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Don't Blow It

by Colin Rule
October 2009

From Colin Rule's blog.

Colin Rule

Bono in the NYT today: "The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us. What the president promised was a “global plan,” not an American plan. The same is true on all the other issues that the Nobel committee cited, from nuclear disarmament to climate change — none of these things will yield to unilateral approaches. They’ll take international cooperation and American leadership.

The president has set himself, and the rest of us, no small task.

That’s why America shouldn’t turn up its national nose at popularity contests. In the same week that Mr. Obama won the Nobel, the United States was ranked as the most admired country in the world, leapfrogging from seventh to the top of the Nation Brands Index survey — the biggest jump any country has ever made. Like the Nobel, this can be written off as meaningless ... a measure of Mr. Obama’s celebrity (and we know what people think of celebrities).

But an America that’s tired of being the world’s policeman, and is too pinched to be the world’s philanthropist, could still be the world’s partner. And you can’t do that without being, well, loved... the idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world.

And it is. The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas — your idea — at a time when the rest of the world is running out of them."

Bono tends to be an aphorist, but he's a thoughful guy for a pop star. The world needs hope, and Obama has become the spokesman for hope. (or HOPE, as is appears on the poster.) The Nobel was about hope that America will wield its power in a circumspect and collaborative manner. I don't think this hope is misplaced, and I can see the rationale behind the Nobel committee's decision.

All this talk about how Obama's not doing anything is interesting. I suppose pressure like this is inevitable at the end of the first year. Once we get health care passed it'll drop off relatively quickly, I think. And I think Obama is wise to tackle the big stuff first -- plenty of time to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell etc.

What's more troublesome is the growing chorus of voices attempting to indict leading-through-collaboration. Take this quote from Leon Wieseltier shared by Maureen Dowd today: "The common ground is not always the high ground. When it is without end, moreover, the search for common ground is bad for bargaining. It informs the other side that what you most desire is the deal — that you will never acknowledge the finality of the difference, and never be satisfied with the integrity of opposition.” There it is, the dreaded compromise.

Some on the left are angry at Obama that he isn't being more partisan, that he isn't using his power to ram initiatives down the throat of the opposition. But that's not his style. It's the reason why Obama was given the Nobel -- this clear sense that he wants to listen, and to persuade. Initiatives foisted on the opposition by force last only as long as the current administration is in power. Initiatives where agreement is built, brick by painstaking brick, can become new realities that will last for a generation.

Biography


Colin Rule has worked at the intersection of technology and conflict resolution for the last two decades. He is CEO of Modria.com, an online dispute resolution service provider in Silicon Valley, and a non-resident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. From 2003 to 2011, he served as eBay and PayPal's first director of Online Dispute Resolution, designing and implementing systems that now resolve more than 60 million disputes each year. Mr. Rule is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002. He has presented and trained around the world for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, UNCITRAL, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as teaching at UMass-Amherst, Stanford, Southern Methodist University, and Hastings College of the Law. He has written and been interviewed extensively about the Internet since 1999, with columns and articles appearing in ACResolution, Consensus, Dispute Resolution Magazine, and Peace Review. He holds a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a B.A. in peace studies from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.



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Website: www.modria.com

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