November 3, 2004

November 3, 2004 | Commentary on Political Thought

World's eyes are on election

Few presidential elections have been followed around the world with such intensity as we have seen in 2004. In an increasingly interconnected world, many feel great dismay that only Americans are able to vote in American elections. Too bad for them.
    
In Britain, readers of the Guardian newspaper were even encouraged to write to the citizens of Clark County, Ohio, to tell them to vote for John Kerry. This did not go down too well with the folks in Clark County, whose responses were more or less unprintable. "Mind your own flipping business," was one of the politer replies. 
    
As noted by Chris Caldwell in the Financial Times, "For the first time, voters in every country have been polled about how they would vote if they could - as if the office in question were not president of the United States but president of the world."
    
Obsessive as it may seem, all this attention is testimony to the pre-eminent U.S. place in the world. No matter who sits in the White House that reality will not change. And it is a world of global challenges. 

We have entered a new era, defined by our responses in the global war on terror that will continue to underlie our foreign-policy options for decades to come. How much this is a war of civilizations can be debated, but the means by which the enemy fights have to be dealt with conclusively. It is a war in which the United States has to carry the responsibility of global leadership.

Our policies should be rooted in enlightened national interest and American sovereignty, as well as the principles on which the United States itself was founded: democracy, free markets and a respect for individual life and liberty. Our strategy must be based on alliances, but also on a willingness to accept unilateral action, under the necessary circumstances.

Harvard historian Joseph Nye has aptly compared the challenges that face the United States today to a three-dimensional chess game. On the top level is military might; here, the United States will remain unchallenged for decades to come. On the economic level, it is a world with a rival economic power, the European Union. On the bottom level, chaos reigns, characterized by international terrorism, drug smuggling, international crime, etc. On that level international cooperation becomes imperative, as the incoming administration will certainly recognize.

There will be no time for a honeymoon in foreign affairs. There are trade negotiations to be restarted, and crucial international engagements to be managed.

The Middle East, the prime source of terrorist activity, presents the most immediate challenges.

In Iraq, that means winning the fight against insurgents, keeping elections on track for the vast majority of Iraqis who want to live in a democracy. Were it possible to further internationalize the stabilization force in Iraq, it would indeed be welcomed, but this seems unlikely. Furthermore, we are really not alone; a host of countries continue to stand with us, even if Americans do carry the greatest burden.

Iran's nuclear program is an increasingly urgent problem, particularly as Iran is also in the ballistic-missile business, and a major state sponsor of terrorists. Cooperation with Europeans in a carrot and stick approach would be ideal, but only if the sticks are as real as the carrots. Proliferation, particularly from Iran and North Korea, is an urgent and growing problem. Could there be any better case for missile defense?

The new U.S. administration could find an opening for a more active engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the illness of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat loosens his grip on power. It may be the window of opportunity that we have been waiting for.

China is back as an issue, in part because the European Union, led by France, is unilaterally seeking a strategic alliance with China. The Chinese now insist on tying this strategic partnership to the lifting of the EU arms embargo imposed on China after Tiananmen Square. Would it not be far better if Europe and the United States could forge a common policy towards China, rather than engage in a strategic competition, which benefits only China?

And finally, a plea for better public diplomacy. The incoming administration must try to explain its decisions and actions better to the great global audience, which follows our every move here in Washington with rapt attention. Foreign audiences may not be able to vote in our elections, but they can still form strong opinions that affect how we deal with the world.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail:
helle.dale@heritage.org .

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Political Thought

First appeared in The Washington Times