Defining America's Role on the Global Stage. (American Thought)
Hagel, Chuck, USA TODAY
ON MARCH 5, 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with Pres. Harry Truman at his side, gave one of the greatest speeches of our time. Its power and majesty are not limited to time and place, although Churchill's warning of a Soviet "Iron Curtain" in Europe vividly captured the communist threat of that era. That day, he also conveyed something unique and special about America's international role: "... The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American democracy. For with this primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. As you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done, but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here now, clear and shining, for both our countries. To reject it or ignore it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches of the aftertime."
With new eras come new challenges, and today the U.S. again stands at a pinnacle of power and again bears a heavy burden for securing a better tomorrow, for our citizens and for all the peoples of the world. At this critical juncture, the success of our actions will be determined not by the extent of our power, but by an appreciation of its limits. America must approach the world with a sense of purpose in global affairs that is anchored by our ideals, a principled realism that seeks not to remake the world in our image, but to help make a better world.
We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that come with great power. Our foreign policy should reflect the hope and promise of America tempered with a mature wisdom that is the mark of our national character. In this new era of possibilities and responsibilities, America will require a wider-lens view of how the world sees us, so that we can better understand the world, and our role in it.
Just as Churchill pointed out in 1946, when historic opportunities for leadership are before us, they cannot be rejected, ignored, or frittered away. There would have been grave consequences if the U.S. had shrunk from its responsibilities in 1946, as there will be grave consequences if America shrinks from today's challenges. The war in Iraq and a long-term engagement with the Middle East offer as much peril as promise. We also face an urgent threat from North Korea and the potential for nuclear war between India and Pakistan. The AIDS epidemic in Africa, Russia, and Asia poses one of the most-deadly threats to all humanity. Moreover, we cannot overlook our own hemisphere, where Colombia and Venezuela are involved with continued violence and instability.
The complexities of an interconnected world give us little margin for error in dealing with these great international challenges. The first priority for the U.S. and all sovereign nations is to protect its citizens. To do so we must build and sustain global institutions and alliances that share our interests and values. Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, put it powerfully in a speech on May 18, 1941, when he said, in response to those who urged the U.S. to stay out of World War II, that American support for Britain was "the sort of enlightened selfishness that makes the wheels of history go around. It is the sort of enlightened selfishness that wins victories. Do you know why? Because we cannot live in a world alone, without friends and without allies."
The serious obligations of global leadership come with a price. Beating the burdens and costs in defeating global terrorism, countering nuclear proliferation by nations and terrorist networks, and ending poverty and hunger on this planet are investments in our own security, as well as in the stability and security of the world. Security at home cannot be separated from dangers abroad.
The war against international terrorism and its sponsors is unlike any one we have ever known. …