Restoring America’s Global Leadership
With the Iowa Caucuses just over a year away, would-be White House contenders are one-by-one wading into the waters of the 2020 presidential race. Next year’s contest will be a plebiscite of principles which will decide whether the United States will irreversibly succumb to the siren calls of nationalism, mercantilism, and isolationism. And for those of us who believe in the values that have guided the United States for three-quarters of a century, now is the time to recommit ourselves to those principles.
Since America’s arrival on the global stage in World War II, American leadership has generally guided the world closer to the promised land of democracy, prosperity, and a rules-based world order. From the ashes of the world’s second attempt at self-immolation in a generation rose an international system rooted in humanity’s highest aspirations, delivered by a president whose brand of leadership is sorely lacking in Washington today, Harry S. Truman. While it’s true that the example he helped to create hasn’t always lived up to its potential, the United States can nonetheless be proud of the offerings we’ve made at the altar of peace and security. Regrettably, the election of Donald Trump changed all that, raising serious doubts about our nation’s willingness and ability to continue leading the world it helped create.
America today has a captain who knows no navigator, consults no compass, and heeds no hazards — a modern-day Ahab whose self-obsessed expedition endangers all aboard and all in his wake. President Trump took office keen to extricate America from global leadership. That left a power vacuum our rivals were eager to fill. China, for one, has been happy to leverage its unholy union of authoritarianism and state capitalism to destabilize our Asia-Pacific allies and tilt the regional balance of power in its favor. Elsewhere, Russia has schemed to supplant American influence in the Syrian conflict, protracting its horrors and underwriting the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad. But our current digression needn’t be our destiny.
To be the leader the world needs us to be, the United States must once again practice, protect, and promote the immutable values that made our nation — or any nation — worthy of emulation: democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; global economic integration; and fidelity to multilateral security alliances and peacekeeping institutions. But first, those of us who have heretofore held these truths to be self-evident must face a painful fact: Critical communities within the American electorate are no longer convinced that global leadership will lead us to greater security and prosperity. It is therefore incumbent upon us not only to stand for the values that made America a beacon of hope, but to also demonstrate that those values won’t leave behind Americans who’ve been stranded by accelerating globalization.
Those who seek to replace President Trump face a weighty challenge: They must not only offer an alternative to America’s current collision course with irrelevance, but must also offer succor to those who fear that leadership will come at the cost of those already adrift in the global economy. Their inclusion in the rewards of American leadership is vital to legitimizing and empowering the revival of America’s position in the world. And their ability to thrive in the world we wish to create is inexorably tied to America’s ability to once again espouse the values that preserve and protect peace, prosperity, and progress.
We who identify with the example of leaders like Harry Truman have a responsibility to report for duty in the campaign ahead. No less than America’s legacy and the prospects for democracy, free enterprise, and cooperative security is on the line. America is watching, and the world is waiting; so, let’s get to work!
Scott A. Olson is a writer, a former congressional staffer, and a Political Partner with Truman National Security Project. He holds a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University, a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, and worked for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy to Turkey from 2012 to 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @SOlsonOR. Views expressed are his own.