May 2, 2016

This Week’s Reads – Rethinking American Leadership

World leaders meet in the Bavarian Alps in June 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

That the United States must lead is a sort of truism in American politics—but in our increasingly complex and disorderly world, it’s often unclear what American leadership entails. The historian Andrew Bacevich argues that “leadership” is nothing more than a euphemism for the threatened or actual use of armed force. But looking around at the challenges we face today, such a view seems blinkered.

Start with the global economy. All around the world, we are seeing the liberal economic order under challenge. The massive trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership is stuck in the US Congress with no clear path forward. Meanwhile, public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic has turned against the US-European trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The prospect of Brexit further threatens the openness of the European Union. Here, the United States must lead by example, by first passing the TPP, then by making a stronger case for free trade and integration with the EU.

The United States has a similarly clear opportunity for leadership when it comes to innovation. Consider, for example, the advances we’ve made—and have yet to make—in food production. As a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows, the rapid increase in urban populations around the world is creating a huge demand for safe and sustainable food. The United States, with its intellectual capital and technological advances, is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of a fundamental transformation of our global food system.

Finally, there will indeed be a demand for the United States to continue its leadership role in providing global security. Recent events—such as Chinese militarization in the South China Sea and Russian aggression in Ukraine—have made this clear. However, leadership in this regard does not necessarily mean policing the world unilaterally, but rather building the alliances and regional capacities necessary to ward off common threats.

Many of the global challenges described in this week’s reads demonstrate the need for American leadership. But, just as importantly, they show the importance of rethinking what such leadership means.


The US Can’t Afford to End Its Global Leadership Role

Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan/The Washington Post

Large segments of the American public and leading political candidates in both parties now question the economic, political and security foreign policy strategy that the United States has pursued since the end of World War II. As argued in our World Economic Forum white paper, "Strengthening the Liberal World Order," Robert Kagan and I strongly believe that America’s engagement in the world has unquestionably provided for the spread of democracy, the growth of the global economy, and the avoidance of major conflict among world powers. No people have benefitted more than Americans, and we have a critical role to play in preserving it. To abandon it now would be folly.

Barack Obama: As Your Friend, Let Me Say That the EU Makes Britain Even Greater

Barack Obama/The Telegraph

In a Telegraph op-ed, President Obama urged people of the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. While “the question of whether or not the UK remains a part of the EU is a matter for British voters to decide,” he believes the country’s role is amplified through its membership in the European Union. Obama contends that the United Kingdom’s position in the European Union enables it to shape international agreements and address the coming challenges of this century. Its “powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic.”

Brexiters Are Nostalgics in Search of a Lost Empire

Linda Colley/Financial Times

Linda Colley holds that the Brexit campaign is ultimately about anger and bereftness. Globalization has stocked economic anger, which Brexiters blame on Brussels. Simultaneously, she thinks they feel a loss of sovereignty and sway that the United Kingdom in the world. Colley posits that dreaming about a revived British global future, and seeing that aim as incompatible with membership in the European Union, will cause Britons to miss out on opportunities in Europe. Unfortunately, she says, British national pride runs deep, and passion may overcome logic when the vote comes.


The Revenge of Globalization’s Losers

Wolfgang Münchau/Financial Times

Globalization is failing in advanced western countries, argues Wolfgang Münchau, because those countries failed to cope with economic change. Globalization brought wage stagnation and the global financial crisis—huge economic changes that overwhelmed western societies politically and technically to produce clear losers. Those losers now seek revenge through anti-European Union and anti-globalization movements. Thus, he thinks now may not be the time for another global trade agreement like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. “If the policymakers do not react” to these changes, “the voters surely will.”

Five Big Truths about Trade

Alan S. Blinder/The Wall Street Journal

In an attempt to combat today’s anti-trade rhetoric, Blinder explains five straightforward reasons that all economists support trade. These are: 1. Most job losses are not due to international trade; 2. Trade is more about efficiency—and hence wages—than about the number of jobs; 3. Bilateral trade imbalances are inevitable and mostly uninteresting; 4. Running an overall trade deficit does not make us “losers;” and 5. Trade agreements barely affect a nation’s trade balance.

Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming Food Systems in an Urbanizing World

Report/The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Two-thirds of the world’s population—6.3 billion people—will live in urban areas by 2050, creating a staggering demand for nutritious, safe, and sustainable food. The global food system must transform to feed growing cities, argues a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and this transformation creates an opportunity to raise the incomes of rural farmers throughout the world. Lengthening supply chains and reaching further into remote production areas also present growth opportunities for others, such as wholesalers, transporters, processers, and input suppliers, as well as larger companies interested in investing in emerging markets, like US firms.


How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk

Mark Landler/The New York Times

Mark Landler explains that Hillary Clinton has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama—and most Democrats. This is a result of a long career full of sustained exposure to military personnel, experience she actively sought to bolster her hard power credentials. Landler traces Clinton’s development as a military wonk from the moment she stepped into a Marine recruiting office in 1975 through her involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, including the many relationships with three- and four-star generals and secretaries of defense, to explain her muscular and hawkish foreign policy.

President Xi Jinping’s Most Dangerous Venture Yet: Remaking China’s Military

Jeremy Page/The Wall Street Journal

President Xi plans to transform his Soviet-modelled military, long focused on defending China from invasion, into a smaller, modern force capable of projecting power far from its shores. This ambitious reform will be highly disruptive to the status quo in China’s large military, and a downsizing on this scale carries a big political risks. At the same time, the United States and its allies are concerned that Beijing might use its globally mobile force in ways that conflict with Western interests. President Xi’s plans may help him implement a more hawkish foreign policy, but it also carries significant risks.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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