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Next President Must Have Broader Foreign Policy Priorities

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On any given day of campaign press coverage, the most pressing foreign policy issue is either Iraq, terrorism, or nuclear proliferation. But U.S. foreign policy must have more than just three prongs. And the only way the United States can address the full spectrum of foreign policy challenges is if the next president repairs the U.S. image abroad.

In a recent interview with Foreign Policy Digest, Anne Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, advised the next president to engage the international community from day one. In her own words, the president should say to the peoples of the world, "the United States is the most powerful country in the world, but it is not OK to have a world of six billion people when about 1.5 billion make the decisions for everyone else. We need a system where those other powers, India, China, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and others have a voice. And I think that's what the United States ought to be saying. 'You have to a voice, it's your planet too' ."

Former secretaries of state Colin Powell, James Baker, and Madeleine Albright, echoed Dean Slaughter's sentiment in a recent PBS NewsHour panel. The three secretaries convened to discuss the challenges the next president will face. According to the panel the most pressing challenge for the next occupant of the White House is rebuilding U.S. credibility in the rest of the world. Their suggestion underscores the necessity of international cooperation for achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives. We can't effectively control infectious diseases, combat terrorism, or contain loose nuclear material without respect and help from our peers.

I was in Prague earlier this year when the U.S. began negotiating a new radar base in the Czech Republic. Opposition to the base was widespread. Demonstrators staged hunger strikes, and many of the coalition parties (Social Democrats, Green Party, and the Communists) decried the missile base as another invasion by a foreign power. Critics had little trouble portraying the new base as an extension of "George Bush's imperialist agenda," and their campaign nearly derailed construction. In fact, the only reason why the plan is proceeding this week, is the addition of an 11th hour provision mandating that the Czech Republic take ownership of the base upon completion.

Building the Czech radar base should have been a straightforward task for the United States. President Klaus and President Bush are on good terms. The Czech Republic supported our original mission into Iraq and Afghanistan by sending troops. And the purpose of the radar base is to monitor proliferation of nuclear weapons from a common enemy. If we had such trouble when the cards were stacked in our favor, how can we hope to martial support for the bigger challenges posed by Russia, North Korea and Iran?

Last month when Russia launched a military incursion into Georgia, a colleague and I interviewed Georgian protesters at the Russian embassy. Among our interviewees, was a young Georgian man who had enlisted in the Iraq war only to lose both legs in battle. He joined the U.S. forces in Iraq because he believed the United States defended democracy and freedom as a matter of policy. But the tepid U.S. response to Russia's act of war left him frustrated and feeling abandoned. The reality is that the U.S. was in no position to confront Russia because we lack the political, economic and moral capital to pressure their government.

If the secretaries of state are right, and repairing our international standing abroad is the most pressing challenge, then we need a president who can gain the respect of the international community. When John McCain confuses Iranian extremists with al Qaeda, suggests that Iraq and Pakistan share a border, refers to 'Czechoslovakia' instead of 'the Czech Republic,' I cringe. A recent interview, in which McCain indicates that he either doesn't know who the Prime Minister Spain is, or worse, thinks Spain is in Latin America, definitely takes the cake. The last eight years were pretty bad, but John McCain is the only candidate who can make it worse.