As the transatlantic community faces its greatest challenges since the end of World War II, it is more vital than ever. That theme resonated through the speeches of all three honorees at the second annual  Atlantic Council Global Citizen Award dinner.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, pointed to the crisis in the Eurozone and the continuing standoff  in the United States over budget and warned of dire times. Our economies are more intertwined than ever, with crisis in the American economy set off by the Lehman Brothers collapse spreading to Europe and the potential Greek default and instability of the euro threatening to set off a second wave of misery across the globe.

Lagarde is not fatalistic about  the current circumstance, seeing it as within the power of our collective capability to repair. But it will take decisive, unified action on both sides of the Atlantic.

“When I look at the advanced economies going through difficult times, I think of two different philosophers,” Lagarde said.  “One is Schopenhauer, who said ‘Life is tough, and every day makes it worse.” Instead, she prefers the outlook of the nihilist Nietzsche. “He is not necessarily a happy camper, but happier in his conclusions. He said, ‘What does not destroy us, strengthens us.'”

She remains confident that, when all other options are gone, the leaders of Europe and the United States will lead.  “It is when we move beyond party lines that we can achieve a great deal,” she declared. 

Senator John Kerry was unable to attend in person because he was otherwise occupied trying to do just that as part of the so-called Super Committee in Congress. Speaking via video, he pointed to the importance of the transatlantic relationship and the work of his hosts in promoting it, “The work of the Atlantic Council  has kept the U.S.-European relationship front and center in Washington’s discussions about foreign policy and has provided thoughtful, creative, nonpartisan input on tough issues. We need that in our politics now more than at any moment that I can remember.”

Bahaa Hariri, accepting the award on behalf of his father, the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, went further still. His argument, in essence, was that the people of the Middle East and those around the world yearning for dignity and an improved life desperately need the leadership of the United States and Europe. “Egypt is the vanguard of change in region,” he explained. “And US and European leadership is essential to success.” 

This message, however, comes with a provocative corollary: the ability of the traditional Western powers to influence the world for good is directly tied to getting our own houses in order. So long as the world sees us a weak and indecisive, our ability to guide it is jeopardized.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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