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The Candidates and the World

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U.S. Leadership and a World in Flux

by campaign2008
November 19, 2008

An expert panel discussed the new face of American leadership Tuesday night at New York University. contributing writer Julie Ginsberg filed this report from the event.

The changing nature of U.S. leadership on the world stage came under scrutiny in the second in a series of panel discussions on the presidential transition jointly hosted by CFR, the Economist, and New York University’s Stern School of Business on Nov. 18.

Economist international correspondent Lane Greene, Executive Editor Michael Moran, and Professor of Economics Richard Sylla, Stern’s Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets, agreed that a period of U.S. political and economic dominance had come to an end–and that was a good thing.

As emerging economies begin to claim a larger share of political influence, Moran said, U.S. leaders will have to be sensitive to the changing dynamics. “The world we live in requires us to stand back and then engage as if we were seeing it for the first time,” Moran said. Sylla couldn’t name any competitor poised to knock the U.S. off its post as top global economic and political power, but he said “if we’re a good leader, we’ll invite a lot of others into the discussion.”

Other countries have begun to assert more significant geopolitical roles: Moran cited China increasingly using its influence as a veto-wielding UN Security Council member to protect Myanmar and Zimbabwe in the past two years. But the increasing political sway that has come with certain countries’ growing economic influence raises concerns for democratic major powers, Greene said. While economic development is a “win-win situation” for the U.S. and BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, and China], “political rise is harder to manage,” he said.

The first step toward a new chapter of U.S. leadership is restoring its reputation abroad, and President-elect Barack Obama’s victory is a promising start, panelists agreed. Moran said the election of an African-American had effectively countered propaganda about U.S. racism. Still, anti-American sentiments abroad won’t change overnight, the experts agreed. Greene asserted that the election results had been met internationally by “enthusiasm with skepticism,” and Sylla added that the U.S. would have to prove itself capable of effective leadership after blunders like the Iraq war and the export of “toxic securities.”

The new president’s actions will be limited by the economic downturn, panelists said, but by picking his battles, biding his time, and taking advantage of a wave of public enthusiasm, Obama could still make headway on issues like restricting carbon emissions and bolstering diplomatic relationships.

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