October 21, 2020
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Three Questions

All thinking people must ask and answer three questions for themselves. What is your vision of the 21st century world? What do we have to do to achieve it? What does America have to do?

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Three Questions

William J. Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States of America. This is an edited version of a speech he delivered at Yale University on October 31, 2003 at the invitation of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Most people today refer to the time in which we live as the age of globalization. I prefer the term interdependence, because it makes it clear that the nature of the world today and our connections are far more than economic, and because it makes it clear that the consequences of those relationships can be both negative and positive. Interdependence simply means we cannot escape each other.

For those of us like most Americans, the age of globalization or interdependence has brought enormous benefits. In the eight years when I served as the president, roughly a third of our growth came from trade. Our country's enormous increase in productivity was in no small part fueled by the application of information technology across all sectors of the economy and the continued outreach to people throughout the world and the openness of our borders to new immigrants from all over the world who continued to replenish the energy of our entrepreneurial system.

Though it worked for us, but interdependence is not by definition good or bad. It can be either or; it can be both. On September 11th, 2001, the Al Qaeda terrorist used the forces of interdependence – they use the open borders, easy travel, easy immigration, easy access to information and technology, to turn a jet airplane full of fuel into a weapon of mass destruction to kill 3100 people in the United States, including hundreds of people from 70 foreign countries who were in America looking for positive interdependence. Over 200 of the people they killed were Muslims, indicating the racial and religious diversity of the positive side of this equation.

Now I'll just give you a couple of other instances. The Middle East is an example of interdependence as good as any on Earth. The Israelis and Palestinians cannot possibly escape each other. So for seven years from the time we signed the Peace Agreement, until the onset of the second Intifada in 2000, we had seven years of progress towards positive interdependence, under the Peace Agreement which basically said we're going to divide the land as soon as we agree on the property settlement; we are going to share security responsibility, share economic benefits, we're going to go into business, be friends, and build the future together.

And then in one of the colossal historical errors of modern times, Yasir Arafat walked away from the agreement, or the proposal that I had secured the Israeli agreement to under Prime Minister Barak. And they decided they'd be for negative interdependence. So now in three years you got 1900 dead Palestinians, average age 18, 700 dead Israelis, average age 24. But they are no less interdependent than they were in the seven years of peace – they just flipped it from positive to negative.

The relationship between Mexico and the United States or Canada and the United States, you see on balance a positive relationship with negative elements existing at the same time. Our relationship with Mexico has been very positive, I believe, for both countries, economically and politically, we have been enriched, and continued to be, by Mexican immigrants, but we still have some problems of, principally, the transport of drugs across the Mexican border, and the continuing battles we do with narco-traffickers. Our relationship with Canada has been overwhelmingly positive – we still have some problems, principally due to the different economic systems and its impact on our trade relations in some areas, as well as an occasional environmental issue or two.

My basic premise is this: the interdependent world, for all of its promise, is in inevitably unsustainable because it's unstable. We cannot continue to live in a world where we grow more and more and more interdependence, and we have no over-arching system to have the positive elements of interdependence outweigh the negative ones.

So I believe all thinking people must ask and answer for themselves, particular if you are in this country, whether you are a citizen or not – you should ask and answer for yourself three questions: one, what is your vision of the 21st Century world; two, what we have to do to achieve it; three, what does that mean for America – what does America have to do.

I'll give you my answers to those questions. You don't have to agree with my answers but you need to have your own. To pretend that you shouldn't answer these questions is to walk away from the fundamental challenge of our time.

21st Century World: A Genuine Global Community

As to the first question, I think the great mission of 21st Century world is to make it a genuine global community. To move from mere interdependence to integration, to a community that has three characteristics: shared responsibilities, shared benefits, and shared values.

On the second question – how would you go about building that kind of world? How would you move from interdependence to an integrated community? In summary fashion, because I know we are going to have questions later, here are my answers.

Shared Responsibilities

With regard to shared responsibilities, I think the most important are to fight for security against terror, weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, and narco-traffickers, to take shared responsibility for breaking up Al Qaeda and terrorist networks, for restarting the Middle East peace process, for resolving the nuclear issues and the missile issues of North Korea, for encouraging the new dialogue between the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan, for making the post-war Iraq a successful transition to a democratic self-government, for helping other countries to fight terror, like Colombia and the Philippines, and for having a global effort to reduce the stocks of available chemical, biological and nuclear materials.

Second main shared responsibility (and I'll talk more about this later) is to build institutions of global cooperation across a wide range of areas, so people get in the habit of resolving their differences in a peaceful way according to rules and procedures that are generally perceived to be fair to everyone. Unless you have institution-building, it will be hard to sustain the mentality necessary to have shared responsibilities.

Shared Benefits

Next, we have to share the benefits of the interdependent world. Why do we have to do that? For one thing, let's just take a very selfish, forget about the moral and ethical imperative, think of the very selfish perspective – if you come from a wealthy country with open borders, unless you seriously believe you can kill, imprison, or occupy all of your enemies, you will have to make a world with more friends and fewer enemies, with more partners and fewer terrorists.

As we see everyday in Iraq, the United States military is the only super military in the world – we can win any military conflict all by ourselves, but you can't build the peace all by yourself. Unless you can kill, occupy or imprison everybody, you've got to make some friends this ol' world.

So what does that mean? Among other things it means that we will have to bring economic opportunity to the 50 per cent of the globe's population which lives on $2 a day or less. A billion people live on $1 a day or less; a billion people go to bed hungry every night. It means more trade with the developing nations. It means more aid that works properly. It means, I think, another round of debt relief tied to economic development, education, health care. It means funding projects that will build successful, functioning, sustainable economies in poor countries across the globe.

It means educating the world's people who presently can't be part of positive interdependence. A billion people in this world cannot read a single word in any language, not one. 120 million children never go to school. But we know that every year of schooling adds 10 to 15 per cent a year to the incomes of people in poor countries for life.

And we also know how to get those kids to school: when President Zedillo was president of Mexico, they had a program where they actually paid the families of the poorest kids if their kids went to school. In Brazil, the Bolsa Escola program gives a little credit card to the poorest families that they can turn into the local lottery office with a certificate proving that their children had been to school 85 per cent of the time the previous month and they get about $15 for child per month.

In my last year, Senator Dole and Senator McGovern came to see me with a proposal to offer nutritious meals to children in school but only if they come to school to get it, and so we found $300 million and feed six million kids first year we did that, and the enrollment exploded. And this year a program that has been sustained by partisan support is feeding 10 million children in poor countries in their schools, to get more people into school.

This is not expensive and it's not rocket science, but it'll make a world with more friends and fewer terrorists. Same thing is true in health care – the sequencing of the human genome, the widespread availability of all kinds of medicines and a lot of other things are driving life expectancy to the roof in developed nations. Now you see over and over again, I can't turn on the television without seeing at least once a week some program about the coming age crutch in rich societies, when the old are swamping the young.

But ten million children in this world still die every year of completely preventable childhood diseases, and one in four of all deaths on earth this year will come AIDS, TB, malaria, and infections related with diarrhea, most of them little kids who never got a clean glass of water, something one and a half billion people on earth never do. So we know what to do about all these.

I was just at the UN talking to the Secretary-General about the work I'm doing with AIDS in Africa and Caribbean and the fact that we're now going to be able to buy this medicine for under $140 a person a year, and how we need more people now to fund the poor countries (not me) to fund the poor countries to develop their health care networks, to make the medicine work. This is not rocket science, but every time we do it, we build a world with more friends and fewer terrorists.

Same thing is true on the environment: nation-specific environments are worse for poor countries – it's one reason why there is not enough clean water. And the globe's environment is worse because poor and rich countries alike believe foolishly that the only way you can grow rich, stay rich and get richer, is to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Anything we do today to finance an alternative energy future tomorrow will mean stable agricultural production patterns, a more stable life in developing nations, fewer terrorists, fewer disruptions.

This is not just an idle talk – this stuff works. I will just give you one example. Last year I was in Ghana working with Hernando de Solo to try to set up the same sort of titling system in an African culture that he did in Peru that enabled all kinds of people to legalize their businesses and homes and then use the title they have to get credit from a bank. When they first did it, they had 10 per cent growth or better three years in a row.

Now in Africa a lot of land is held in common by tribal chiefs, so we had to figure out the way around that and we are working on it in Ghana. I was on the tarmac of the airport on the way back to the airplane, and this woman started screaming at me, "President Clinton, President Clinton! Don't go!" And I looked around and she was waving some package. So she comes up to me and she said, "I'm one of four hundred women who work in a shirt factory here in Accra because of your Africa trade bill, we sell these shirts. And we all have jobs, so here's your shirt." So I figured, I'm not in office anymore, I took the shirt. It was not an a billion dollar no-bid contract, but it was something I got out of this, you know.

So, anyway, I put this shirt in a place in my home where I see it everyday. Why? Because every time I look at the shirt, it reminds me that that woman is not mad at me, or you, or the United States. Why? She knows I got more money than she does, but she thinks we want her to be part of our shared future. And she doesn't want her child to fight in an African tribal war, and she certainly doesn't want her child to become HIV positive. She wants her child to live, to learn, to be part of what you see around this room. We can not, and I'm all for a strong security position, but we cannot possibly kill, imprison or occupy all of our actual or potential adversaries, and we are drastically under-investing in building a world with more partners and fewer terrorists. And we'll get right involved then.

Shared Values

Now, what about shared values? People make fun of me all the time – how can you possibly have shared values in a world with as many different ethnic, cultural and racial systems as we have? When African tribes in Rwanda, who have been living with each other for 500 years, all of a sudden go nuts and ten per cent of the country's dead in 90 days, most of them with machetes.

Well, my answer is: go to Rwanda and you'll see. Where the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame has given money to communities called "reconciliation communities" and they will give you a lot to have a house in one of these communities, but you have to agree to live in the neighborhood with people from other ethnic group. And when I went there, a little over a year ago I think, to Indira, to this little reconciliation village. And I met a woman and her neighbor, and one woman's husband was in jail awaiting a war crimes trial because he was a leader of the slaughter of Tutsis, and her neighbor was a Tutsi woman, who had lost her husband and her brother in the slaughter. I saw the children dancing together for the first time in a decade across their ethnic lines, and they slowly, as they began to dance, began to smile at each other.

And I've seen the reconciliation work in South Africa, and I've sat along with the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, and I've sat up half the night with the Palestinians and Israelis and heard them tell jokes on their leaders. And I can tell you there are things you see in these encounters, basic values that transcend religion, race, tribe, and ethnicity, but they're pretty simple.

Everyone counts. Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone has a responsible role to play. Competition's good but we'll do better when we work together. Our differences are important and they make life much more interesting, but our common humanity matters more. Those five simple values I argue to you must become the globe's dominant values across all the lines of race and religion. The only thing you have to give up to embrace that value is that you don't have the absolute truth. Because once you believe you have the absolute truth, then it's not possible for everyone to count, or for everyone to deserve a chance if they disagree with you, or for everyone to have a role to play.

It's not possible for you to believe that we all do better when we work together if you have to deal with heathens, or to believe that your common humanity matters more than your interesting differences. All we have to say is that there is a truth – life is a search for it; religion is a pathway to it; but we’re all imperfect and nobody has it. The only thing the world has to give up to achieve the core values necessary to move from interdependence to an integrated community is the idea that you have the absolute truth.

You may have noticed that the fundamentalists didn't like me very much when I was President, and I remember once that the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest Protestant church in America, of which both Al Gore and I are members, has to see me once because there was an actual effort to throw my church out of the Convention unless they threw me out of the church because I was pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

It was an interesting thing because they didn't seek to throw me out because I was a sinner, because we believe that covers everybody so I was OK on that score. But I couldn't be pro-choice and pro-gay rights, so the President of the Convention looked at me and he said – in all of the world they have conversations like this about the Koran, or about the Torah, or about other holy texts. I can imagine the same conversation occurring in five or six different cultures and faiths – he looked at me he said, "I want an answer from you, not a political answer – just an answer, yes or no – do you believe our Bible is literally true or not? Yes or no?" And I looked at him and I said, "I believe that it's completely true, but I do not believe any of us, including you and I, are smart enough to understand it completely." And he thought that was a shuck and jive answer, but that's what I believe. And I say this because this is really important.

In 1968, Martin Luther King was killed by James Earl Ray because he hated what King was trying to do because he was white and King was black, and Bobby Kennedy was killed by Sirhan Sirhan because Sirhan believed Bobby Kennedy was too close to Israel, but the major assassinations apart from that in my life time have been great people killed by their own because they abandoned the absolute truth.

Gandhi was killed by a young Indian who thought he was a bad Indian and bad Hindu because he thought India should be for everyone; Sadat was killed by Egyptian Muslims because they thought he was a bad Egyptian and bad Muslim because he wanted Egypt to have a secular government and peace with Israel. On probably the darkest day of my presidency, my friend Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an angry young Israeli Jew because he thought he was a bad Jew and a bad Israeli because he wanted to give a homeland to the Palestinians to raise their children and he wanted to share the future. So I say to you: you have to think about that – that we can have shared values just fine, unless we insist on being in possession today in this life of the absolute truth.

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