The United States Is Not Entitled to Lead the World

The United States Is Not Entitled to Lead the World

Washington Should Take A Seat at the Table—But Not Always at Its Head

That the United States should lead the world is often taken for granted, at least in Washington, D.C. The country played that role for more than seven decades after World War II, and most Americans don’t want China to assume it. So it would be easy to think that if the American people vote Donald Trump out of office and bring in committed internationalist Joe Biden, the United States can just go back to “the head of the table,” as Biden’s recent Foreign Affairs article claimed. But global leadership is not an American entitlement.

Trump has broken with traditions of U.S. global leadership in a long and familiar list of ways. But while most of Washington’s allies (with a few notable exceptions, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia) are of the “Anybody but Trump” inclination, restoring a constructive U.S. role in the world will require much more than proclaiming that the United States is back and reverting to a pre-Trump playbook. The country must come to terms with fundamental shifts in its global position. Seen in historical perspective, the country has gone from being apart to atop and, now, to amid the world, and the transition requires some adjustments.