Your Vote Gets Tallied ‘Round the World

By J.F. McKenna

The distance between West Park and the West Bank is smaller than ever.

Not just geographically, thanks to technology that makes the next-day overseas meeting commonplace. But economically and politically as well. All the election-year bloviating about America as the self-contained business actor notwithstanding, ours is a complex, interconnected world. What happens in Cleveland affects, and is affected by, what happens in Tokyo, Tehran and Tel Aviv, often in real time. As historian Niall Ferguson writes in Civilization, “True, the things that once set the West apart from the Rest are no longer monopolized by us. The Chinese have got capitalism. The Iranians have got science….And the Turks have got the consumer society.” Conversely, that so-called Rest brings its philosophical proclivities—some worthy and some wholly worthless—for trading in the marketplace. All politics may be local, but local keeps adding territory in terms of consequence.

Which is why this presidential election is more than a contest about economic ideas and domestic concerns. It’s also an election about America’s foreign policy, which can’t be conveniently segregated from the economic. When the voter in Glenville or in Tremont casts his ballot this November, he should consider that his is actually a choice about America’s future abroad as well as at home, and that the rest of the world is more than a little interested in the election returns.

America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties.

That is how Mitt Romney, in his October 8 speech at the Virginia Military Institute, framed America’s foreign-policy future. The stakes for our nation and for the world are what they are—high. When Romney said “I will never, ever apologize for America,” I heard the clear echo of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan from thirty-plus years ago. In 1974, while serving as a straight-talking ambassador, Moynihan declared: “It is past time we cease to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.” As a fellow urban Irish-Catholic, I could relate to Moynihan then. I can equally relate to the Mormon candidate now. We honor the same political creed.

Today, our world is far more chaotic. We still face grave threats, but they come not from one country, or one group, or one ideology. The world is unfortunately not so defined. What America and our allies are facing is a series of threatening forces, ones that overlap and reinforce each other. To defend America, and to secure a peaceful and prosperous world, we need to clearly understand these emerging threats, grasp their complexity, and formulate a strategy that deals with them before they explode into conflict. It is far too easy for a President to jump from crisis to crisis, dealing with one hot spot after another. But to do so is to be shaped by events rather than to shape events. To avoid this paralyzing seduction of action rather than progress, a President must have a broad vision of the world coupled with clarity of purpose.

So argued Romney, who offers to apply his global business experience and knowledge to the world’s toughest executive job. His words above ring true because they were forged in the real world. As the great Peter Drucker once observed, “Effective people do not make a great many decisions. They concentrate on the important ones.” No more so than in the realm of foreign policy.

As President, on Day One, I will focus on rebuilding America’s economy. I will reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts….Second, America must promote open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights….Third, the United States will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict….The United States should always retain military supremacy to deter would-be aggressors and to defend our allies and ourselves. If America is the undisputed leader of the world, it reduces our need to police a more chaotic world. Fourth, the United States will exercise leadership in multilateral organizations and alliances. American leadership lends credibility and breeds faith in the ultimate success of any action, and attracts full participation from other nations. American leadership will also focus multilateral institutions like the United Nations on achieving the substantive goals of democracy and human rights enshrined in their charters. Too often, these bodies prize the act of negotiating over the outcome to be reached. And shamefully, they can become forums for the tantrums of tyrants and the airing of the world’s most ancient of prejudices: anti-Semitism. The United States must fight to return these bodies to their proper role. But know this: while America should work with other nations, we always reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests.

As many contemporary Israeli leaders have pointed out, theirs is a tough neighborhood. Frankly, so is ours—and that neighborhood stretches from Cleveland to distant points east and west. And while the benefits of being the leading nation of the world are numerous, extending to each of us, the responsibility is equally far-reaching, starting with each of us. The vote in West Park is not merely about the interstate extension, but about choosing leaders who command respect in the streets of Bejing as well as Beachwood.

In that respect, the words of historian Bernard Lewis bear special relevance to a presidential election that must have one eye on domestic tranquility and the other on national sovereignty. Support to America from other nations, Lewis wrote in September 2001, “will be determined by…assessment of America’s position. What is needed is clarity in recognizing issues and alignments, firmness and determination in defining and applying policy. Even with these, there is no certainty of success in getting the necessary support from frightened neighbors—only a possibility. Without them, there is a certainty of failure.”

Successful foreign policy comes down to leadership. Leadership, like it or not, comes down to each of us. And the rest of the world is more than a little interested in how we vote.


CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, has chased business stories throughout the country and as far away as Japan, Israel and that most exotic of financial lands, Wall Street. With his wife Carol, he also writes the fictional series “Tales from Barker Park” in TheCleveland Canine. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.


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