I believe that how America deploys its power should be of more than casual interest in the 2004 U.S. Presidential elections. From the days of the Founding Fathers, American politics has been defined by powerful officials and institutions checked by legal controls.

While many believe constitutional checks are enough, I propose that at the end of the day it’s not enough to bet on our laws and institutions. In cloudy days like these, one’s best bet may well be on individual human beings rather than laws and institutions. To bet on anything else is only half a bet. You have to bet on individual human beings — flesh, blood and lots of riotous hormones.

As a boy I immersed myself in the world of King Arthur and his legendary Knights. These were fierce fighters, armed with deadly weapons wielded in the service of good. Legend says the deadliest weapon was owned by the master himself — King Arthur. The Excalibur that King Arthur handled is said to have been so lethal that to stand in its way was tantamount to suicide.

Since I came to Yale about a month ago as a World Fellow, I have listened to lectures by people learned in “world affairs.” Any class in Grand Strategy leaves one convinced of America’s awesome power. I have since sat at the feet of the “three musketeers” of grand strategy at Yale. The worldly wise Charles Hill, having previously worked for the government, seems to really understand the way things work. John Gaddis, possessing of a wizened sense of knowledge, is cautiously wowed by the whole affair. Paul Kennedy, with a pained consciousness, believes the whole thing is misdirected into badly aimed panty raids. Yale would be much the worse if the three were of the same mind.

Coming from Uganda, I know little of such issues in American politics and what little I know is basically “C-Spanola”. But even that is too much for the purpose which drove me to pen these lines.

As the only superpower left standing after the Cold War, America today is like a giant tree and wherever one walks on the globe, the roots of this tree lie underneath. If any wind shakes the tree, policy-makers thousands of miles away feel the movement under their very soles. American power is that pervasive.

While the process of U.S. elections may be an American affair, the outcome evokes global interest. In 2004, the world will either sigh with relief when a victor who embodies compassion and unselfishness assumes office or groan in horror at the painful prospect that the costly panty raids Professor Kennedy speaks of will continue.

Which brings us back to Excalibur. One must be of a certain character to wield a weapon as powerful as Excalibur. He who would wield the Excalibur that is the U.S. economic and military might ought to be compassionate and unselfish. To the degree that an individual office-seeker is callous and selfish, that individual must be disqualified from wielding the sword.

As an outsider from the world’s poorest and most unstable continent, I can only hope that a person with the qualities of King Arthur wins in 2004. My prayer is that campaign rhetoric does not confuse this basic matter. We don’t just need a person who claims to be compassionate and unselfish, but one who has demonstrated those qualities.

Norbert Mao is a Ugandan Member of Parliament and currently a Yale World Fellow. He is also Chairman of the Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace and a Board Member of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank (PNoWB).