Hamilton: It is time to show our resilience

Updated 12/24/2020 1:03 PM

If you pay attention to global affairs, you know that increasing numbers of people believe U.S. leadership in the world is coming to an end and the West more broadly is being eclipsed.

These predictions are exaggerated, but they are not without some basis. Our challenges have grown. It is time to re-establish our capacity for change and adaptation.


The biggest external challenge we face, of course, is the rise of China and the competition it offers to the democratic model. It is not just that its wealth, military power and leverage around the world have all grown. It is also that China has had an astonishing rise, pulling millions of people out of poverty, drawing attention for its innovation and infrastructure development and building one of the world's leading economies.

This is an important point. You do not build prestige abroad by collapsing at home. You cannot separate domestic and foreign policy. The world pays close attention to how we deal with internal problems, and our actions within our borders profoundly affect our standing and leverage as we assert global leadership.

So how do we re-energize our global role? We begin, of course, at home, by bringing the pandemic under control, reinvigorating our own economy and recommitting to the rule of law, to basic, long-established democratic processes, and to the core values of justice, fairness and opportunity for all our citizens.

Then, we need to return to the basics, which have taken a beating in recent years. We built our preeminence by using an international approach during the post-WWII period, working skillfully with allies to lead the West.

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We also must restore basic democratic values -- promotion of democracy, treating people decently, opposing corruption and abuse of human rights -- to a prominent role in our foreign policy.

Obviously, American military power is part of our strength. People pay attention to us in no small part because of that power.

But they also pay attention because of our willingness to work with others. In order to enhance our appeal, we need a well-functioning national security system with expanded arms control agreements. We have to counter Iran wherever and whenever possible -- in a manner that does not risk war in the Middle East. And we must identify and oppose the world's bad actors by exposing their weaknesses, corruption, and dictatorial tendencies.

We also need to lead the fight on climate change. All the other issues we face are important, but this one is existential, and we do not have much time to get it right.

Finally, to help the US revitalize its place in the world, we will need strong, capable, realistic, and professional officials filling the key roles. That is true in the intelligence community, where unbiased and clear-eyed knowledge of events and other leaders is vital. And it is true in diplomacy, economics, the national security apparatus, and elsewhere, where depth, knowledge, and expertise are vital.

• Former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government.

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