Words to the wise

In the wake of Barack Obama's historic election, The Baltimore Sun has asked officials and experts from a variety of fields and backgrounds what advice they have for the incoming president

November 09, 2008

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski: It's time for boldness

On Tuesday, we made history. Now it's time we change history.

When President-elect Barack Obama assumes office in January, he will inherit two wars, a stratospheric budget deficit, a global financial meltdown, a broken health care system and a bruised international reputation.

The challenges are daunting. But I know he is up to the task. In the Senate and on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama has displayed a steady hand and a clear vision. He has the ability to unify Americans of different ages, races and backgrounds in the call for change.

Here is some advice I would offer him as he begins the long, hard process of rebuilding our country, restoring Americans' faith in their government and our standing in the world:

Be bold. Break out of the box, and go in a new direction. That's what leadership is all about. After eight years of blunders and missteps and old trickle-down economic theories that only trickled down to the wealthy few, Americans are ready for change and new solutions. Most of all, they are ready for a government that is on their side.

Pay attention to the macro issues that affect our world, but even closer attention to the macaroni-and-cheese issues that affect families. We have the most talented work force in the world. But today, too many Americans are working harder only to see their pensions shrink and their wages stagnate, to feel stretched and strained as they face rising fuel costs and rising food prices and rising health care costs. We must restore people's faith in the American dream.

To put the world in order, first put the nation in order. That means bringing our troops home, bringing our jobs home, investing in new clean, green technology and investing in America's infrastructure. It means investing in public schools that we can count on, making higher education accessible and creating a health care system that is affordable at any age.

Barbara A. Mikulski is serving her fourth term as U.S. senator from Maryland.

Lawrence J. Korb: Leave Iraq, cut defense spending

President-elect Barack Obama will need a different approach to defense policy than his predecessor.

He should fulfill his promise to remove all 14 combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months. This will overcome the resistance of the Iraqi people to a status of forces agreement that does not have a fixed date for withdrawal; provide an incentive to the Iraqi government to undertake meaningful political reconciliation; allow him to send more troops to Afghanistan; relieve the strain on the troops; and reduce significantly the $10 billion a month being spent on Iraq.

His campaign pledge to send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan is necessary to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, but it will not be sufficient. Mr. Obama needs to seek more troops from NATO, establish a single unified command for all the military forces, provide significant nonmilitary assistance and explore the possibility of getting some elements of the Taliban to support the Hamid Karzai government.

These steps must be accompanied by a diplomatic "surge" involving all of Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran, and renewed American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

President Obama also needs to bring defense spending under control. Since 2001, the regular defense budget has risen by 35 percent in real terms, because weapons programs have experienced cost overruns of $401 billion and the military still buys too many weapons from a bygone era.

Finally, he should expand the ground forces, but only on the condition the services do not lower their educational, aptitude or moral standards. Raising the standards and relieving the pressure of deployments should help the Army deal with its recruiting and retention problems.

Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Dr. E. Albert Reece: Improve funding to NIH

As president, Barack Obama should increase funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation's primary funder of biomedical research, as one of his top priorities, not only for improving the health of the nation but also for jump-starting the national economy.

Since 2004, the NIH's budget has been reduced by more than 13 percent after factoring in inflation. This trend has not only significantly slowed progress on many critical biomedical research programs on diseases and conditions that threaten the lives of tens of millions Americans each year, but it is also harming our national economy.

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