U.S. Marine Corp Assaultman Kirk Dalrymple watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad in this April 9, 2003 file photo.
U.S. Marine Corp Assaultman Kirk Dalrymple watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad in this April 9, 2003 file photo.
File / Reuters

Editor's note:

This is the second in a series of commissioned essays on foreign policy concerns for the next president. A Republican view is scheduled for the July/August issue.


Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy last fall, President George W. Bush delivered an important statement of American purpose. He rightly argued that the United States has an interest in political freedom in Muslim countries, because the absence of freedom denies people peaceful avenues for expressing dissent and thus drives them toward shadowy, violent alternatives. He fairly criticized past administrations for having been too tolerant of authoritarian Arab regimes. And he committed the United States to the difficult but vital task of supporting more open and democratic societies in the Middle East.

But with few exceptions, the democratic activists, politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in the Muslim world—our natural partners in this effort—met President Bush's speech with skepticism, even disdain. Across the Middle East, his words did little to improve popular perceptions of the United States and its intentions.

The problem is not that Arabs reject the president's message. According to recent surveys of the region by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, significant majorities of people from Morocco to Jordan to Pakistan are democrats: they say they want to live in societies where leaders are freely elected, where free speech is protected, and where the rule of law is respected. Yet paradoxically, equally large majorities in the very same countries now insist that they do not "like American ideas about democracy."

Similar contradictions abound in other parts of the world. Washington is committed to defending South Korea if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, yet growing numbers of young South Koreans see the United States as a greater threat to security than North Korea. We are waging a war on terrorism that is as vital to Europe's security as to our own, yet increasing numbers of Europeans associate it with self-interested American power and therefore press their leaders to reject it.

Such negative feelings result in part from a natural resentment of U.S. military, economic, and cultural might, about which we can do little and for which we need not apologize. But they have been accentuated by the manner in which the Bush administration has pursued its goals. The administration's high-handed style and its gratuitous unilateralism have embittered even those most likely to embrace American values and invited opposition even from those with most to gain from American successes. All around the world, fewer and fewer people accept that any connection exists between their aspirations and the principles Washington preaches.

As a result, although the United States has never enjoyed greater power than it does today, it has rarely possessed so little influence. We can compel, but far too often we cannot persuade. Our most important global initiatives, from advancing reform in the Middle East to defeating terrorism, will likely fail, unless there is a change in approach—or a change in leadership.


The foreign policy debate in this year's presidential election is as much about means as it is about ends. Most Democrats agree with President Bush that the fight against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) must be top global priorities, that the war in Afghanistan was necessary and just, and that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a threat that needed to be dealt with in one form or another. Over time, moreover, the Bush administration has, at least rhetorically, embraced the Democrats' argument that to win the war on terrorism the United States must do more than destroy something bad; it must also construct something good, supporting other peoples' aspirations to live in freedom and peace and to conquer poverty and disease.

But the manner in which the Bush administration has advanced these goals has been driven by a radical set of convictions about how the United States should act on the world stage. Key strategists inside the administration appear to believe that in a chaotic world, U.S. power—particularly military power—is the only real force for advancing U.S. interests, that as long as the United States is feared it does not matter much if we are admired. These same people believe it is best to recruit temporary "coalitions of the willing" to back our foreign actions, because permanent alliances require too many compromises. They believe the United States is perforce a benign power with good intentions and therefore does not need to seek legitimacy from the approval of others. And they believe that international institutions and international law are nothing more than a trap set by weaker nations to constrain us.

These are not new ideas. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, a hard-line faction of congressional Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft, fought virtually every measure to build the postwar international order. They opposed NATO and the permanent deployment of U.S. troops in Europe, believing we should rely on the unilateral exercise of military power to defeat Soviet designs. They fought the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and turned against the UN. And they disdained "one worlders" such as Eleanor Roosevelt for their support of international law. Taft Republicans were briefly dominant in the U.S. Congress (until the combined efforts of Democrats and internationalist Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower relegated them to the sidelines). But their radical world-view never drove policy in the executive branch—until today.

The real "clash of civilizations" is taking place within Washington. Considering the open differences between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is even playing out within the Bush administration itself. It is not really a clash over discrete policy issues—the merits of the war in Iraq, the costs of the Kyoto Protocol, or the level of spending on foreign aid, for example—but between diametrically opposed conceptions of America's role in the world. It is a battle fought between liberal internationalists in both parties who believe that our strength is usually greatest when we work in concert with allies in defense of shared values and interests, versus those who seem to believe that the United States should go it alone—or not go it at all.

Bush administration hard-liners have not been bashful about defining and defending their vision. In an election year, Democrats must also be clear about what they believe and about what they would do to advance U.S. security, prosperity, and democratic ideals, to restore our influence, standing, and ability to lead. Democrats must outline a foreign policy that not only sets the right goals, but also rebuilds America's capacity to achieve them.


Every postwar administration, Republican and Democratic, has believed that there are things in this world worth fighting: threatening regimes or individuals who deserve to be called evil and can be stopped only by force. And today, although we must try to change the political and economic conditions in which terrorist movements are spawned, we must recognize that simply addressing root causes will not stop committed terrorists from attacking the United States and our allies; such people must be apprehended or killed.

Likewise, we must reject the convenient fallacies that free markets inevitably give rise to free societies or that globalization by itself will lead to peace. Nations and leaders are not captive to abstract historical forces but act in accordance with their interests and ambitions. For the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies must be prepared to employ raw military and economic power to check the ambitions of those who threaten our interests.

A posture of strength and resolve and a willingness to define clear terms and to impose consequences are clearly the right approach for dealing with our adversaries. But where the Bush administration has gone badly wrong is in applying its "with us or against us" philosophy to friends as well as foes. Put simply, our natural allies are much more likely to be persuaded by the power of American arguments than by the argument of American power. Democratically elected leaders—whether in Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, or South Korea—must sustain popular support for joint endeavors with the United States. When we work to convince them that the United States is using its strength for the common good, we enable them to stand with us. But when we compel them to serve our ends, we make it politically necessary, even advantageous, for them to resist us. It would have been hard to imagine a decade ago that leaders of Germany and South Korea—two nations that owe their existence to the sacrifice of American blood—would win elections by appealing to anti-Americanism.

Going into Iraq, the Bush administration believed that most of our allies would get on board if we made it clear that the train would leave without them. It also believed that we did not need the legitimacy UN authorization and involvement would have bestowed. Those theories did not stand up to reality. Washington's failure to gain the support of capable allies (France, Germany, and Turkey, rather than, say, the Marshall Islands) vastly increased the human, financial, and strategic costs of the war and has threatened the success of the occupation.

The administration continued to squander U.S. influence with its allies even after the war. Much has been said about the Pentagon's rash decision to deny Iraqi reconstruction contracts to companies from NATO allies such as Canada, France, and Germany, just as the United States was asking them to forgive Iraqi debt. But few people noticed the administration's even more bizarre decision to suspend millions in military aid to countries that supported the war because they refused to grant Americans full immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the end, we treated "new Europe" as shabbily as we treated "old Europe."

As for the UN, a few months after the Iraq invasion the administration found that the leader of Iraq's dominant Shia community would not even talk to American officials, much less accept our plan for elections in Iraq. So Washington begged the UN to step in on our behalf: a belated recognition that our actions are seen as more legitimate when the international community embraces them.

A Democratic administration will need to reaffirm the United States' willingness to use military power—alone if necessary—in defense of its vital interests. But it will have no more urgent task than to restore America's global moral and political authority, so that when we decide to act we can persuade others to join us. Achieving this reversal will require forging a new strategic bargain with our closest allies, particularly in Europe. To this end, Washington should begin with a simple statement of policy: that the United States will act in concert with its allies in meeting global threats as a first, not last, resort. When we ask our allies to join us in military action, or in nation-building efforts in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be ready to share not just the risks but also the decision-making. That is what we did when NATO went to war in Bosnia and Kosovo, and what the administration irresponsibly failed to do when NATO invoked its collective defense clause to offer aid to the United States in Afghanistan. The U.S. side of the bargain must also include a disciplined focus on our true global priorities, starting with the war on terrorism, undistracted by petty ideological disputes over issues such as Kyoto, the ICC, and the biological weapons convention.

The Democratic approach to resolving disputes with Europe over treaties should be pragmatic, focused on improving flawed agreements rather than ripping them up. International law is not self-enforcing. It does not, by itself, solve anything. But when our goals are embodied in binding agreements, we can gain international support in enforcing them when they are violated. By the same token, nothing undermines U.S. authority more than the perception that the United States considers itself too powerful to be bound by the norms we preach to others.


As part of a new bargain with our allies, the United States must re-engage in what the rest of the world rightly considers the cornerstone of a lasting transformation of the Middle East: ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So long as that dispute continues, Arab rulers will use it as an excuse to avoid reform and to resist open cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism.

A point may have been reached where unilateral steps by Israel to protect its security are inevitable. For more than three years now, the people of Israel have been subjected to a brutal, unprecedented assault. But the Israeli government's moves must be a way station, rather than an illusory end point, advancing changes in Palestinian leadership that could help foster a negotiated settlement. If Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and the West Bank are coordinated with the Palestinians, and if an Israeli fence is seen as a temporary measure shaped by security and demographic concerns (as opposed to a land grab), hope for a real solution will be preserved. If not, the vacuum left by the withdrawals could result in a failed terrorist haven dominated by Hamas radicals. In this nightmare scenario, the suicidal Palestinian strategy of terror would continue, pushing Israel not to the sea but to the right. A long-term war of attrition would leave Israelis even more divided and disillusioned, and a whole new generation of children in the region would grow up seeing the United States as the problem, not the solution.

U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has traditionally rested on two pillars. We are Israel's staunchest ally. And we are an honest broker between the two sides, which has made us not impartial, but, rather, partial to an agreement that both assures Israel's security and guarantees a dignified life for Palestinians. A Democratic administration must return with energy and urgency to these principles. It should stand solidly behind Israel in its fight against terrorism and help ordinary Palestinians to liberate themselves from a leadership concerned with little more than its own survival. It should also lead the international community in offering a realistic vision of how life would look for Palestinians if they were to accept and respect the security and existence of the Jewish state of Israel. And it should offer the outlines of a two-state solution—giving Palestinians something to gain and something to lose. The stakes are enormous and there is no way forward without active American engagement.

As we re-engage in the peace process and rebuild frayed ties with our allies, what should a Democratic president ask of our allies in return? First and foremost, we should ask for a real commitment of troops and money to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now that NATO has finally agreed to lead an expanded peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, there is a desperate need for European forces to augment the existing U.S. military presence in the country, to ensure that it does not return to a state of chaos that threatens our interests. Afghanistan, with Pakistan, remains a frontline battleground in the war on terrorism. But given the state of transatlantic relations, there is little support in Europe for sending troops on dangerous missions there. A new administration will have to overcome this challenge if it is to restore security to Afghanistan and relieve the burden on U.S. forces.

Iraq, too, will require a generational commitment by the international community. Regardless of whether the war was justified, everyone now has a profound stake in Iraq's success. The disintegration of that country along ethnic and religious fault lines would destabilize the Middle East and energize radical movements that threaten the world. A stable and democratic Iraq, on the other hand, would stimulate reform throughout the region. Attaining the latter outcome will require continuous involvement in Iraq's reconstruction and political development, as well as a proactive military posture that does not leave foreign troops hunkered down in bases and barracks, delegating security to an ill-prepared Iraqi security force. But that level of involvement will be unsustainable—and will be considered illegitimate by ordinary Iraqis—unless it is viewed as a truly international, rather than exclusively American, effort.

The irony is that the Bush administration's unilateralist approach has let our allies off the hook: it has given them an excuse to shirk these and other global responsibilities. A Democratic administration would not be so dismissive of our allies on the issues that matter to them. In turn, it would have authority to demand far more of them on the issues that matter to us—whether stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, democratizing the Middle East, or combating the spread and potential use of WMD.


The Bush administration's argument for invading Iraq rested, in part, on the belief that the United States cannot wait until a WMD threat is imminent before taking action. Yet its overall approach to combating WMD proliferation defies the logic of this position.

A Democratic administration should use every tool at its disposal to prevent WMD threats from arising before force becomes the only option. The most obvious early measure Washington can take to keep deadly weapons materials from falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue regimes is to secure them at source. Yet the current administration has shown little interest in accelerating or expanding programs to do this. Indeed, President Bush tried to cut back the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for the former Soviet Union early in his term. At our current pace, it will take 13 years to complete security upgrades at every site containing plutonium and highly enriched uranium in Russia. With increased funding for Nunn-Lugar, this process could be accelerated to 4 years. Beyond Russia, dozens of research reactors contain the raw materials for making a radiological or nuclear weapon. We should lead a global effort to secure nuclear materials at all such sites.

The one country that we know has the capacity, and conceivably the inclination, actually to sell a working nuclear weapon to a terrorist group is North Korea. Yet the administration has reacted with inexplicable complacency as North Korea has crossed line after line on its way to becoming the world's first nuclear Wal-Mart. Pyongyang is now capable of producing, and potentially selling, up to 6 nuclear weapons at any time—possibly 20 a year by the end of this decade—something that even the most dire intelligence estimates did not predict in Iraq. We do not know how much plutonium North Korea has reprocessed into useable nuclear fuel over the past 18 months, since it expelled international monitors while we were busy negotiating the shape of the table.

A Democratic administration must clearly and promptly test whether Kim Jong Il intends North Korea to become a nuclear factory or whether he will negotiate his way into the international community. U.S. officials must put a serious proposition on the table—a nationwide, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political integration—and be prepared to sequence implementation in a reciprocal way once the ultimate objectives are accepted. We must be prepared to take yes for an answer. And if Pyongyang's answer is no, South Korea, Japan, and China will join us in coercive actions only if they are convinced that we made a serious, good-faith effort to avoid confrontation. The worst option is one in which cash-starved North Korea becomes a supplier of nuclear weapons to al Qaeda or Hamas or to radical Chechens, who then deliver them to Washington, London, or Moscow.

We need the same kind of "overt action" plan for Iran, offering—in full public view—normal relations in exchange for total renunciation of nuclear aspirations and terrorism by Tehran. Let the Iranian government say no to such an offer and be the obstacle to its people's aspirations, a decision that would create its own dynamic inside Iran. We have other problems with Iran and North Korea, including their appalling human rights abuses. But those can best be addressed if we first bring them out of isolation.

A Democratic administration should seek to strengthen global rules against proliferation more generally. The existing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) established an important norm. Since 1975, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, and now Libya have reversed course and given up their nuclear weapons programs under its auspices. But the NPT remains flawed, because it permits countries to develop all the building blocks of a nuclear weapons program and then to withdraw from the treaty without penalty once they are ready to enrich uranium or produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

We should press for a new bargain. Nuclear powers such as the United States should help non-nuclear countries develop nuclear energy and provide them with uranium. But they should maintain control of the fuel cycle, taking back spent nuclear material and storing it securely so it cannot be used to build weapons. (Clearly, there are risks associated with how and where fuel is stored, but there is no risk-free alternative.) Any country that seeks to escape this strict system of controls should be subject to automatic UN sanctions. To hope to convince non-nuclear powers to agree to this arrangement, the United States should lead by example. That means giving up the Bush administration's irresponsible plan to develop a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons (which sends the message that nuclear weapons are a useful instrument of war) and joining the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


Most Democrats agree with President Bush that terrorists, and even recalcitrant regimes on occasion, must be confronted with force. The question should be how, not whether, our military and intelligence assets are employed, and whether we are adapting them rapidly enough to the challenges the United States faces today.

Since the Cold War ended, we have witnessed two generations of military reform: from amassing huge armored units to an emphasis on deploying light forces anywhere in the world, and from analog-based technology to the digital information age. The war on terrorism will require a third military transformation. Although we still need the capacity to fight conventional wars, we now must seek out and destroy enemies that hide in the shadows, often among civilians, without tanks or fighter planes. At heart, this effort will be an intelligence challenge. A new administration should launch a major retooling of our intelligence agencies, including appointing a director of national intelligence with authority over our entire intelligence budget, rather than the 20 cents on the dollar that the current CIA director controls.

Of course, there will also be times when the war on terrorism tests our military, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen, and in the Philippines. What will the war on terrorism require in terms of new doctrines, tactics, equipment, and training? How will it change our military organization? How can we defeat this new enemy while upholding the values that protect our own troops in wartime and that define who we are? The Bush administration has not addressed these questions. A Democratic administration must answer them.

The Bush administration believes that our military should be reserved for war fighting; it came to office averse to peacekeeping and nation building and deeply suspicious of long-term U.S. military deployments overseas. This prejudice drove strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq—with disastrous consequences. After driving the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the administration delegated the building of a nation to the same warlords who destroyed the Afghan nation in the early 1990s. As for Iraq, it sent the minimum number of troops needed to defeat the enemy, without simultaneously deploying forces to occupy and secure the ground those troops were liberating. The result was postwar chaos that emboldened terrorists and soured the coalition's relationship with Iraqis.

What Democrats must offer is a sense of realism: when the United States goes to war it had better be prepared to stay where it has fought, to fix what it has broken, and to work with allies for years, if necessary, to consolidate its victories. We must demonstrate staying power, not just firepower, whether in the Balkans or Afghanistan or Iraq.

Part of the problem has been reluctance in certain military quarters to adapt our armed forces to these kinds of missions. Some military leaders fear that if the army develops peacekeeping capacity, civilian leaders will be too tempted to use it. But the fact remains that presidents of both parties have sent our forces on at least seven major postconflict peacekeeping or "stability" operations in the last decade. Denial is not a strategy for preparedness. Like it or not, such operations will inevitably be a large part of the military's role for the foreseeable future. A Democratic administration will need to ensure that our army has the force structure, training, and appropriate weaponry to do what we ask of it, including fighting enemies, combating insurgencies, safeguarding public security, and protecting civilians. And it must ensure that we have civilian institutions—domestic and international—that are prepared to act so that our military is not asked to do more than is necessary.

If the Bush administration were more committed to collective action, it would have greater authority to press NATO allies to improve their military capabilities. We cannot accept a division of labor in which we fight and they talk. We will be confronted with the need to rebuild failed and postconflict societies, yet we should not be compelled to do so alone. We need international institutions with ready-to-move capability. Ensuring such capability is imperative for the UN if it is to maintain its relevance. A Democratic administration should lead an effort to turn the UN into the NATO of civilian peacekeeping, giving it the capacity to call upon member countries' dedicated capabilities—from police to civil servants—and deploy them rapidly to hot spots around the world.


The primary objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to make the United States more secure, which means applying our power to the fight against terrorism and the spread of deadly weapons. But if there is one lesson we should have learned in the last three years, it is that American power will be resisted—even by our friends—if it is applied solely for self-protection and not for purposes that are more broadly shared.

With precious few exceptions (including President Bush's Middle East democracy initiative and his realization that the United States must help combat AIDS), we have witnessed a narrowing of purpose and vision since September 11, 2001. Before that date, the administration had a national missile defense policy. It now has a terrorism policy and an Iraq policy. But the Bush administration still does not have a true foreign policy suited to the demands of a global power with global responsibilities. We must start leading again across a broader agenda, in more places, and with a wider definition of our national interest.

The next president must end our neglect of Latin America and restore the United States' reputation as a defender of democracy, which has been frayed by the Bush administration's approaches to Venezuela and Haiti. He must treat Africa as more than a backwater in the war on terrorism. President Bush's promise to send U.S. troops to Liberia, only to pull them back after ten days ashore, did enormous damage to our reputation on that continent.

In Asia, home to more than half of the world's people, a tectonic geopolitical and economic shift is taking place. But the United States remains strangely disengaged. Not long ago, the nations of the region feared China and saw their future tied to ours. Today, the reverse is happening. China has skillfully turned most of the countries of Southeast Asia, including Australia, into allies. Its economy is growing by leaps and bounds, it has stepped up to diplomatic challenges such as that posed by North Korea, and it is increasingly seen as a dominant power in the region. Russia, flush with oil, is emerging as a stable and growing power and asserting itself in Asia. India is emerging from generations of insularity and self-absorption, opening itself up to the world. A Democratic administration will have to ensure that the United States stays in the game in Asia. It must encourage emerging regional powers to channel their energies in the right directions and restore our leadership in responding to regional crises.

The new president will also need to reassert U.S. interest in what happens inside the borders of China and Russia. The stakes are enormous: without political reform, China will stagnate economically, unable to meet the demands of hundreds of millions dislocated by change. And without more widespread respect for the rule of law, or for its neighbors' sovereignty, Russia will neither attract investment nor energize its people. True realists understand the linkage between the way countries are governed and their external behavior. Yet the Bush administration has largely ignored questions of internal development in these countries. President Bush has not once articulated a comprehensive strategy for dealing with China or Russia, instead concerning himself narrowly with their actions on the global stage.

A Democratic president will face the challenge of restoring the substantive as well as the geographical reach of our foreign policy, showing the world that we understand a simple truth: all terrorism is evil, but not all evil is terrorism. For the vast majority of people in the world, the greatest danger is not al Qaeda. It is localized armed conflict over political power, resources, and ethnicity. It is poverty, disease, and environmental destruction. These scourges claim exponentially more lives each year than terrorism does. They should matter to us as much as we expect our concerns to matter to others.

To this end, the United States should be seen as a peacemaker again, actively engaged in the resolution of conflicts from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to Central and West Africa, helping to build the peacekeeping capabilities of other nations, and willing to contribute money and troops, alongside our allies, when our interests and values are at stake. Even when the chances of success are small, such efforts help reveal that American power can serve the common good.

A Democratic administration should also fund a greater U.S. commitment to combating infectious disease. For all the headlines and paper promises of action, fewer than 1 in 5 people in the world at risk of AIDS have access to preventive services. Fewer than 1 in 50 infected people receive the drugs they need; in Africa, the number is only 1 in 1,000. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has asked rich countries to contribute just $10 billion a year to save millions of lives. The United States can and should give more than its fair share of this amount, so we can prod other countries to do the same.

A Democratic administration should launch a major global initiative to bring clean water to the hundreds of millions of people in poor countries who do not have it. It must do more to enable children, especially girls, to go to school. And it must seek to close the "digital divide"—the increasing gap between rich and poor in technology availability. A Democratic president must treat these issues as part of a personal crusade again, including them in every foreign summit and speech, and challenging leaders around the world and in the private sector to do more.

A Democratic administration should champion expanding trade as the best long-term hope for gaining prosperity in rich and poor countries alike. It should urge Europeans to end their farm subsidies, which impoverish farmers in the developing world (the average cow in the European Union gets more than $2 a day in state support, more than most people in Africa have to live on), while having the courage to cut U.S. farm subsidies as well. The next president must also recognize that an agenda that pursues growth without equity is destined to achieve neither goal. Gene Sperling, President Bill Clinton's former national economic adviser, has proposed a "new consensus on free trade," one that expands open markets while addressing the legitimate concerns of workers. His proposal prioritizes investing in education and retraining before jobs are lost, providing comprehensive services to dislocated workers, adjusting tax and health care policies that make job creation in the United States less attractive, and fighting abuses of labor rights overseas.

Finally, it is time for the United States to confront climate change. Unchecked global warming could devastate the global economy and global agriculture, lead to massive population movements, and literally wipe some nations off the face of the earth. This rising tide will sink all boats. A Democratic president will need to meet this threat with courage and alacrity, strengthening bipartisan efforts, such as the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act (which was narrowly defeated in the Senate last year), to cut greenhouse gas emissions, re-engaging with our allies either to rescue or to revise the Kyoto Protocol, and launching initiatives to address life-and-death concerns such as expanding deserts and shrinking forests.


President Bush says that the front line of the war on terrorism is in Iraq and that it is better to fight our enemies in Baghdad than in Baltimore. That formulation is fundamentally flawed. The front line today is wherever we are, particularly in those places where people don't want us to be. Because of this reality, it is essential that we define who we are in a way that isolates our enemies, rather than ourselves. That notion was something well understood by American leaders during the Cold War. Of course, the United States was not universally loved, but we did at least build an enduring set of alliances, rooted in a genuine sense of shared interests and based on ties among peoples, not just governments. During those years, America was admired where it counted most: in the nations behind the Iron Curtain, the chief battleground of the Cold War. Poles, Hungarians, and ordinary Russians saw us as credible champions of their democratic aspirations. There was no anti-Americanism in Eastern Europe that communist governments could stoke to deflect U.S. pressure for change or that extremists could exploit to win support for their aims. Imagine if there had been. Would the Cold War have ended as it did? Would the Soviet empire have collapsed when it did? If it had, what would have replaced it?

These are precisely the kinds of questions we face now in the greater Middle East and more broadly around the world. We have the raw power to impose our will when we must, and far more often than not that power has been used for good, not ill. But whoever is president, we will need to rely most often on persuasion, not power, to achieve our goals. Who will be persuaded to stand with America if we do not stand for something larger than ourselves? Who will voluntarily work with us if we demand cooperation entirely on our terms? And if we do succeed in challenging the status quo in the Islamic world, as we did in Eastern Europe a generation ago, what will take its place, if U.S. leadership is rejected by those people who wish to bring about change?

The good news is that the world is eager for the United States to return to its tradition of leadership. Most countries would still be far more worried by the prospect of American isolationism than by American unilateralism. We can seize on these sentiments to forge new coalitions against terrorism and WMD and to build a freer, safer world.

But having the right aims is not enough. The United States needs leaders who ensure that our means do not undermine our ends. We need a forward-looking realism, without the ideological rigidity that has alienated our natural allies around the world. We need, in short, to reunite our power with moral authority. Only that combination will weaken our enemies and inspire our friends.

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  • Samuel R. Berger served as National Security Adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001 and is Chairman of Stonebridge International, LLC.
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