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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

An open letter to Obama: Josh Schrei

November 22, 2009

An Open Letter to My Favorite President Ever with
a Pointed Message from a Cartoon Lion: You Can Do Better
Josh Schrei
November 19, 2009

Dear President Obama:

In Walt Disney’s 1994 film The Lion King, there
is a Kenobi-esque moment in which the deceased
head of the pride -- Mufasa -- appears as an
apparition before his reasonably accomplished yet
somewhat misguided son Simba and utters the
words: "My son, you are more than what you have become."

I write to you today as someone who not only
voted for you, but also actively championed you,
campaigned for you, and called disgruntled old
ladies in rural Pennsylvania for you on election
eve. Simply put, I think the world of you. I
think you have beaten all the odds, and you have
shined every step of the way. I think the world
is a better place with you as President, and I
think your clearly demonstrated intelligence and
leadership as Commander in Chief has not only
elevated America’s standing in the world, it has
set the bar for nations for years to come.

That said sir, with all due respect" and I
recognize that there is indeed a lot of respect
due, I write to tell you that you can do better.

Barack, you can do better.

Don’t get me wrong, whatever you do with this
Presidency, you’re still a Lion. You’re still --
pardon the verbiage -- a complete bad-ass.

But oh, Mr. Obama, you can be so much more.

The challenge, in the complex mix of factors
you’ve inherited, is to not succumb to the lowest
common denominator but to lead, truly lead, with
purpose and with clarity of vision. We all face
situations in this life where we make a choice to
either live fearlessly according to our own truth
or to accept what is possible… given the context.

Given the context of our economic crisis, it is
understandable that you would make the choices
you have on federal spending. Given the context
of the egregious attacks of your malcontents, it
is understandable that your beloved health care
bill would have to be trimmed down to have a
chance of passing. Given the context, it is
understandable that you would seek a middle
ground on climate change legislation. Given the
context, it is understandable that you would stay
the course of your foreign policy predecessors
and make no significant changes in our relations with China.

All of this is perfectly understandable.

Yet those of us who voted you into office demand
more of you. We did not vote you in to be
perfectly understandable. I hate to invoke the
“C” word, but sir, we voted you in because you PROMISED change.

Mr. President, there are two defining and pivotal
issues on which you can truly shape the course of
history. I speak not of education and health
care, for which I will provide a simple equation
and assume you know what your GOP counterparts
seemingly choose to ignore -- in order for us to
stay competitive, everyone needs to have both.
For free. That this is even a question in the
21st century truly boggles the mind.

Nor do I speak of Afghanistan, in which there are
other simple formulas at work. No foreign invader
has ever won a war there. And, well, as a rule --
the less occupiers you have in a country, the
less people get killed. Go figure. The more we
give them a reason to fight us, the more they will.

I speak of China and the Environment.

On the Environment, I will be brief. Suffice to
say this: your "small government" critics
apparently have absolutely no concept of what is
coming. Small government, when it comes to the
necessity of remolding ourselves to meet the
environmental challenges ahead, will soon be
utterly obsolete. Governments will be forced to
spend huge dollars to deal with climate change,
water shortages, rural depletion and urban
overpopulation. What is needed, now, is a massive
restructuring and an equally massive investment
in environmental technologies, green jobs, and
alternative energy. And I mean massive. This is
not about “clean coal”. This is about turning
entire industries -- like one in Michigan I could
mention -- into sustainable propositions. If we
lag behind on this, the consequences… well sir,
the consequences will not be as dramatic as a
Roland Emmerich film, but neither will they be as boring.

I recently returned from the Himalayas, where
everyone, from humble villagers to guest house
owners to tour guides, is visibly shaken from the
lack of snow. The aptly named third pole -- the
80,000 strong glacial matrix of the Tibetan
plateau that is the source of life for literally
half of the world’s population -- is in total peril. This is scientific fact.

Which brings me to China and Tibet.

The Tibet issue is not one of "human rights." It
is a defining issue of our age. It is about the
fundamental right of human beings to live
unfettered. Millions upon millions of people died
in the second world war so that our global
community could unite on a simple principle:
everyone has the right to freedom. Freedom to
think, express, congregate, build, elect, share,
move…. And now -- because of our short term
ignorance, greed, and hubris, the emerging world
superpower is one that honors none of these
freedoms. To say that this bodes darkly for
humanity is a massive understatement. We have
sold the sacrifice of our grandparents down the
river. Sold it. And that sir, is an utter
abomination. No nation should be allowed China’s
violations of freedom. It is utterly
unacceptable. And President Obama, you must take
them to task for it, while anyone still can.

As a lifelong Tibet supporter, I have endured 15
years of meetings with Senators, Representatives,
and Chiefs of Staff and have been told roughly
the same thing in every single meeting. We have
to engage. We have to give them what they want. We can’t upset them.

Suppose for a minute that on the occasion of my
first meeting I had a newborn son. And suppose
that child had been raised solely according to
the philosophy of those meetings. “We can’t upset
him. We can’t offend him. His feelings get hurt
when we ask him if he’s cleaned his room….” What
would I have now? A 15-year-old, overly-entitled,
spoiled rotten, immature, selfish, brutal bully
with the keys to the car. Beijing’s leaders
deserve none of the leeway we have given them. None of it.

Today, I saw the statement you gave after the
meeting you had with China’s Hu Jintao. To call
it a statement would be to give you far too much
credit. Sir, they invoked your ethnic heritage
and your love and study of one of the greatest
men in modern history and used it to justify one
of the greatest abominations of the modern era. Where is the outrage?

You are more than that tepid diplomacy. You are
MORE than the man who stands idly by while lovers
of truth and justice are slaughtered. You are
meant to be their champion. And if not you, in
this rapidly declining world, then who? Who???

If the United States of America does not rise to
meet its potential now -- if YOU do not rise to
meet your potential" in this time, the time when
we are MOST challenged, then you of all people
know the consequences. You know that we may not
in fact get another opportunity.

This briefest of windows is your time. It is your
time to not just be remembered as America’s first
African-American President who did what he could,
given the context. It is your time to become --
in the words of my favorite cartoon lion -- what
you are. What you were born to be. A truly great man.

I am counting on you. We are counting on you.

With love and respect,

Josh Schrei

* The writer is a New York based Tibet supporter
and has been associated with various campaigns of
the Students for a Free Tibet.
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