If you pay attention to global affairs, you know that increasing numbers of people believe U.S. leadership in the world is coming to an end. I think these predictions are exaggerated, but they are not without some basis. It is time for us to re-establish ourselves by showing our capacity for change and adaptation.
The biggest external challenge we face, of course, is the rise of China, which has pulled millions of people out of poverty, drawn attention for its innovation and infrastructure development, and built one of the world’s leading economies. This is an important point. You do not build prestige abroad by collapsing at home
So how do we reenergize our global role? We begin by bringing the pandemic under control, reinvigorating our economy, and re-committing to the rule of law and to the core values of justice, fairness, and opportunity for all our citizens.
Then, I would argue, we need to return to the basics. We built our preeminence by using an international approach during the post-WWII period, working skillfully with European and other allies to lead the West. We need to re-commit to that approach.
We also must restore basic democratic values – promotion of democracy, treating people decently, opposing corruption and abuse of human rights – to a prominent role in our foreign policy. The moral dimension is key to making our leadership more attractive and more potent.
Obviously, American military power is part of our strength. But we also need a well-functioning national security system with expanded arms control agreements. We have to counter Iran wherever and whenever possible. We must identify and oppose the world’s bad actors. And we need to lead the fight on climate change – an existential issue.
Finally, to help the US revitalize its place in the world, we will need strong, capable, realistic, and professional officials filling the key roles. To be blunt, we have become less respected for our competence and skill over the last four years. Highly regarded representatives abroad can be among the biggest assets we deploy.
It used to be that, in any international forum, it was almost instinctive to turn to the US for leadership. That is less often the case now, and I do not think the world is better off as a result. We have a lot of work to do to reassert our leadership, starting with strengthening our own democracy.