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. Effective foreign policy requires a lot of components, but the moral dimension is key to making our leadership more attractive and more potent.

Obviously, American military power is part of our strength. People pay attention to us in no small part because of that power. But they also pay attention because of our willingness to work with others. In order to enhance our appeal, we need a well-functioning national security system with expanded arms control agreements. We have to counter Iran wherever and whenever possible—in a manner that does not risk war in the Middle East. And we must identify and oppose the world’s bad actors by exposing their weaknesses, corruption, and dictatorial tendencies.

I would also argue that we need to lead the fight on climate change. All the other issues we face are important, but this one is existential, and we do not have much time to get it right.

Finally, to help the US revitalize its place in the world, we will need strong, capable, realistic, and professional officials filling the key roles. That is true in the intelligence community—where unbiased and clear-eyed knowledge of events and other leaders is vital if we are to navigate the course of events and work with (or against) world leaders. And it is true in diplomacy, economics, the national security apparatus, and elsewhere, where depth, knowledge, and expertise are vital. To be blunt, we have become less respected for our competence, professionalism, and skill over the last four years, and while experts can sometimes become too narrowly focused, 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: the first question on the minds of allies was what the US thought and planned to do. That is less often the case, 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.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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