When President Obama took office, Osama bin Laden was in hiding, al-Qaida in Iraq was in retreat, and the governments of the Middle East, while not necessarily exemplars of democracy, were at least stable.

Today, seven-and-a-half years later, as we near the end of his presidential term, al-Qaida is resurgent under the leadership of Ayman al Zawahiri, the Taliban rules half of Afghanistan, and al-Qaida in Iraq, after becoming ISIS, has declared a caliphate with more territory than the United Kingdom and with “fully operational” affiliates in 18 nations around the world and dozens more groups sympathetic to its totalitarian religious ideology of global jihad.

Everywhere one looks, our adversaries and enemies have assiduously exploited the vacuum created by the White House.

Syria is in its fourth year of a civil war that has sparked the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen and some 65 million people in the world now live as displaced persons. Libya and Yemen are failed states and the countries that experienced the so-called Arab Spring continue to face instability and multiple Islamic insurgencies. And this is just one particular part of the world where we see the true cost of Obama’s avowed policy of “Leading from Behind.”

In fact, everywhere one looks, our adversaries and enemies have assiduously exploited the vacuum created by a White House that has retreated globally and a president who more often than not sees America as the cause of modern geopolitical problems.

In Iran, the theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring regime in Tehran feels confident enough not only to harass our military vessels in international waters, but to even take our sailors prisoner and steal our technologically sensitive naval equipment — at the same time that they are playing Washington for a gullible mark by closing a deal which brings them closer to nuclear weapons acquisition than they have ever been, including access to more than $150 billion and hundreds of millions of dollars of additional ransom money.

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In both the Western Hemisphere and Europe, Russia has likewise drawn the correct conclusion that in a world in which America is reactive, or even worse, is absent, there are advantages to be had and nefarious interests to be realized.

After President Obama’s multi-nation apology tour, the Kremlin put its irregular warfare machinery into high gear. Strategic bombers were deployed to buzz the Californian coastline in an act of flagrant intimidation redolent of the dangerous brinksmanship of the Cold War. Then, just as the free nation of Ukraine decided to vote with its feet and identify with the West by signing an association agreement with the European Union, Russia broke a taboo that has existed since we won the war against the Nazis — and decided to invade its neighbor and annex Crimea.

As is always the case, Moscow interpreted lack of action and appeasement as a signal for even more aggression, and as we write these lines Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border — with our formal treaty allies, the NATO nations of the Baltic region, fearing that as goes Ukraine so goes Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Elsewhere, China, always calculating and patient, has accelerated its maneuvers to intimidate regional states and expand its sphere of military, political, and economic influence globally.

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Following principles laid down a generation ago in a strategic text titled “Unrestricted Warfare,” Beijing has divided the world into three categories of countries: weak countries it can coerce; corrupt countries it can co-opt; and powerful countries like ours which it can stymie and undermine. The most overt example of this rejuvenated China is Beijing’s atoll-play. In numerous maritime locations, the Chinese military has landed forces on micro-islands, and even built artificial ones in disputed waters, asserting bogus territorial claims and rapidly initiating construction of military installations.

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In Africa, China’s new imperialism has taken a more mercantile flavor. As Washington withdraws its influence on the continent, in part as a result of the administration’s worldview that the West has exploited Africa for too long, the Chinese government and her proxies have gleefully filled the vacuum thus created. From giant investments in raw mineral exploitation rights, to infrastructure deals with chronically corrupt African governments, the Communist Party has established bridgehead after bridgehead on the continent.

These deals will be good for China and bad for Africa, reinforcing dictators and autocrats while worsening exactly those conditions that will eventually lead to heightened local public frustration and instability. This will touch American interests as well, be it through increased terrorist or insurgent violence or general human rights violations resulting in even more refugees.

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America is in retreat. Our enemies know it and they are profiting from our government’s lack of international leadership.

Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and the president of the United States are wrong. America is not and never was an empire. If it was, Afghanistan and Iraq would be run today by American proconsuls, not governments antithetical to our interests. The republic was born in a rejection of colonialism — but that does not mean we must be an isolationist nation. The last 7.5 years have clearly demonstrated that when America is absent from the world stage, bad men will shape the world according to values inimical to the values we stand for.

It is time for America to lead once more. Not in an arrogant fashion which demands others ape our ways, but as a beacon for all who believe in liberty, objective truth, and self-determination.

The world desperately needs us. We will see if after November our new president agrees.

Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D., @SebGorka is professor of Strategy and Irregular Warfare and vice president of The World Policy Institute. Katharine Gorka, @Katharine Gorka, is president of the Council of Global Security.