Reclaiming Global Leadership

The Right Way to Put America First

Kasich at a town hall meeting in Rockville, Maryland, April 2016. Carlos Barria / Reuters

The international system that the United States and its allies created after World War II has benefited the entire world, but global political and economic engagement have left too many Americans behind. Over the last 70 years, free-market democracies have come to dominate the global economy, U.S.-led efforts have dramatically reduced poverty and disease, and the world has been spared great-power conflict. Yet many Americans—myself included—are increasingly coming to believe that our country suffers from a leadership vacuum. People are losing faith that their leaders will work to make all Americans better off and that they will rally us to join with our allies in order to craft cooperative solutions to the global problems that buffet us. Economic growth is delivering benefits for the few but not for the many. Political discourse has become poisoned by partisanship and egotism.

In the face of these challenges, we have a choice between two options: shut the blinds and withdraw from the world or engage with allies old and new to jump-start a new era of opportunity and security. Although American leaders should always put American interests first, that does not mean that we have to build walls, close off markets, or isolate the United States by acting in ways that alienate our allies. Continuing to do that will not insulate us from external challenges; it will simply turn us into bystanders with less and less influence.

I choose cooperation and engagement. Only those who have forgotten the lessons of history can credibly contend that peace and prosperity await us inside “Fortress America.” Yet as evergreen as this debate is—retreat or engage—reaching for set-piece answers to the problems facing the country will not work. New times require new answers, even to old questions. The way forward is not to retreat but to renew our commitment to supporting those who share our values, to reboot our capacity to collaborate, and to forge a new consensus on how to adapt our

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