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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs


How To Lead the World: To restore America's greatness, start by listening to others and tending matters at home

Enough: Americans should lead by example, and start by closing Guantanamo

Newsweek, January 1, 2008

You will take office at a challenging time. U.S. troops are still deployed in an unpopular war in Iraq. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Emerging powers, especially China and India, are demanding a greater say in world affairs. U.S. allies resent America's propensity for acting unilaterally, yet also fear it will withdraw from global leadership. This is a pivotal moment: the United States can either return to the strategies that helped it become the most powerful and respected nation on earth—or continue down a path that will lead it to be feared or ignored.

To steer the nation in the right direction, you must begin with some core principles. Start by listening. The United States may not always agree with its friends—and certainly won't with its enemies—but there's much to be gained by entertaining others' views before heading off boldly on its own. To get off on the right foot, invite respected Islamic thinkers and leaders to an ongoing White House dialogue to bridge the gap between America and the Muslim world.

Next, the United States must seize opportunities to serve broader global goals as well as its own—starting with climate change. More and more countries are coming to recognize that this is one of the world's most important threats. By providing leadership, you can shape the agenda, demonstrate respect for others, dramatically reduce dependence on unstable energy-exporting states and capitalize on American ingenuity and know-how to find technological fixes.

You can't lead abroad, however, if you don't repair relations with Congress. It's often tempting to use executive prerogative to avoid tiresome consensus building, but such tactics backfire in the end. Take Iraq. There is no way to disengage without risks to regional stability and U.S. prestige. But these problems will only get worse if the disengagement process is dogged by partisan bickering. You should reconvene the Iraq Study Group and work with responsible leaders on both sides of the aisle.

America must also get its own economic house in order if it hopes to gain a level playing field for U.S. workers and companies. Rather than retreat on globalization and open trade, we must invest in our own competitiveness and take steps to protect those who will bear the costs of change.

The global balance is changing, and we must make it clear to emerging powers, from China to India to Brazil to South Africa, that the United States welcomes their success and their growing international role, including membership in groups like the G8—so long, that is, as such states are willing to shoulder their share of the burden and help strengthen the international system.

On the military side, Washington must begin devaluing nuclear weapons. The United States can't uninvent them, and will need some nuclear capability for the foreseeable future. But if we want Iran and North Korea to give them up and for China and Russia to limit their arsenals and prevent proliferation, we must take steps of our own: canceling new weapons programs - like the nuclear bunker buster, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and mounting a massive global campaign to secure loose nukes and nuclear materials. Finally, don't hesitate to stand up for our values: democracy, the rule of law and human rights. But remember that the best way to get others to share them is by example, not coercion. Close Guantanamo. Join the International Criminal Court.

There's no silver bullet for restoring America's global standing—but nothing is more essential for its long-term future. Only a sustained commitment to these core principles will allow the United States to achieve this all-important goal.

Copyright © 2008 by Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.