When President Bush leaves office, will America once again be liked by most of the world? Not necessarily.
When the next president takes office in January 2009, he will be confronted by a world that either appreciates America or, for self-interested reasons, will challenge it.
On the hopeful 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 U.S. presence there.
In 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. Most of Africa is likewise already friendly to the United States. And why not? President 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 W. Bush rides back to Texas—and we have a kinder, gentler commander in chief who offers hope, or at least change, to the world?
Plenty of problems antedated George W. Bush and are likely to continue well after he has left office.
For starters, the next American president will have to deal with 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 Bush is president, and he won’t stop when Bush is gone.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama has said he would favor taking out “high-value terrorist targets” inside Pakistan on our own if the Pakistani government will not. But so far the United States hasn’t done that because Pakistan is nuclear and friendlier to jihadists than it is to us. That won’t change, either.
Osama bin Laden’s attacks on Americans also predated Bush. The war on terrorism 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 inaction.
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 for Tehran’s accelerating its efforts to get the bomb.
It is a cop-out to say Bush caused all these problems. They loom large mostly for two reasons. One, 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 is sitting in the Oval Office.
Two, 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.
Our rivals suspect that 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.