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How Obama can save the day
« on: March 27, 2014, 07:08:22 PM »
How Obama can save the day

By Frida Ghitis
updated 12:17 PM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014

Editor's note:  Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution:  A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis.

(CNN) -- In the years since President Barack Obama moved into the White House, Western influence on the global stage has declined. With Russian troops massing on Ukraine's borders and NATO's top commander warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be preparing to make another move after annexing Crimea, there is an urgent priority.

President Obama has arrived in Europe at what could turn out to be a hinge point in history. It is crucial that he use this fraught occasion to launch a strategy to reinvigorate the Atlantic alliance, reassure its friends and put its enemies on notice.

Obama and other Western leaders called for Syria's Bashar al-Assad to step down, yet he has arguably grown stronger since then. The government of Egypt, once a close ally of the West, has spun away. Russia blatantly ignored American and European calls not to invade Ukrainian territory. The U.S. has surprisingly little influence even in Afghanistan, where it still has thousands of troops.

The loss of American and European influence is not just a loss of geopolitical clout for one bloc. The West stands for many of the principles that the world has consecrated as universal, such as rule of law, respect for international norms and the protection of human rights.

The United States and its European allies possess a triple arsenal of enormous power.

First, they embody ideals that hold powerful universal appeal. Second, their combined economies, despite the recent downturn, easily dwarf any and all of their rivals. Third, the U.S. and its allies remain the undisputed top military power on Earth.

Obama must launch a program to re-energize the partnership of the democratic West, brandishing the unity of the alliance and the universality of the principles it espouses.

No, Europe and the U.S. have not behaved in perfect accordance with those principles, but their institutions and laws, however flawed, still aim for governments that derive power not from corruption, force or manipulation but from the will of the people. It's a system in which individuals are solemnly respected by the state and where laws are fairly made and justly applied to all people, including those who disagree with the government.

The decline of the West's relative power means that the forces that strive for these norms have grown weaker. It means there is less strength to prevent or reverse ongoing catastrophes, such as the war in Syria or the infamy that unfolds every day in North Korea.

*  *  *

Obama must revitalize the alliance. Remind its members and the world what it stands for and just how much it can do. Help end European reliance on Russia fuel. Convince London and Paris and Berlin that they can do without the oligarchs' cash.

He must schedule frequent, high-profile working meetings to take steps to isolate Russia and clarify what the West seeks -- not domination of Russia's neighborhood, but a system of prosperity and democracy that benefits every country, including Russia, if it chooses to play by the rules. And countries that mass their troops, threatening to invade their neighbors, must pay a high price, a price that will escalate if they make another move.

Then the West's influence in the global stage may just reverse course, and that will be bad news for the world's worst regimes. It's a long game, but that is the priority right now.

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