Despite Iraq discord, world eager for U.S. diplomacy
But America may need to understand how the world has changed during the war and what different kind of leadership is now required.
To read the regular and almost universally negative international surveys of America's standing in the world since the Iraq invasion, one might presume the world was ready to do without the American superpower.Skip to next paragraph
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And to judge by the American public's unwavering desire for the troops in Iraq to come home – or by the sour national debate on immigration, or by citizen attacks on global free trade – one might think America was ready to oblige.
After five years of a war in Iraq that much of the world considered illegitimate, Americans are hungry for a better image abroad. More surprising perhaps is the extent to which much of the world remains hungry for American global leadership, many international-affairs experts say.
But repairing a tarnished image and reestablishing international leadership won't be easy, they add, even after the Bush administration departs and even if the war in Iraq winds down under the next presidency. That is true because the world has changed a great deal while the United States has focused on Iraq.
As a result, fixing America's leadership role won't be a matter of merely picking up where the US left off before an unpopular war. More adjustment than catch-up, the process America will have to undertake means understanding how the world has changed during the war and what different kind of leadership is now required.
"There's too much thinking that all we have to do is go back to where we were before this war, before this administration, but that's not going to work," says Bruce Jentleson, a foreign-policy specialist at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "It's a different world, one that's more complex and with less of a sense that there will be a single leader."
The fundamental changes in the world that experts say accelerated over the past half-decade include:
•The proliferation of intranational ethnic conflicts, especially but not exclusively in Africa, which require a different kind of diplomatic intervention from international tensions.
•The decentralization of Islamic extremism from Al Qaeda leadership and the challenge of its spread to the Internet.
•A global energy crunch simultaneous with global warming that makes nuclear power increasingly attractive to more countries, yet heightens the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.
•The growing indebtedness of the US and its shrinking share of the global economic pie.
True, the Bush administration, in its second term, has made more efforts to take a global leadership role. Still, the US has something of a rude awakening ahead of it when it begins to look beyond its Iraq-tinted glasses, some international-affairs analysts say. "When we eventually do get out of Iraq and start paying attention to other things in the world, many people will be surprised at what they find," says Paul Saunders, executive director of the Nixon Center, a foreign-policy think tank in Washington.