Now that the dust has settled after a long and grueling presidential campaign season, people around the world are wondering what role the United States will play on an increasingly turbulent world stage -- from Cairo to Kabul, Berlin to Beijing, and Jakarta to Juba.
And expectations are high. According to a new poll, people in 24 countries expect even more of the United States. The 2nd annual survey from Ipsos and the Halifax International Security Forum found that the country with the greatest increase in the perception of a positive influence in the world was the United States. And that included eight out of 10 Americans.
These findings underscore the fact that the United States can't choose between dealing with its economic difficulties at home and global challenges abroad. Instead, it must do both at the same time and get its fiscal house in order in a way that strengthens its capacity for global leadership. People around the world -- like many of their leaders -- continue to look to Americans to lead in international affairs.
Times are tough, and it's almost a given that Americans and people around the world are tired of wars abroad and would rather focus on problems at home. Continued economic problems and pressure to cut domestic and defense budgets leave many observers wondering whether we can afford it -- and whether Americans, or people in other countries, even want us to.
On the surface, people around the world say they want more attention to problems at home, which is understandable given slow economic recoveries and crises on the international stage. This survey found that eight out of 10 want their countries to "focus less on the world, and more at home" given difficult economic times. Considering the looming "fiscal cliff" in the United States, it's not surprising that that nearly nine in 10 Americans agreed.
Yet, people are still concerned about the threats of nuclear weapons, terrorism, pandemics, and natural disasters, and they do not want their countries to disengage from dealing with these problems. Most people, including Americans, want their countries to help other nations facing difficulties such natural disasters and famines (81 percent), act as a moral example in the world (77 percent), aid the growth of democracy (77 percent) and assist countries with less developed economies (65 percent). Yes, those who see their country's economic situation as "bad" are somewhat more likely to turn inward but majorities of even this group still support being involved in dealing with the world's problems.
As we see in the Middle East, there's no "time out" for the United States to deal with its domestic problems before turning to the demands in the world. These voices for the United States to stay involved were also heard from activists and political leaders from around the world at the recent Halifax International Security Forum addressing today's global challenges. The world is looking for leadership, and the U.S. can't afford to turn its back on that responsibility.