Magazine article DISAM Journal

America's Global Leadership Challenge in the 21st Century

Magazine article DISAM Journal

America's Global Leadership Challenge in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

[The following are excerpts of the speech presented to Boston College, Newton, Massachusetts, April 11, 2007.]

Leadership is vital to any successful human endeavor to businesses that must compete in an increasingly tough global marketplace, to non-government organizations and universities. Leadership is also an irreplaceable commodity for a nation, especially one as great and powerful as the United States of America. Today, the global leadership challenge that we Americans have inherited and that will be such a vital factor in the success or failure of our foreign policy in the years ahead.

We face a very different leadership challenge, in my view, than that of all the generations of Americans before us. For all of our history until the mid-twentieth century, our leaders focused primarily on the job of building and sustaining a new country here at home. Starting now, and in the future, I believe we will need American leadership most in the external work of building a strong world beyond our shores. In Virginia, where my family and I now live, we are about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Think of our history since then? Over four centuries, we have succeeded in:

* Building an exceptional nation

* Expanded westward three thousand miles across a vast continent

* We have fashioned an extraordinary melting pot of races and religions

* We have overcome a bloody and deeply divisive civil war

* We have built the most powerful economy and military the world has ever seen

Ours is an astounding story of growth and success. We succeeded in large part, due to our leaders who emerged at pivotal moments in our history to provide vision and greatness. We produced some of the most luminous leaders of modern history here in America. Jefferson whose universal ideal of freedom and liberty was revolutionary in the 18th century and remains so even today. Lincoln who held us together heroically, single-handedly, and without whom the north may not have succeeded in vanquishing slavery in the 19th century. While it is true that America has been a leading force on the international stage for the last half century, our greatest energies have been spent on building America from the inside out here at home.

Now, during these four centuries, we have also had the extraordinary good geographical fortune of living with practically no external threats. Think of that--a situation nearly unique of all great powers in all of human history. For most of this time, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have been our great twin protectors sealing off the world's worst excesses from our shores. This gave us the luxury of retreating, when we were inclined to follow John Quincy Adams, famous admonition that Americans should not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

This singular fact of our physical separation from the rest of the world permitted us to vacillate between isolation from the world and bursts of intense, but all too often, brief engagement in it as during the world wars and cold war of the twentieth century. This American ambivalence about the rest of the world is, as I learned so well here at Boston College, the defining feature of our foreign policy since our founding. We are a people that until now has swung wildly back and forth between seeking to lead and shrinking from leadership itself.

Consider just a few famous examples from our history. Jefferson warned in his first inaugural address of the danger of entangling alliances. Woodrow Wilson put two million of our soldiers into the great war which essentially ensured victory for Britain and France at its climactic moment. But, only two years later, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts defeated Wilson's vision of a great universal world body to end all wars by leading the drive to kill the league of nations in the senate. Just over fifteen years later, the great American icon, Charles Lindbergh shamefully urged Americans to stay out of the fight against Naziism and fascism. …

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