How Biden Can Restore America’s Role Abroad

In a world that combines both the balance of power and liberal norms, America must have soft and hard power. Should a Biden administration produce the right mix of both, and create new mechanisms with our democratic allies, it will be able to restore America’s guiding role internationally.

Historically, America’s leaders have faced inflection points on determining what our role in the world would be. After the moral binge of Woodrow Wilson’s mission to fight the war to end all wars and to make the world safe for democracy, the Senate rejected American membership in the League of Nations and the Harding administration favored a return to normalcy. Internationally, that meant again turning inward. Leadership on the world stage was not part of the American tradition of foreign policy, even though Harding’s Secretary of State, Charles Evan Hughes, sought to reduce arms competition and the risk of war internationally by hosting the Washington Naval Conference on disarmament. He understood he had limited means of coercion but sought to use moral suasion in a collective setting to create pressures to reduce a naval arms race—and while real limitations among the leading powers were achieved, there were no enforcement mechanisms and by the 1930’s no one was respecting these or other limits.

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