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Peter Morici: America needs a better president than either Biden or Trump to be a true superpower

American resolve and power, or at least the will to use it, is missing.

At home, crime bedevils San Francisco, Chicago,  New York and other U.S. cities. The U.S. border with Mexico hemorrhages with illegal immigrants. The U.S. Border Patrol has dumped thousands of asylum seekers at bus stops and in train stations in San Diego with little more than the clothes on their back.

The United Auto Workers, radicalized by class-warfare rhetoric, is imposing unaffordable labor costs on the Big Three automakers that undermines the opportunity offered by the Inflation Reduction Act to catch up with China’s electric vehicle industry. Pandering for votes, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both fanned the flames.

International matters are no better. House Republicans seek to block U.S. aid to Ukraine — again it appears America could grow weary and abandon allies in peril.

With each global crisis American diplomats have less clout in foreign capitals beyond the Western alliance. They cannot hope to win adequate support to stop Iran or Russia through sanctions or lean against China in the Pacific. The conflict in Gaza makes this painfully apparent.

Meanwhile, India and much of the Global South are helping Russia bypass Western sanctions. Moreover, with Saudi Arabian, Chinese and other collaboration, Moscow benefits from OPEC limits on production and circumvents sanctions so it can get the price it needs for oil to fund a wartime economy.

The lack of adequate air power and other capabilities to break through Russia’s defenses and strike its supply lines have frustrated Ukraine’s offensive. Repeatedly, Germany — Europe’s wealthiest country — has failed to adequately act.

Biden is always a pound short and far too late. Ukraine is a stalemate that plays into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.

Those who think Biden’s timidity is disheartening should examine Trump’s record of appeasement.

Trump proposes to settle the Ukraine war in 24 hours. Only capitulation—a rerun of his deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan — could accomplish that. Among Trump’s principal GOP rivals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantisvacillates  on supporting Ukraine.

In the South Pacific, the United States has been outflanked by China. The People’s Liberation Army and Navy have militarized the South China Sea and could impose terrible costs on U.S. forces defending Taiwan. China has a security pact with the Solomon Islands — where 7,100 U.S. and Allied troops died at Guadalcanal in World War II — and is building port facilities there.

Taiwanese tech firms are helping Huawei build a chipmaking supply chain to circumvent U.S. sanctions.

International missteps

In a pathetic display of naiveté, Biden — the putative of leader of the West— recently addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Biden hit all the bells—he talked about the need to defend member states against naked aggression, elevate the participation of the Global South in the leadership of world bodies and combat poverty, hunger and climate change.

Biden said: “We hold in our hands the power — in that power to bend the arc of history.”

Except the UN does not even have the power to pluck my guitar strings. In the words of John Foster Dulles, the former U.S. Secretary of State who helped draft the United Nations’ Charter, the global body’s “lack of political power is a semi-permanent fact,” precisely because the participating nations designed it that way.

The only way for America to start winning again is to become a respectable sovereign again and flex its muscles.

A president can’t be stoking cultural wars or class divisions as Trump and Biden are inclined. Instead, an effective president should bring inexorable pressure on the governors of New York, Illinois and California — no matter the political price—to restore domestic order in their cities.

An effective president can stop the hemorrhaging at the border by declaring a national emergency to permit busing the migrants to Tijuana instead of San Diego.

Help Ukraine

We are simply stretched too thinly abroad. It’s time for the U.S. to diminish Putin and help hasten the end of the Ukraine war. Alleviate global hunger by restoring Ukraine’s Black Sea exports through an allied naval escort, declare its ports under U.S. protection and put military advisers there. If Putin harms even one American or allied solider, attack his navy and destroy his other assets in the Middle East and Africa.

Provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs — including the capacity to strike logistic hubs inside Russia.

Sit down with India’s Prime Minister Modi. Start talking power and India’s complicity in the war. Lean on Taiwan about better supporting the America it expects to defend it.

Seeing that, the Global South might start concluding that playing two ends against the middle is a less-than-profitable enterprise.

Perhaps we couldn’t stop China’s President Xi Jinping from taking Taiwan, but those actions would give him ample nightmares about the cost.

All of this requires a new American resolve, and a president with a vision of One America instead of one that’s divided.

Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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