America, are you alright? Asking for the world
America does not only belong to itself. The world, too, is a stakeholder in America’s fate. And so, these days, the world watches America with worry.
On every continent, there are thousands of political and business leaders, like me, who gaze upon the United States with admiring eyes. This is not just because history has made America the leader of the free world. It is because America’s leadership is essential to resolving many crises — from climate change and world hunger to Russia, China and the Middle East.
How will the world manage a transition to a carbon-neutral economy without America? After all, Russia earns most of its money by digging coal, pumping oil, and shipping gas and China is among the globe’s largest devourers of these three carbon-heavy energy sources. Neither looks like a natural partner for an energy transition. Only America can do that.
Only America can forge an international consensus on climate change and only America offers a large enough single market for clean energy production.
Starvation has already come to the continent where I live, Africa. The Middle East and the island nations of Asia will be next. Without grain and fertilizer from Ukraine or Russia, tens of millions can go hungry. Some of these hungry millions may take to the roads and the seas. Too many will drown in cold waters or fall dead in deserts or be preyed upon by traffickers.
The survivors will flood Europe with refugees. This imperils the NATO alliance and threatens the European economy, which is already suffering from record drought, electricity brownouts, gas shortages and a restive population.
Since soaring food and energy prices are slowing the world economy, the world is turning to the U.S. to protect food shipments, quiet energy markets, fight pandemics, restore growth and negotiate peace.
Faced with all these crises, all these disorders, America is divided by race, class and party. Protests, riots, arrests and search warrants dominate social-media conversations — even school board meetings on YouTube end with parents shouting at one another.
In conversations with diplomats and executives in Europe, Asia and Africa, I hear the same sentiment over and over: America has no right to lose itself in navel-gazing, to let the strife of internal debate divert it from its international responsibilities.
Seen from the outside, what impresses a friend of the United States like myself is that most American power comes from its institutions. We had clear proof of this. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) trip to Taiwan is the embodiment of the separation of powers. This visit would be impossible in a parliamentary democracy, where legislative and executive functions are fused. Pelosi’s historic visit did not mean a change in executive policy but illustrated that Congress is free to interact with all the peoples of the world itself.
The tensions caused by China did not shake the functioning of American institutions. On the contrary, it made the United States more credible in the eyes of people around the world. Its institutions work as designed.
So far, the United States has overcome all crises, wars, rebellions and divisions because its institutions have held firm. Not only the elected political institutions, but the security agencies (from the FBI and the CIA to military intelligence and Homeland Security), the press, the justice system and the nonprofits fully play their part and allow this living democracy to remain a beacon for the world. This in no way prevents political debate or even the most intense disagreements. The Civil Rights struggle, the Vietnam War, the Iranian hostage crisis, the 2008 financial crisis and many other issues have divided America. Each time it was inside its institutions that it found a rebalancing, a way forward.
When you are a friend of the U.S., you cannot understand why much of the American public attacks the credibility of its institutions and are suspicious of their independence. We have not seen this in our professional lifetimes, and we worry about how it will end.
The moral authority of America — its soft power that allows it to release the tensions of the world — should stay awake.
America needs to restore trust and transparency in its public institutions, as James Madison wrote in Federalist no. 37: “Energy in government is essential to that security against external and internal danger and to that prompt and salutary execution of the law, which enter into the very definition of good government.”
It must restore trust just as it has done before and after the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights struggle and the financial crisis of 2008. Not just for America’s sake, but for the world’s.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He’s on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council and the board of Trustees for The International Crisis Group in Washington.