I like Tom Friedman. He’s not always right, and sometimes I vehemently disagree with him, but I like his big picture, mega view of the world. As an analyst he’s pretty good at coming up with insights regarding trends and tendencies. As a communicator, he’s equally good at explaining those trends and tendencies.
While attending the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival, Friedman was interviewed by Walter Isaacson, President of Aspen Institute. As always with Friedman it was a far ranging and engaging talk (see the whole talk here). In the interview Friedman talked about his forthcoming book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, co-authored with Michael Mandelbaum. Friedman claims that the greatest foreign policy challenge around the globe is the future of the US. It’s not surprising that a couple of American authors would make such a claim, but he presents his reasons which appear convincing at least on the surface. The essential point, according to Friedman, is that the US provides “a lot of global governance,” by which he means the array of international rules, regulations, agreements and behaviors that create a stable world. Without this global governance, he argues, the world will be a very different and not necessarily a better place. I acknowledge that some of this global governance is disputed and that some might see some US behaviors and policies as negatives, but don’t’ shoot the messenger; I’m just reporting what Friedman said.
When pressed by Isaacson on this foreign policy problem Friedman claimed that US had three essential challenges. The first is education, and the problems created for American education by the combined forces of globalization and the IT revolution. The second challenge facing the US is the combined problems of entitlements and debt. Finally, energy and climate came together as the third major challenge facing the US today. Without seriously addressing those three challenges, he explained, the American dream was at peril.
Friedman explained that the only way forward was collective action, and putting aside what he termed “political nonsense”. It’s a sure bet that putting aside “political nonsense” is no easy step, nor is implementing collective action in the face dispute and division. To date very little has worked to bring the various factions together to repair the American political landscape. Americans have become very good at deriding each other, labeling, stereotyping and…. Sound familiar? So, I think Friedman is right, we do need to put aside the “political nonsense”, the tricky question is how to do that.
Had I been there in Aspen, I would have added that people skilled in positive sum negotiation and dialogue, what I like to call peaceworkers, could play such an important and positive role in helping move away from political nonsense to the collective action that is so desperately needed. Perhaps the next Aspen Ideas Festival will extend invitations to peaceworkers and ask the question, how can we build a platform for collective, positive sum, action?