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  Global Views
The Global Paradox of American Power
Ex-State Secretary James Baker Outlines 6 Challenges
James A. Baker III
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States remains the pre-eminent economic and political superpower in the world. But it is this very fact that lies at the root of the global paradox of American power.

What nation can compete with our economic hegemony; producing one-quarter of the world's gross domestic product? What nation can challenge the military power of the United States or our dominance in world affairs?

The paradox is that we are both the envied and mistrusted director of international economic and political power across the globe.

James A. Baker III, Secretary of State for President George Herbert Walker Bush (No. 41) and Secretary of the Treasury for President Ronald Reagan, made plain this paradox in a sobering and eloquent speech titled "The Global Paradox of American Power" at St. Louis University on May 11.

Baker outlined the "Six Global Challenges America Will Face" in the coming years, noting that the United States will confront these demands due to two historic phenomena: America's "unipolar dominance" in the world and the global war on terror.

Challenge No. 1: "The war in Iraq." Baker said that although the going is tough in Iraq, the tide is turning and will result in a democratic Iraq and ultimately, a democratic Middle East.

No. 2: "Resolving Regional Conflicts." Baker says, "We cannot serve as a global policeman, but there are situations that the United States must engage in." He noted that we cannot back away from the situation between Taiwan and the Peoples Republic of China, nor the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel.

No. 3: "Combating International Terrorism." Baker said, "Military action has got to remain an option -from surgical strikes to major operations." But he says the United States must do a better job of explaining our policies in the Middle East and in Asia.

No. 4: "Stemming the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction." Baker warns that global terrorist cells and rogue nations retain the capability of buying or stealing a nuclear or biological device of mass destruction and detonating it in a major American city. "We must be prepared to use both sticks as well as carrots" to deal with these threats, he says, particularly those from North Korea, "because they have a record of broken promises." Baker advises that "intrusive, on-site inspections" are the only way to assure our safety.

No. 5: "Globalization and Economic Growth." Liberalized trade and investment is the key to generating worldwide economic growth and increased standards of living, Baker says. He further encourages negotiations toward the passage of the Central American Trade American Agreement and a hemispherewide Free Trade Area of the Americas.

As Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan in 1985, Baker orchestrated the Plaza Accord among the Group of Seven major industrialized nations to coordinate a devaluation of the dollar in an effort to stem the then record $112 billion U.S. trade deficit; this in response to intense protectionist pressure in Congress (led by former Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.) to take legislative action to correct the trade gap.

I asked Baker if he believed the United States should lead a new G-7 summit to pressure China to address its record $125 billion trade surplus with the United States by removing its currency (the yuan) from its fixed-exchange rate peg to the dollar. Our trade deficit with China is the largest of any nation, contributing the most to our record $660 billion-plus trade deficit for 2004.

"No, absolutely not" Baker said. "No country can adjust its currency if it appears to be responding to pressure from the United States

"Sooner or later, the Chinese will have to let their currency float or they will face the same problem as the Japanese and the chickens will come home to roost," he said. "China has to build a domestic market demand and get off an entirely export-driven economy,"to sustain its rapid economic growth.

But the George W. Bush administration issued a sharp rebuke to China in a report to Congress May 17, threatening trade retaliation if it fails to remove the yuan from its peg to the dollar.

Challenge No. 6: "Protect the Environment." As an avowed conservationist, Baker said he hopes that policymakers who "breathe the same air and drink the same water as everyone" will seek to protect the environment. Yet, he is against the Kyoto Agreement on Global Climate Change, arguing that "It is a very, very bad treaty," and that with "75 years of fossil fuels remaining in the world, we have plenty of time to deal with global warming," while also keeping the engine of economic growth running strong.

Baker concluded by noting that the United States is the "final guarantor" of international security and economic growth.

"We are the standard-bearer of contemporary capitalism," he said, "but we are far from the term 'empire' that some use to describe us."

If the United States is the modern equivalent of the Roman Empire, will we ultimately face the same fate? The optimists among us think not, believing that we can and must help lead the world into a golden age of global democracy and economic liberty. Count me among them.

Robert Batterson, principal of Robert Batterson LLC, a public affairs and communications firm in St. Louis, writes about global competition and international affairs. His column appears the first Sunday of the month. E-mail: robertbatterson@sbcglobal.net.




 

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