Courtesy Reuters

The Land of Hope Again?

An Old Dream for a New America

I call you friends, but you are much more. You made my life possible when you freed my father from a German concentration camp on May 8, 1945. You gave me dreams when, as a lonely European child, I watched American movies, especially Westerns. And you gave me hope when Harvard University received me as a graduate student more warmly and deeply than any French elite school had ever done. I remain a grateful "old European," aware of the "duty of memory," aware of what you did for my continent and for my family in the last century. That is precisely why I have felt so disappointed and have not been able to recognize you for the last eight years.

The United States I used to love, respect, and defend has been imprisoned by a culture of fear. It underreacted in the lead-up to 9/11 and overreacted in its aftermath. It no longer practices the virtues and principles it preaches. After the scandals of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, I could not defend it because it deserved many of the criticisms it received. Fanatical terrorists could not defeat you, but you were on the verge of defeating yourself by violating your great democratic principles. Now, you are about to elect a new president. Since I cannot vote in your election, I feel compelled to write this letter, for your presidential choice is crucial not only for you but also for non-Americans like me.

The United States might no longer be a hyperpower (as Hubert Védrine, the former French foreign minister, once described it), but it retains a centrality in the world that is both emotional and material. Globalization may have reduced the United States' economic and strategic weight, but it has reinforced its cultural importance. Those countries that may have begun the process of overtaking the United States are largely Americanized -- at least in terms of their consumption ambitions, if not their political models. Today's biggest challenge may be that 1.3 billion Chinese

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