There's a remarkable paradox in the relationship today between the United States and the rest of the world. Despite economic and military assets unparalleled in history, U.S. global influence and standing have hit rock bottom.
As an economic superpower, the U.S. has a defense budget that accounts for more than 40 percent of global military spending. But this "hard power" does not necessarily translate into real power. National-security failures abound, from the catastrophic events in Iraq to the resurgence of terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the growing threat of civil war throughout the Middle East to the deepening uncertainties of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, from the standoff with Iran to the genocide in Darfur.
There's a paradox at the heart of U.S. foreign policy: As the Bush administration asserts unilateral global power, the influence and respect of the United States hits rock bottom, and as the United States professes its desire to expand democratic rights around the world, its actions undermine its stated goals. No issue in this political year is more urgent than addressing this disastrous contradiction. Restoring America's commitment to the rule of law would be a good way to start.