When President George Bush leaves office, will America once again be liked by most of the world? Not necessarily, since most current problems are either already getting better or not our fault.
When the next president takes office in January 2009, he or she will be confronted by a world that either understandably appreciates America or for self-interested reasons will challenge it.
On the positive side, the new president will see a Middle East without the Taliban in charge in Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq. A stabilizing constitutional Iraq should result in a steadily diminishing American presence there.
In Europe, the French under Nicolas Sarkozy and the Germans under Angela Merkel will remain pro-American. But they will also expect continued American leadership. Both may talk grandly of the Atlantic Alliance, but in real terms they do little to help us in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Most of Africa likewise is already friendly to the United States. And why not? President Bush extended more humanitarian aid to combat African hunger and disease than any president in our history.
But what of our enemies? Won't adversaries back off when the Christian cowboy George Bush rides back to Texas and we have a kinder, gentler commander-in-chief who offers hope, or at least change, to the world?
There are plenty of problems that both antedated George Bush and are likely to continue well after he's left office.
For starters, the next American president will have to deal with Vladimir Putin's Russia, which is proud and angry for reasons that go well beyond the Bush administration. Russia is flush with petrodollars, still smarting over lost empire and tired of lectures about human rights from impotent European states.
Iran, which repeatedly snubbed the efforts of the Clinton administration to normalize relations, will still want a bomb, will still intimidate neighbors and will still threaten Israel. Indeed, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Hitlerian fashion, has called the Jewish state "filthy bacteria" and promised to wipe it off the map. He didn't say these things because George Bush is president, and he won't stop when Bush is gone.
Sen. Barack Obama, who looks more and more every day like he'll be the Democratic presidential nominee, has said he'd be in favor of taking out "high-value terrorist targets" inside Pakistan on our own if the Pakistani government won't. But so far we haven't done that because Pakistan is nuclear and friendlier to jihadists than it is to us. That won't change, either.
Osama bin Laden's attacks on Americans also predated George Bush. The war on terror started only when we finally decided to strike back in 2001. And it will end only when we destroy the jihadists and alter the conditions that created them or give in and return to the earlier policy of inaction.
Long-term global challenges are bipartisan concerns neither caused by conservative Republicans nor solved by easy answers from liberal Democrats.
Should we guarantee the new independence of Muslim-dominated Kosovo, if Christian Serbia and its Russian patrons seek to get it back by force? If so, consider the chance of another bloody war inside Europe, and no appreciation for our help in Kosovo from the Muslim world.
Should we press China to clean up its trade practices and grant basic human rights to its own citizens? If so, be ready to see hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese-held U.S. government bonds sold off.
Should we extend formal diplomatic recognition to Iran and begin talks? If so, be prepared that, with even less worry, Tehran will accelerate efforts to get the bomb.
It is a cop-out to say George Bush caused all these problems. They loom large mostly for two reasons. One, the United States promotes global democratic capitalism, and our military ensures international free commerce in the air and on the seas. This bothers regional dictators and terrorists eager to carve out their own spheres of influence, regardless of who's sitting in the Oval Office.
Two, billions of people in India, Russia, China, Asia and Latin America, having copied American business and culture, are now doing better, and demand the same good lives we take for granted.
Our rivals suspect that we are played out, short of energy, long on debt, and hogging the world's resources. They see no reason to stop pushing just because of our past strength and reputation. They think the future is theirs, the past ours. And so all over the globe they will surely challenge the next president, however nice, to prove them wrong.
Liberal Democrats from the North haven't had much success in recent presidential elections not Hubert Humphrey, not George McGovern, not Walter Mondale, not Mike Dukakis and not John Kerry. Democratic Southerners Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have done quite a bit better.
Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, knows this history. So why does he think he can be the first Northern liberal Democratic president since John F. Kennedy edged out Richard Nixon almost a half-century ago?
First, there is no incumbent president or vice president running for the first time in over 50 years. Add a controversial war, an unpopular incumbent and a shaky economy, and you've got a wide-open race full of voters rethinking things as never before.
Second, as the first African-American candidate to seriously contend for either party's nomination, Obama offers Americans a sort of collective redemption at home and admiration abroad.
When Obama's wife, Michelle, stated that she had never been proud of America until her husband ran for office, she made explicit what seems to be the campaign's implicit contract: Vote for Obama and, at last, America, you can prove you are not a racist country and finally heal centuries-old wounds.
Many Americans are also tired of the flag-burning, embassy-storming and other virulent and often violent anti-Americanism broadcast into our homes from overseas. They apparently hope a young President Obama would recast the United States as a hip, likable multicultural society, marking an end to the stereotype of the U.S. as a stodgy white-guy superpower.
Third, and most important, Obama still continues to talk in platitudes of hope and change. His delivery is excellent and so far how he speaks rather than what he says is what has mesmerized crowds. Indeed, if Obama were honestly to articulate in any detail what he has stood for, then his long laundry list of new taxes and social programs might not be so warmly received.
There is surely a reason why various monitoring groups have given Obama an almost-perfect liberal ranking based on his Senate votes.
He favors re-negotiating NAFTA and threatening to raise some trade barriers, on the premise the United States cannot compete abroad and that other countries won't follow suit and retaliate.
His version of the war on terror is largely a story of lost civil liberties and eroding the Constitution, not that we've done something right these past six years to prevent another 9/11.
He's spoken of the surge as a failure not a success that has stabilized Iraq and paved the way for a downsizing soon of American troops there.
And he believes Iran has grown into a threat not just because of its desire to spread radical Islam, acquire the bomb, destabilize its neighbors and destroy Israel, but also in large part due either to our presence in Iraq or to our diplomatic failure to talk and engage with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a broader sense, the pessimistic Obama theme is that elites have stacked the deck against the average Joe, who can't get a doctor, pay for his children's college education or pay his mortgage. Therefore, we must take back more income from the better-paid and hire a lot more people in government like Barack Obama to more wisely administer the money.
Obama's overall message to the extent we know from cross-examination and position papers seems very different from Bill Clinton's, who reformed welfare, advocated free trade, held the line on government growth and spending, advocated strong international engagement, and emphasized crime fighting. Indeed, at home and abroad it's more reminiscent of George McGovern's hoped-for changes.
The irony is that Obama really does offer a change not just in matters of youth, race and eloquence, but also in that we have not seen such a leftish philosophy on the national scene in over a generation.
His handlers should let Obama be Obama in the manner that true believers once demanded that handlers stop sugarcoating Ronald Reagan and instead let him make the case for his bedrock conservative beliefs.
Obama should now follow through on his promises of a new politics of candor and transparency, and use his magnetism and persuasive skills to make the detailed liberal case for more taxes on the wealthier for more government services for the majority along with trade protectionism as the proper antidote to our problems.
Who knows? Maybe today's indebted Americans really do want to move leftward toward a centralized European model. But the voters should at least be given the chance to understand fully in 2008 what they may well get in 2009 and beyond.