Silver Linings for a Golden Age

SINGAPORE – Are prospects for global stability and prosperity improving or deteriorating? With enlightenment and progress in some parts of the world accompanied by atavism and stagnation elsewhere, this is not an easy question. But we can gain greater purchase on it by considering three other questions.

The first is whether the United States will regain its standing as a source of moral leadership. Despite its flaws, America did provide such leadership, beginning at the end of World War II. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed everything.

Americans’ anger following the attacks drove them to support policies that they once would have considered inconceivable. In the name of the “global war on terror,” they have tolerated torture; accepted – and even endorsed – the illegal invasion of Iraq; and allowed innocent civilians to become collateral damage of mechanical drone strikes.

In order to restore America’s moral leadership, President Barack Obama must make good on his early rhetoric – exemplified in his speeches in Istanbul and Cairo early in his presidency – which demonstrated genuine regard for the oppressed. In 2007, during his first presidential campaign, he wrote that America “can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission. We must lead the world, by deed and by example.”