The U.S. Leader the World Needs
31 October 2008By Chris Patten 

Around the world, the U.S. presidential election campaign has attracted as much 
attention as domestic political controversies in each of our own countries. The 
interest the world has taken in the U.S. vote is the best example of the United 
States' soft power and a lesson in democracy from the world's only superpower. 
If only we could all vote as well as watch and listen, because the outcome is 
vital for everyone around the world. 

What does the world want -- and, perhaps more importantly, what does it need -- 
from a new U.S. president? 

Much as some may hate to admit it, anti-Americanism is a sentiment that has 
been fed and nurtured during the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency. 
Yet the world still needs U.S. leadership. 

Yes, we are witnessing the emergence of China, Brazil and India as important 
global economic players. Yes, we have watched the humiliating fall of Wall 
Street's masters of the universe. Yes, U.S. military prowess has drained away 
into what Winston Churchill called "the thoughtless deserts of Mesopotamia," 
and its moral authority has been weakened by events in places from Guantanamo 
Bay to Abu Ghraib. 

All that is true. Yet the United States remains the world's only superpower, 
the only nation that matters in every part of the globe and the only country 
capable of mobilizing international action to tackle global problems. 

A new president's first task will be to return the United States' economic 
competitiveness and self-confidence. It will not be easy to rein in 
overspending and overborrowing, to restore the real family values of saving, 
thrift, responsibility and fair reward. Achieving these goals is bound to 
involve a greater regard for social equality, after a period in which the very 
rich have been able to protect a "Roaring Twenties" lifestyle.

With the United States turning away from its global role of borrower of last 
resort, the rest of us will need to sharpen our competitive edge to sell in 
other markets. What is imperative is that this should not be impeded by a 
return to protectionism. A new U.S. president would do well to remember the 
disastrous consequences of protectionism in the 1920s and 1930s. President 
Herbert Hoover's failures should be a sanguinary lesson. 

We all look to the next U.S. president to re-engage with the world community 
and international organizations, accepting that even a superpower should accept 
the rules that apply to others. The United Nations is far from perfect. It 
needs reform, as do the bodies that provide global economic governance. That 
will take time. But a necessary if not sufficient condition for change is the 
U.S. commitment to and leadership of the process. Forget the distraction of 
trying to create an alternative to the UN -- the so-called League of 
Democracies. It won't work. 

We want a new president who will aim to make a success of the Nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty renewal conference in 2010 by scrapping more weapons, 
abandoning research into them and challenging others to do the same. That would 
be the best backdrop to establishing tougher surveillance and monitoring, 
beginning to engage with Iran and searching for a way to involve India and 
Pakistan in a global nuclear agreement. 

Ahead of that, a new president should unleash the United States' creative 
potential in boosting energy efficiency and developing clean technologies. It 
would be a welcome surprise if a comprehensive follow-up to the Kyoto treaty 
could be agreed next year. But at least we should aim to agree on the process 
that will move worldwide discussions in the right direction and, as part of 
that, the United States should aim to engage Europe, China and especially India 
on technological developments like clean coal. 

The U.S. relationship with China will be a key to prosperity and security in 
this new century. I do not think that a struggle for hegemony is inevitable or 
that it would be desirable. The United States should focus more attention on 
China, without ever pretending that Beijing's record on human rights can be 
swept under the carpet. China cannot sustain its economic development without 
political changes and environmental improvements. 

In the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered wise advice to 
the next U.S. president upon his retirement. Israel and Palestine have become, 
he said, the hopeless and bloody prism through which U.S. diplomacy often seems 
to see the world. It has long since been time to move on, making a sustained 
drive for the sort of settlement that was almost achieved in the years of Bill 
Clinton's presidency. 

There is a paradox in all this. The world has for years called for a 
multilateral approach from Washington. When we get one, will the rest of us -- 
Europe, for example -- actually respond with sufficient commitment and drive? 
It would at least be a welcome challenge to be required to put our efforts 
where our mouths have been. 

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, is chancellor of Oxford 
University and a member of the British House of Lords. © Project Syndicate 

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