America's Imperiled Reputation

Over the last 100 years, brave Americans on the battlefield and industrious Americans back home played a major role in making the world’s citizens more free, secure, and prosperous. For most of that time, most of the world viewed us as—mostly—a force for good. Now we have another battle to fight. It’s one in which the enemy has new psychological advantages. Despots and fanatics paint a picture of America as intent on exploiting others for its own power and wealth. Our answer has been mostly military, with boots on the ground and drone strikes from the air. All with good reason. Yet we must not forget the wisdom of President Kennedy, who understood that we needed to win both the war and the argument. Persuasion, through demonstration of universally valued attributes, must supplement our military force. Kennedy knew that he couldn’t impose our capitalist system on other nations. He envisioned the Moon shots as a way to prove the superiority of the American Way without using force.

The secret of Apollo: we shared it. Our President announced to the world a seemingly impossible goal, and then we openly communicated both our progress and our setbacks with people around the world. When we succeeded, we won more than a race against the Soviets. We won the hearts of countless individuals and national leaders, globally, without firing a gun.

This powerful tool of international influence is still available to us, if we choose to use it.