From those campaigning to be President of the United States, we haven’t heard much trumpeting of qualifications to lead the Free World. Do they and we just ignore that capacity until they’re in the job?

On Jan. 21, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott commented: “On this trip to Washington, I’ve noticed that respect for the office of the president is not common. ... That’s a pity, because he’s not just your president. As leader of the free world — which the president inevitably is by virtue of America’s singular strength and goodwill — in a sense he’s everyone’s president, and the world needs him to succeed almost as much as America does. If America is strong, Australia is stronger ... all the countries of the free world are stronger.”

America’s religious heritage gave us the singular strength and good will he mentions: values of freedom (with which creative people built our enormous economic and military strength) and concern for human rights everywhere. Challenges to America’s leadership come from totalitarian regimes whose control of people is threatened by these values. As President Trump entered office, North Korea was threatening continental United States with nuclear missiles. Severe sanctions, military threats and a vision of a law-abiding North Korea have at least cooled threats. Kim Jong-un hasn’t given up his missiles; he’s waiting to see who’ll be our next president.

Syria’s use of poison gas against its own people was met by a measured response, swift bombing of where it was launched. But Syria, backed by Russia, is one of several Middle East countries that are constant headaches, particularly Iran promoting terrorism throughout the region. Jared Kushner has worked for three years on solving the really tough Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much depends on how Arab countries react to his plan. The region is in flux, longing for a new order, yet probably problematic for world leaders for years to come.

Vladimir Putin has carved out a role for himself as troublemaker wherever he has opportunity —Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and most of all by effective online warfare against democracies. He actively pitted Britishers against each other re Brexit and Americans against each other re everything, especially elections. His trolls continue their active meddling in social media.

As China makes a push to replace the U.S. as world leader, common people within her orbit show how much they want freedom: the brave Hong Kong youth persisting in demonstrations. Their display of American flags was very touching. Taiwan also recently voted overwhelmingly for democracy. And, even though our sanctions hurt deeply, the Iranian people refused to step on a huge American flag on the pavement. The oppressed people of the world take hope from America’s stand for freedom, even when we cannot immediately provide it for them. 

Australian Tony Abbott concluded his speech, “Many people outside the U.S. follow each president’s triumphs and travails as closely as if we were citizens of this great republic. Much to the surprise of many, given the dismay that greeted President Trump’s election… and my view then that Mr. Trump was almost uniquely underqualified for the office. ... I think he’s been quite a success; his style sometimes grates, but he’s been a very good president. For the first time in years, the narrative is not one of American decline.”  That’s one foreigner’s take — what about ours?

If American voters are focused only on self-interest, goodies in health care and education, and ignore our president’s role in preserving freedom for the world and for ourselves, we’re in trouble.  To lead the free world requires strength and judgment to deal with freedom-haters and whatever other challenges come along. Any new president can expect immediate testing for backbone.

Of the Democratic challengers, I admit to liking Amy Klobuchar best, a mid-Western lady with a degree of common sense. Yet I question whether the very dangerous leaders of totalitarian regimes would respect a woman? They don’t in their own countries — maybe somebody like Margaret Thatcher, who sent the British Navy half way round the world to defend the Falklands. However, Amy did well handling Chris Wallace’s interruptions on Fox News Sunday. He’s formidable, but she politely, persistently made her points and bested him. That rarely happens, so maybe she has the spunk for the job. 

As campaigns move forward, please observe and evaluate all the candidates, keeping in mind the huge responsibility that will land on their shoulders. The world needs a wise choice. 


Verna Benham, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service.  Her column appears weekly.

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