Thoughts from the Golden Triangle, Thailand, Laos and Burma ...

The more time I spend in Asia, the more I come to respect its people. They get what America's about — we're not perfect, but we're the best hope for the world. They want us to lead.

The United States doesn't have too many friends these days, in large part because the burdens that it shoulders aren't appreciated. This is particularly true of the Europeans — they bash us when we take steps that they don't like, and then they beg us to assume leadership roles when they can't. When I talked with Condoleezza Rice a few weeks ago, she told me, "Not a day goes by that I'm not asked to take a leadership role in everything from development aid to microfinance to education for women." If we're so bad, and Bush has done so much damage, why is she constantly being asked to have us lead?

The reality is that we're living in a new world order, so we need to stop acting on the basis of outdated paradigms. While Europe is still important, its influence is declining. The Europeans don't work as hard as Americans (in France, the workweek is a mere 35 hours). Combine that with chronic labor shortages and bad government policies like early retirement, and you have an economy that's in deep trouble. The European Commission estimates that the fastest that Europe will be able to grow by 2010 is an anemic 1.8 percent.

Making matters worse, its population is on the cusp of shrinking. Many European countries have little to no population growth, and some of them — particularly in Central and Eastern Europe — have negative population growth due to low fertility rates. Between 2000 and 2005, in fact, Europe's population declined by a little over 3 million!

Acting in our self-interest means that we understand these realities and make policy accordingly. We need to prepare for and embrace a world in which Asia's rising, Europe's falling, and America's still the country that all countries look to for leadership.



Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.