MADRID – The United States is gearing up for that most intoxicating (and exhausting) of political events: an open-seat race for the presidency. With US President Barack Obama's eight years in office coming to an end, and Vice President Joe Biden unlikely to run, the race will be without an incumbent. As a result, the election could be less a referendum on the last eight years than a contest of ideas, with foreign policy emerging as a key topic.
The potential candidates have already sought to stake out their positions on key foreign-policy issues, with early Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush, for example, delivering a speech devoted entirely to the topic. As for the Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's likely nomination (despite recent revelations that she used her personal email account to conduct government business) reinforces foreign policy's centrality to the election.
Recognizing this trend, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council has brought together a group of experts and practitioners to help infuse substance into the foreign-policy discussions leading up to the US election, including by preparing a public discussion paper. From my perspective as the group's only European member, the overarching message should be that the US must conceive of itself not as “the indispensable power," as it now does, but as “the indispensable partner."
This is not merely a matter of semantics; such a change will require the US to re-conceive its role in the world. But the payoff, for both the US and the liberal world order that it created, would be substantial. The key to success will be America's ability to retain the best – and abandon the worst – of that most American of notions: exceptionalism.