If you pay attention to global affairs, you know that increasing numbers of people believe US leadership in the world is coming to an end and the West more broadly is being eclipsed. I think these predictions are exaggerated, but they are not without some basis. Our challenges have grown. 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 and the competition it offers to the democratic model. It is not just that its wealth, military power, and leverage around the world have all grown. It is also that China has had an astonishing rise, pulling millions of people out of poverty, drawing attention for its innovation and infrastructure development, and building one of the world’s leading economies.
This is an important point. You do not build prestige abroad by collapsing at home. In a very real sense, you cannot separate domestic and foreign policy, especially when you are the US. The world pays close attention to how we deal with internal problems, and our actions within our borders profoundly affect our standing and leverage as we assert global leadership.
So how do we reenergize our global role? We begin, of course, at home, by bringing the pandemic under control, reinvigorating our own economy, and re-committing to the rule of law, to basic, long-established democratic processes, 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, which have taken a beating in recent years. 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. If we try to lead by ourselves, the task is far more difficult than if we join with European allies, Japan, other Asian countries, and allies in South America and elsewhere.