As the world’s leader, postelection America faces two challenges: One is to regain its reputation as a nation that is respected abroad; the other is to establish an enduring system of cooperation with the international community.
The United States was once respected for what it said and did, and much of the world admired and accepted its leadership. After the end of World War II, the U.S. took the initiative in creating the United Nations with the aim of establishing international peace. It helped rebuild war-ravaged Europe under the Marshall Plan for economic recovery. It transformed totalitarian Japan and Germany into democracies. American pop culture — Hollywood movies, blue jeans and the like — have thrilled young people the world over.
By contrast, the unilateralist policy pursued by the administration of President George W. Bush has caused sharp divisions not only at home but also in the international community. The U.S. takes pride in its global role as the standard bearer of democracy, but on Mr. Bush’s watch it appears to have spawned fear and resentment abroad, squandering much of the good will and respect it had earned in the past.
Human-rights abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for example, have exposed the ugly side of an arrogant superpower. America, deeply divided, faces an internal crisis.
The latest election has been criticized as the most expensive, and one of the most rancorous, in the history of U.S. presidential races — a fact that is partly responsible for the neck-and-neck battle to the finish. Ninety percent of American voters rigidly supported either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, leaving little room for compromise. This sentiment has fueled the polarization of American society.
At the same time, however, the first presidential election in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks served as kind of referendum on Mr. Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism. His margin of victory can be taken as evidence that the majority of Americans have confidence in him as the commander in chief.
In his victory speech, it should be noted, Mr. Bush declared: “The voters have delivered a historic victory. I’m humbled by the trust and confidence of my fellow citizens, and I will do my best to fulfill that trust.” Taking his victory as a vote of confidence in his first-term performance, he expressed a willingness to pursue an aggressive domestic and foreign-policy agenda. Of course, he made peace overtures to supporters of Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry, saying he would need their support to make America “stronger and better.” But the big question is, specifically what can be done to unite the divided nation?
As the leader of a political and military superpower, Mr. Bush must address the deep concerns that the American people, as well as citizens of the world, have about the future of America. In opinion polls taken before the election, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, a majority of respondents said they were concerned that America was “moving in the wrong direction.”
The international community is waiting to see whether the Bush administration will continue a hardline unilateralist stance in its second term. The withdrawal of America from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and its refusal to consider joining the Kyoto Protocol against global warming, for example, have already had a damaging impact worldwide.
The Bush administration’s foreign policy of assembling a “coalition of the willing” for the Iraq War on an ad hoc basis has cracked relationships with allies such as France and Germany. International concerns about that policy were bluntly expressed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan when he criticized the war as a violation of the U.N. Charter.
During the election campaign, Mr. Kerry emphasized the importance of building stronger and better alliances, but Mr. Bush made no mention of international cooperation. The deepening turmoil in Iraq and the global spread of terrorist threats attest to the limitations of the unilateralist approach.
No doubt the U.S. will remain at the center of the world order in the 21st century. To demonstrate true leadership, though, it must first regain respect abroad and return to the path of international cooperation. Otherwise, it will be impossible to build a lasting and stable world order.
Welcoming Mr. Bush’s re-election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stressed the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance as an anchor for world peace. But he appeared to be missing the big picture. Closer bilateral cooperation with the U.S. does not obviate the broader need for Japan to promote multilateral cooperation.
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