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The challenge with China is the challenge with other great powers--and with Obama's foreign policy in general. It is worthwhile to have good relations with countries. But it is crucial to have good relations in the service of a broader vision of a world that is characterized by increasing levels of openness, economic interdependence, international cooperation, peace, prosperity and liberty. Over the past 60 years, the U.S. has helped build an international order characterized by institutions, policies, norms and best practices. The hundreds of organizations that help coordinate countries' policies on everything from trade to disease prevention to environmental protection are all new creatures in international life, and they have created a world of greater peace and prosperity than humans have even known. But this world needs shoring up as new nations rise to power. The challenge for the U.S. is to make a stable structure for the world that all the newly emerging powers can buy into and uphold. That means revitalizing global trade, pushing through on a nuclear-nonproliferation agenda, working to integrate the emerging powers and, perhaps crucially, articulating a vision of this world.
Henry Kissinger once said that the test for a statesman was to find the place between stagnation and overextension. Good tactics alone would leave you reacting to events and stagnant in the stream of history. Too vast a vision would leave you overextended, exhausted and inviting adversaries. Barack Obama is already pointed in the right direction on foreign policy. The challenge for him is to find the sweet spot.