When President Bush leaves office, will America once again be liked
by most of the world? Not necessarily, since most current problems are
either already getting better or not our fault.
When the next
president takes office in January 2009, he or she will confront a world
that either understandably appreciates America or for self-interested
reasons will challenge it.
On the positive side, the new
president will see a Middle East without the Taliban in charge in
Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq. A stabilizing constitutional
Iraq should result in a steadily diminishing American presence there.
Europe, the French under Nicolas Sarkozy and the Germans under Angela
Merkel will remain pro-American. But they will also expect continued
American leadership. Both may talk grandly of the Atlantic Alliance,
but in real terms they do little to help us in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
of Africa likewise is already friendly to the United States. And why
not? Mr. Bush extended more humanitarian aid to combat African hunger
and disease than any president in our history.
But what of
our enemies? Won't adversaries back off when the Christian cowboy
George Bush rides back to Texas — and we have a kinder, gentler
commander in chief who offers hope, or at least change, to the world?
There are plenty of problems that both antedated George Bush and are likely to continue well after he has left office.
starters, the next American president will have to deal with Vladimir
Putin's Russia, which is proud and angry for reasons that go well
beyond the Bush administration. Russia is flush with petrodollars,
still smarting over lost empire and tired of lectures about human
rights from impotent European states.
Iran, which repeatedly snubbed the efforts of the Clinton
administration to normalize relations, will still want a bomb, will
still intimidate neighbors and will still threaten Israel. Indeed,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Hitlerian fashion, has called
the Jewish state "filthy bacteria" and promised to wipe it off the map.
He didn't say these things because George Bush is president, and he
won't stop when Mr. Bush is gone.
Sen. Barack Obama, who
looks more and more likely to be the Democratic presidential nominee,
has said he would favor taking out "high-value terrorist targets"
inside Pakistan on our own if the Pakistani government won't. But so
far we haven't done that because Pakistan is nuclear and friendlier to
jihadists than to us. That won't change, either.
Laden's attacks on Americans also predated George Bush. The war on
terror started only when we finally decided to strike back in 2001. And
it will end only when we destroy the jihadists and alter the conditions
that created them — or give in and return to the earlier policy of
Long-term global challenges are bipartisan concerns
— neither caused by conservative Republicans nor solved by easy answers
from liberal Democrats.
Should we guarantee the new
independence of Muslim-dominated Kosovo, if Christian Serbia and its
Russian patrons seek to get it back by force? If so, consider the
chance of another bloody war inside Europe and no appreciation for our
help in Kosovo from the Muslim world.
Should we press China
to clean up its trade practices and grant basic human rights to its own
citizens? If so, be ready to see hundreds of billions of dollars in
Chinese-held U.S. government bonds sold off.
Should we extend
formal diplomatic recognition to Iran and begin talks? If so, be
prepared that, with even less worry, Tehran will accelerate efforts to
get the bomb.
It is a cop-out to say George Bush caused all these problems. They loom large mostly for two reasons:
The United States promotes global democratic capitalism, and our
military ensures international free commerce in the air and on the
seas. This bothers regional dictators and terrorists eager to carve out
their own spheres of influence, regardless of who sits in the Oval
(2) Billions of people in India, Russia, China, Asia
and Latin America, having copied American business and culture, are now
doing better, and demand the same good lives we take for granted.
rivals suspect we are played out, short of energy, long on debt, and
hogging the world's resources. They see no reason to stop pushing just
because of our past strength and reputation. They think the future is
theirs, the past ours.
And so all over the globe they will surely challenge the next president, however nice, to prove them wrong.