American leadership matters


After World War I the United States retreated from global affairs. During the 1920s and the depression of the 1930s the policy approach was to isolate, in hopes of protecting the U.S. economy. Notwithstanding the huge public works programs effected by President Roosevelt, it was the production demands of a global war, World War II, that pulled the U.S. out of the depression.

Today’s world has no resemblance to that of the 1920s. In the 21st century, we find ourselves in an extraordinarily interconnected world, both politically and economically. To make the obvious point, a few examples.

· Solar panels, in 2022, 78% were made in China. The USA, 1.9%.

· Cobalt, essential for lithium batteries; 42% of it comes from the Congo.

· Inflation, largely driven today by oil prices and OPEC+ pricing.

· Cyber threats, by way of disinformation and misinformation from foreign bad actors threaten our elections and democracy in unprecedented ways.

· Semiconductors, the building blocks of high-tech economies, are largely produced in Asia, with Taiwan, South Korea and China leading the way, followed by the U.S., Japan and Germany.

· Artificial intelligence, it’s a game changer, and it’s serious global competition.

Economically, if the U.S. disengages from the rest of the world, we unplug ourselves from the future. In this day and age, trade, resources and global markets are the lifeblood of leading economies. Yet this side of the calculus is mostly about the production and manufacturing.

Politics, ideology and influence are the other side of the global contest and may ultimately matter most. Vladimir Putin has made it extravagantly clear that one of his global goals is to undermine American democracy and to destabilize our political system. His motives are the motives of a ravenous dictator craving power, prestige, supremacy and territory. As a petty dictator Putin can’t abide by the strength and influence of the U.S. The Viktor Orbáns, Aleksandr Lukashenkos, Nicolas Maduros and Recep Erdogans of this world suffer from the same mental psychosis.

Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi of India are cut from a different cloth, both with delusions of personal power but absolutely driven by the desire for economic strength and influence.

Those who would have us withdraw our support from Ukraine, snub our NATO and European Union allies, surrender economic development of Africa to China, pull out of the troublesome Middle East, leave fighting terrorist organizations to regional states, bastion our borders with elevated trade-barrier tariffs, fail to appreciate the degree to which our influence in the world would plummet.

Aggressive global leaders can swiftly sniff out emerging political and economic vacuums and respond with aggression. The name of the game in international competition is: “He who hesitates is lost.”

There are things about America’s influence in the world that we take for granted, yet they are subject to erosion if not assertively maintained.

The English language long ago replaced French as the lingua franca of the world. If you travel the world today there are few places you can go where you can’t find people who speak English. It’s the global language of business, finance and travel.

Despite China’s immense size, both economically and demographically, the business and financial language of the world is not Chinese. It’s English.

Despite the size of the economies of China, India, Brazil, Japan, South Korea and the European Union, the U.S. dollar is the currency of global trade and banking in the world, not the yuan, ruble, rupee, real, euro, yen or the won.

China is pushing hard to get Asian and African financial development dealings, especially those associated with their massive “Belts and Roads” initiatives, financed with the Chinese yuan. Chinese loans to developing countries, which are proliferating globally, are all done by way of China’s currency. In global finance, the Chinese will take what is given or available. If we retreat, they will advance.

The United States, in spite of recurring criticisms, is regarded worldwide as the critical stabilizing global force, both politically and economically. Other countries balance their national security and economic interests on the prevailing presence of the United States.

Maintaining this critical prevailing presence is not an easy thing to do. I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fourth’s admission: “Uneasy (heavy) lies the head that wears the crown.” While our values and freedoms are paramount domestically, sometimes we have to navigate in and around global shoals to be proactively involved and influential.

Barry Gewen, journalist and biographer of another Henry, Henry Kissinger, once summarized Kissinger’s central foreign policy premise this way: “If doing good in the world is what you yearn for, you aren’t cut out for foreign affairs.” That may be true to some extent, although I think there’s evidence that Kissinger was very mindful of “doing good” when possible in a complex world. But what Kissinger personifies is the notion of political persistence when it comes to the importance of maintaining America’s primacy in matters of global affairs.

Admiral William McRaven, retired, who was responsible for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice, said recently in a Time magazine interview, “Even people who may disagree with our politics understand that U.S. leadership is the most important in the world, because who else is going to lead if we don’t? Nobody of any consequence really wants Russia or China leading, certainly not our allies. So we need to continue to keep those alliances strong in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, or building alliances in the Middle East. Whoever is the next president of the United States needs to continue to reinforce these alliances.”

To be competitive and relevant in the world today, at a level we Americans have come to expect along with other nations of the world, is hard work. It’s expensive and demands persistence. Do we really want to surrender our democratic values, put at risk our leadership and economic prominence to power hungry despots who would like nothing better than to end the USA’s leadership in the world? That’s not a world I want my grandchildren to live in.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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