“We need a global New Deal–a grand bargain between the countries and continents of this world,” said Gordon Brown on Sunday.  At a time when the European Union cannot agree on stimulus measures and the Doha Trade Round is failing, the concept of planetary cooperation sounds a bit far-fetched.  So strike the British prime minister off the list of people who can end the global crisis.

And who does that leave?  Don’t look to Vladimir Putin, who is helplessly watching the ruble collapse and his economy slide.  And how about Hu Jintao, who presides over the authoritarian superstate that supposedly owns this century?  He cannot even stop his subjects from smuggling out billions of dollars a day to the outside.  As Tom Friedman, one of the apostles of American decline, wrote this morning, there is only one place that people are looking for answers at this moment.  “Only the U.S. can lead the world,” he quotes a South Korean official as saying. “We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

That assessment is not quite right, because America was relatively more powerful in the moments immediately following the Second World War than it is today.  Yet the South Korean gets at a fundamental truth.  In Friedman’s “flat world,” America was being marginalized by globalization and authoritarian states were on the march.  In this worldwide crisis, however, no one feels the authoritarians have any answers.  In short, there is no nation but the United States to turn to, and that’s more true than it was six decades ago, when some thought the Soviets had a fine model.  “At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important,” Friedman notes.

So as humanity turns from prosperity to poverty, Washington has an opportunity to put the international system back on course.  “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” Ronald Reagan told us.  Yes, now would be an excellent time to do so.

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