To: Barack Obama From: Us Re.: Your Presidency
Advice from nine BU professors on war, science, commerce, and justice
Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations and history, College of Arts and Sciences
“Once your honeymoon ends — and it will, sooner than you think — the Afghan war will be your war. Don’t let it become your Iraq.”
You seem keen to up the ante in Afghanistan by increasing the U.S. troop commitment there. Before making a final decision, take some time to think that one over. With the war in Afghanistan now in its eighth year and things not going well, it could be that the problem is not enough boots on the ground. Or it just might be that our stated objective — creating a modern, cohesive nation-state where none has ever existed — is misguided. Perhaps instead of more troops we need a new policy. If you do commit to enlarging the war, keep two things in mind. First, we’ll have to cover the costs. Don’t look to our allies for anything but symbolic help. The Brits and the Canadians have fought gallantly, but as for NATO, well, the once-vaunted alliance has essentially ceased to exist. Second, once your honeymoon ends — and it will, sooner than you think — the Afghan war will be your war. Don’t let it become your Iraq. Good luck.
Charles Merzbacher, associate professor and chairman of film and television, College of Communication
“Force us to conserve and to find alternative sources of energy. For that, we will thank you someday.”
While you right the battered and leaky ship of state, here’s a simple request: raise the federal tax on oil. If the sky-high price of gas last summer was a wake-up call, then the current cheap cost of fuel is an opportunity. Let’s gradually scale up a federal tax on oil and then use the revenue generated for . . . whatever. It almost doesn’t matter how your administration spends the windfall: by saddling the American public with higher fuel prices, you will force us to conserve and to find alternative sources of energy. For that, we will thank you someday. Good luck!
Tamar Frankel, professor, School of Law
“Follow your ideals. Let us follow ours. Avoid ideology.”
1. Maintain and retain our trust in you and in America. Help us create a culture of trustworthiness.
2. Follow your ideals. Let us follow ours. Avoid ideology.
3. Use conflicting ideas to prevent the good from slipping into bad. Meld individuals’ desires with society’s needs. Offer food, but not gluttony. Encourage drive for profit but not greed and misappropriation. Recognize success on the merits but not by deceit.
4. Avoid theories in the service of power without accountability, selfishness without care for others, and freedom without law.
5. Lead, but do not rule.
Farouk El-Baz, research professor and director, Center for Remote Sensing
“Don’t send anyone anywhere; ask them to follow you as you lead.”
You have inspired a whole generation and won the hearts of the world.
On November 4, an elderly Egyptian on a street in Cairo was interviewed by a TV reporter and said: “I voted for Obama with my heart.”
You are now at the helm and need only to keep inspiring all Americans to rise above all the troubles and help steer the country back to greatness.
The resilience and energy of Americans is limitless if they are challenged, encouraged, and motivated to do what is seemingly impossible.
Don’t send anyone anywhere; ask them to follow you as you lead.
Mitchell Zuckoff, professor of journalism, College of Communication
“I respectfully urge you to engage fully with the media you don’t control.”
You’re to be commended for the remarkable way your campaign spoke directly with the public through media you controlled — from my.barackobama.com to text message blasts to paid television ads. That made perfect sense when your goals were to collect votes and money. Now that campaigning has given way to governing, and your goals are to lead a great and troubled nation, I respectfully urge you to engage fully with the media you don’t control. Answering journalists’ probing questions and considering their informed skepticism will help you to succeed as fully as president as you did as a candidate.
Louis E. Lataif (SMG’61, Hon.’90), Allen Questrom Professor and Dean, School of Management
“Do not destroy workers’ rights to a secret ballot.”
In the recent election, your supporters and all voters enjoyed the precious liberty of casting secret ballots; your Congressional colleagues in their party caucuses cast secret ballots; and American workers cast secret ballots when voting to be represented by a labor union. Do not destroy workers’ rights to a secret ballot by encouraging the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act. That “Card-Check” proposal effectively kills the secret voting privilege by undoing decades of settled labor law. Importantly, it would irreparably damage individual liberty, the small businesses that propel U.S. employment, and the fabric of your own promising presidency.
Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean, College of Communication
“Open up the White House to press coverage and inquiry. Let your staff speak freely and on the record.”
The unhappy folks who daily occupy the White House pressroom are little more productive in a journalistic sense than, say, monkeys in the zoo who perform for the chance of getting food scraps. These reporters gather when summoned by the press secretary to get the daily feeding. Questions are parried, are seldom answered. And when a dollop of news is dropped at such a session, it is usually camouflaged with the warning that it is for “background” or “not for attribution.” Woe be to the White House staffer who invites a reporter into his or her office for an interview on the record.
Let me make a plea for a different approach to a relationship with the White House press corps, one that would be reminiscent of the approach taken by your apparent role model, FDR. Rather than seeing the press corps as an annoyance to be controlled and manipulated, look at it as a combination sounding board and megaphone. Open up the White House (figuratively speaking) to press coverage and inquiry. Let your staff speak freely and on the record (relying on background briefings only with especially sensitive topics, such as national security and diplomacy). Perhaps, like LBJ, take occasional walks around the Rose Garden with a handful of journalists, where they can take your measure.
The White House press corps will appreciate — and rise to — the added responsibility. And, most important, the American public will be better served by a president who not only speaks of open government, but embodies it.
William Keylor, professor of international relations and history, College of Arts and Sciences
“Resist the pressure to erect barriers to foreign competition.”
As you take office amid the most serious financial challenge that the United States has faced since the Great Depression, resist the pressure from domestic interest groups to rescue them from the consequences of the economic downturn by erecting barriers to foreign competition. High tariffs, increased subsidies for domestic farms and industries, and other protectionist measures may preserve American jobs and American profits in the short term. But in the long term they will become self-defeating by prompting our trading partners to adopt similar “beggar thy neighbor” policies, which will prolong the painful economic downturn the world is experiencing.
Nathan Schwadron, associate professor of astronomy, College of Arts and Sciences
“We must become greater physical innovators to overcome major societal problems.”
We must become greater physical innovators to overcome major societal problems, ranging from the availability of inexpensive energy to the changing conditions of our physical world induced by humans, the sun, and even from beyond the outer boundaries of our solar system. As a nation of explorers, we prize discovery, and our investments in robotic exploration and basic science to NASA and the National Science Foundation should be a core part of our renewed focus on physical science, technology, and education. Our investments should be made to spur on competition and to control costs by promoting centralized leadership while stimulating innovation.3 Comments