EVERY incoming president faces full-blown crises and an impending dust-up or two, but the winner of this year's campaign will confront headaches unmatched since at least Vietnam.
In addition to the grinding struggle against Al Qaeda and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the new administration will be tested by a belligerent Iran, a splintered Middle East, a still-dangerous regime in Pyongyang, Pakistani turbulence, Russian truculence, rising Chinese power, and the tantalizing unknowns of a post-Fidel Cuba. Nor should the next president be able to avoid tackling such interrelated global perils as climate change, the frenzied scramble for oil, or the growing split between rich and poor.
More challenging, the 44th chief executive will lead a nation that has - over the past seven years - seen its military stretched taut, its finances depleted, its credibility diminished, and its reserves of international popularity scattered like grains of sand in a desert wind.
The new president must come equipped with programs to match problems, but also with the necessary temperament and character to handle the world's most important job. He or she must realize that good intentions and pious hopes will avail little in the absence of analytical skill, an aptitude for global strategy, and the ability to persuade countries to do what we want or, even better, to want what we want. Above all, the next president must be in the habit of thinking critically - which means asking questions, never being satisfied, considering every option, and recognizing and correcting mistakes.
It is almost a year before the next president is sworn in. By then, some campaign promises, fresh now, will have passed their sell-by date. The same is true for free advice. I venture, nonetheless, to offer in advance 10 servings of advice for the next president.
To begin, Mr. President or Madam President: You must honor our troops by always keeping their sacrifices in mind, limiting them to essential missions, equipping them to do their jobs, and bringing them home safely and as soon as circumstances permit.
Second, you must recognize that the American flag includes both red and blue and that bipartisanship is not a four letter word. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on wisdom.
Third, bear in mind that our country is exceptional because of its resources, traditions and ideals, not because we carve out exceptions for ourselves to the rules we insist that others obey; torture is not a weapon with which to fight terror; on the contrary, it has been a humiliation to us and a gift to Al Qaeda.
Fourth, understand that, to many overseas, America today is identified more with violence and arrogance than justice and liberty - more with Guantanamo than Omaha Beach. Your actions and words can change that, but you are not the only story-teller on the street (or Internet). This means that you will have to work hard to resurrect confidence in the American brand. Speak carefully; listen patiently; earn respect without assuming or demanding it; and do battle each day with the axis of evil: poverty, ignorance, and disease.
Fifth, attack Al Qaeda at its weakest point. These terrorists are not warriors but murderers who kill the unarmed, children, and Muslims. They offer no vision for the future except the sword. They should not be accused of Islamic terrorism for their crimes are profoundly un-Islamic. As president, you should make reference frequently and with favor to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.
Sixth, don't allow President Bush's mistakes to dissuade you from promoting democracy. Subtract the passion for liberty from America and we would not be America. Remember, though, that democracy must evolve; it cannot be imposed. It is forged through the blending of lofty ideals with street level experience, as people dare to entrust their rights to others while gaining confidence in the rule of law.
Seventh, believe in the American people. We're not cowed by danger and we are far more willing to sacrifice than most politicians suspect, provided we're treated like adults and told the truth.
Eighth, reward honesty, not flattery; the advisers you need most are those who will be unafraid to warn you when you are about to go astray.
Ninth, learn from the past, but don't rely on historical clichés to dictate future actions. The world never stops in the same place twice. Not every enemy is Hitler and intelligent acts of diplomacy should not be confused with appeasement.
Finally, forget Mt. Rushmore; if you are to leave the White House with your head held high, you must be ever mindful of your own capacity for error and that the voters, not God, made you president. Greatness doesn't come by pursuing greatness; it comes through the steady application of intelligence, guts and nerve to the pursuit of honorable ends.