America still needs to engage the world

By David Miliband
August 25, 2011

This is a response to Nader Mousavizadeh’s latest Reuters column,  “A smaller America could be a stronger America.”

By David Miliband
The opinions expressed are his own.

Nader’s statistics pointedly and appropriately speak to a dysfunctional political dynamic of short term promises without long term responsibilities in the U.S.  It is also striking (and worrying) that both sides of American political debate are determined to persuade voters that they won’t be too concerned by the rest of the world.

But the U.S. is doomed NOT to become the Netherlands!  U.S. GDP per head is ten times the Chinese level.   Its universities still dominate in key areas.  Its conventional military might is overwhelming.  Its entanglement with the global system – notably in economics, but today that is inseparable from politics – means that it needs a “global posture.”  So does every country, large or small.

I would say the strategic choice for the U.S. is rather different.  It is whether to try to lead the reshaping of the multilateral system, not just the UN but economic institutions like WTO, conscious that such efforts are burdensome and rarely bring quick wins; or whether to hunker down around the current system, and try to address domestic problems, from K-12 education to business innovation.

Every campaign consultant will say there are no votes in the former course.  But the truth is America has far more to lose from its neglect of global responsibilities.  It cannot bring the world to heel on its own.  But it needs to be part of a new global compact – not at the expense of jobs and housing and crime at home, but to address them.

If that means America needs an educator-in-chief as well as a commander-in-chief as its President, so be it.


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