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« Wanted in 2008: child of '60s shaped by '70s | Main | A bigger definition of 'us,' a better nation at heart »
Sunday
Nov052006

United we stood, but divided we'll stand taller

Whatever your political affiliation, you should be pulling for the Democrats' return to majority power in both houses of Congress. I offer no partisan plea. I'm just convinced that a split government would be better for President Bush, our troops overseas and the world.

A recent Harvard/U.S. News & World Report poll revealed four striking attitudes prevalent among Americans. First, they believe it's incredibly important for the U.S. to remain a strong global leader. Second, they sense America has recently lost a great deal of the world's respect in that role. Third, a super-majority believes we're suffering from a leadership crisis. Finally, more than half lack pride in our nation's leaders.

A return to the divided government of 1990s, when President Clinton was forced to deal with a Republican Congress, is currently this country's best option to restore both Washington's ability to govern and the public's faith in that ability.

Such popular faith matters plenty in our foreign policy, not just in terms of signaling our support for the troops overseas but likewise in how other governments receive our diplomatic efforts over the next two years.

Polls numbers like this are akin to a loss of public confidence in a financial market. Most monetary crises around the world are preceded by a displayed loss of confidence among local investors. Since locals know best the economy in question, global investors take this cue to force the necessary correction that local money typically cannot achieve on its own.

Clearly, America needs a significant foreign policy correction.

Following 9/11, the Bush White House dutifully picked up the challenge of battling the Sunni-based global jihadist movement represented by al-Qaida. But, like the brawler who walks into the bar and announces he'll take on all comers, this administration has subsequently picked too many fights at once.

Over the past half-decade, the Bush team has accumulated too many unnecessary enemies (e.g., Shiite Iran) while failing to attract enough potential allies (increasingly capitalistic China). We're overextended, and it shows, leading to all sorts of disrespect coming our way from entities both powerful and weak.

The world is not becoming more dangerous. This administration simply emboldens the world's bad actors by its reckless disregard for how other great powers view our use of military force.

That's inexcusable given the amazing amount of faith those great powers have placed in America since the Cold War's end, essentially outsourcing global security to our armed forces by refusing to seek any military balance - individually or collectively. Sure, we piled up lots of foreign debt, but that's how those powers expressed their trust in our capabilities and choices.

Look at what we achieved: by letting emerging markets concentrate on economic development instead of long-predicted military build-ups, we're now collectively sitting atop the most robust and broadly distributed global economy in human history, facing the glorious challenge of meeting the skyrocketing demands of 1 billion new customers in coming years.

But all that progress is endangered by the Bush administration's conduct in this Long War, and two more years of staying this course might be far more damaging to global stability than any of us anticipate. That's why American voters need to signal a clear desire for change in this week's elections.

Simply put, we need to tell the rest of the world that America is once again a dealmaker, not just a treaty-breaker. We need to demonstrate our understanding that globalization comes with rules, not a ruler. We must admit that, while we can win wars alone, we cannot win the peace on our own.

If we do not signal our willingness to change, the Bush administration will most certainly face graver international crises over the next two years, armed with even fewer offers of cooperation from other powers. That path will definitely result in far too many American troops being needlessly sacrificed, while both delaying the inevitable foreign policy correction and raising its inescapable price tag for the next president.

Many states recognize America's tight spot in Iraq and fear the possibility that it will trigger a Vietnam-style isolationist backlash back here. That would create a dangerous vacuum in global security that few would welcome.

Returning ourselves to the deal-making mindset of divided government can heal this profound rift between America and the world.

Countless lives may depend on your vote.

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