10/14/2016 america's Role in the World

At a recent campaign rally, Donald Trump stated: “I am not running to be President of the world, just President of the United States”. That declaration shows how little Trump understands the world and America's role in it. For the past 70 years, the President of the Untied States has repeatedly been called "the Leader of the Free World." When World War II ended, the Untied States was the only major country to emerge stronger than when the war began, (which was also the case at the end of World War I).

The United States had a Navy and Air Force many times the size of all the rest of the world's Navies and Air Forces combined. The Soviet Union was the only country with a larger army. The American economy was not damaged like those of its allies and adversaries, but rather grew stronger thanks to the war. Over the course of the next 70 years that fundamental fact has not changed. The US economy has had its ups and downs, but the America still boasts the largest economy in the world, and its Armed Forces remain many times the size of the next largest.

In 1630, when Boston was first founded, its new governor John Winthrop professed: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

John F. Kennedy called forth Winthrop's proclamation. Just before his presidential inauguration, JFK cautioned: "We must always consider, that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us".

On the campaign trail, in 1980, President Reagan once again invoked Winthrop’s affirmation, when he declared “I believe that Americans in 1980 are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining ‘city on a hill,’ as were those long ago settlers.”

President Reagan returned to profess Winthrop’s worldview in his farewell address. Regan spoke about how he saw the city: “But in my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.”

That perspective, of the United States being a special place, has been an essential part of the American ethos since the time of the Pilgrims. In the early days of American history, the US could only impact the rest of the world by example. The French Revolution and the subsequent revolutions in South America, were all spawned – to a greater or lesser degree – by the example of the American Revolution. By the mid-1800’s, the Monroe Doctrine had become an accepted part of world diplomacy and guaranteed that European powers would not interfere in the internal affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

America's lopsided victory over the Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, underscored the fact that the US was a power to be reckoned with on the world stage. By the end of the World War I, the centrality of the US in the world order was clear. Many blame the events that led to World War II, in part, on the US turning inward, following a policy of ‘America First” in the interwar years. When World War II ended, the bi-partisan leadership of the United State vowed that this time the US would remain on the world stage.

The United States was midwife to international organizations like the UN, IMF and World Bank. In the years that have followed, the world has continued to look for leadership from the United States. It’s no wonder that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – before doing anything – just based on the hopes he would lead the world to new and better places. The actions of the United States might not always been beloved, however, regardless of its popularity, America has remained the world's leader.

The 2016 Presidential election, like most American Presidential election is being covered extensively by people throughout the world – sometimes even more closely than their own local elections. That is, before the current US presidential race became a salacious spectacle of Trump's sexual encounters.

In Israel, the US presidential debates were carried live by all three major networks, with the senior leading correspondent getting up long before sunrise to anchor the broadcasts. At 4:00 am in the morning, the three news shows had a 6.0 rating, which translates into almost 6% of Israeli adults had been watching. The morning after both presidential debates the streets of Tel Aviv were full of bleary-eyed residents, whose main topic of discussion was the most recent match of wits and its potential impact of the race. While Israelis have always been especially sensitive to the politics of the United States, with this election, the same state of affairs seems to be the case with people throughout the world.

Usually, the US presidential elections provide an excellent lesson in civics for students the world over. This year, teachers are much more reluctant to make use of the US election as an example of anything positive. This election campaign has, by all accounts, been an embarrassment to United States and civics teachers worldwide.

America's role in the world is an important matter, which should be a central point in any Presidential election campaign. Unfortunately, other than slogan like "Making American great again” or “America is great, because its good”, or we will defeat ISIS, there has been no serious discussion about foreign policy over the course of this entire election campaign. What does it mean today to the United states to be that 'shining city on the hill'? What burdens are American willing to carry to maintain that status? These are a topics worth debating ... Maybe next time.

JFK in the Lincoln Bedroom