2008 presidential race. I was in Washington, D.C., that day and, yes, cast my ballot for Obama.

I expect to be equally proud of my country on Nov. 7.

Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner can be reached at bonner@kyivpost.com.

 

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