My article aims to identify a small set of foreign policy initiatives that could be taken in the first few months of a new administration so as to begin to repair the damage to U.S. global standing and influence wrought by the Bush administration. I argue that the restoration of U.S. alliances and its sway over world affairs are by no means a given; many countries and populations would prefer a world in which the largest military and economic power is isolated, resented, and unable to translate its influence into widespread support. But if America’s stature is not rebuilt, a broad array of longer term policy objectives that depend on international cooperation-including combating terrorism and nuclear proliferation, stabilizing failed states and expanding democracy, as well as many of the other concerns raised by Mitchell Cohen and Stanley Hoffmann-may prove impossible to achieve. Accordingly, President John Kerry should focus at the outset on carefully chosen measures, both symbolic and substantive, that promote goodwill and signal a sharp break from the unilateralism and militarism of the Bush years. Once this message has been received and U.S. relationships are on the mend, the administration can expand its agenda, tackling problems and launching new initiatives with the backstop of international support.
FOCUSING ON the first hundred days of a new administration, I am not sure I agree with Anne-Marie Slaughter that the key here is “one big idea.” After Iraq, the world (and the American public) may need a reprieve from grand American plans and visions. After the Bush administration, they may be eager to see the United States as willing to reengage in international institutions that already exist, to rectify some of its own hypocrisies, for example in Iraq and at Guantánamo, and to do spadework on hard problems like Middle East peace. As Slaughter has persuasively demonstrated in her work, expanding the global web of intergovernmental networks could be key to tackling thorny new international challenges. But for the United States to lead this or other bold initiatives, it will need first to restore its legitimacy. Otherwise the effort risks being rejected as a “made in America” replacement for existing bodies-such as the UN’s committees and specialized agencies (many of which cover topics similar to those that these intergovernmental networks might address)-that the rest of the world already participates in. By using its initial months well, a new administration can position itself to build intergovernmental networks and to pursue other, bolder, foreign policy objectives including those outlined in my April 2004 article in Foreign Affairs, “Smart Power,” where I argue for a sweeping revival of liberal internationalism.
Stanley Hoffmann contends that the way to restore U.S. global influence is by advancing policies that other nations can support on their merits, rath...
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