- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

The incoming Bush administration is assembling its foreign policy team and the world will soon learn much more about how our new president defines U.S. national interests in a rapidly changing global environment.

Early indicators are that President-elect George W. Bush rightly sees his role as not only commander in chief of the world's most powerful military but also chief executive officer of the world's most powerful economy. Indeed, his two-day economic forum in Austin with world-class chief executive officers such as General Electric's Jack Welch and Cisco's John Chambers served to underscore this essential point.

Today, America's international interests are defined not just by diplomats, generals and politicians but also by the dynamism of the U.S. economy, now reaching into every nook and cranny of the globe. The companies that operate abroad, the products and services they offer, the popular preferences they represent, and most importantly, the culture they transmit have become the most potent forces in promoting American ideas and ideals. Taken together, they are spreading the gospel of not merely "democratic capitalism," but the more dynamic "entrepreneurial capitalism," and all the social and political values that go with it. They are also the stuff of core American interests.

Global multinational companies have long been demagogued by the Ralph Naders of the world (witness what happened at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle). But, in fact, American companies with a global presence are a force for economic good and social progress. We have seen this, for example, in the way American investment banks have restructured the once-closed world of European merchant banking. When Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs structure and finance a merger in Britain, for example, they certainly take in a generous fee. At the same time, however, they help Europe take another step toward a more transparent and efficient market culture. This redounds to the benefit not only of the companies that operate there, but also to their millions of shareholders and investors here. They create a more innovative and competitive business climate, a climate that helps preserve peace and prosperity in the world.

Or, in yet another sector, think of the effect American television news coverage of the global democratic revolution has on the people and markets where it is beamed. Consider how American Internet and broad-band technology are helping the good news of economic, political, social and spiritual freedom enter heretofore closed countries where people are thirsty for the truth.

The actions of American companies operating worldwide are just one way our private sector has become the chief exporter of an economic culture and a clear set of foreign policy interests. The globalization of private enterprise has ushered in the era of the empowered consumer. It has helped challenge the corruption and regulatory zeal of foreign bureaucracies. It has introduced notions of risk, reward and entrepreneurship to economies still dominated by the public sector. It leads the way toward the kinds of aspirations people will come to have.

These achievements are beneficial to Americans. Their implications for U.S. policy are significant. Increasingly, America should care not only what foreign policy posture the French take, but also what kind of health-care system they have. Europe's attachment to its crumbling welfare state, and the burdens it puts on us, should be as much a concern to us as the strength or fragility of our NATO alliance.

When China or some other nation restricts access to the Internet, we will see it not only as harmful to business interests, but also as a step backward for the kind of societies we want to see flourish. A robust American foreign policy in the 21st century, therefore, has to include not only a willingness and ability to defend freedom, but also the promotion of a broader set of ideas.

As we deal with both established and fledgling democracies, we should be outspoken in favor of competitive markets, limited government interference in commerce, minimal restrictions in communication and information technology, and a business climate that encourages and rewards investment. Indeed, the next American president needs to be willing to promote and defend the culture and values of our free society at home and abroad, as President-elect George W. Bush appears prepared to do.

These are America's and Americans' interests. By speaking out for the values and culture that helped create the most innovative and prosperous society in history, an American president can properly lead the way in articulating American interests and thereby provide the basis for a foreign policy reflective of those interests. In doing so, he can also help ensure the new century will surely be known as the next American Century.

Michael W. Hodin is vice president for corporate affairs at Pfizer Inc.


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