Friday, November 11, 2016

the end of American global leadership

It's ironic that Republicans, whose most common criticism of President Obama's foreign policy was his lack of "leadership," is now stuck with a president who doesn't know or care how to maintain the "leadership of the Free World." Donald Trump may not be a full-fledged isolationist, but he is undeniably a unilateralist. He's happy to let other nations and their leaders praise him and offer their cooperation, but all his instincts and pronouncements suggest that he will go it alone.

America won its global leadership role after 1945 with a diversity of wise actions: massive foreign aid; the United Nations and international financial institutions that were fair to others but gave America special powers; alliances in Europe and Asia that contained communism and limited most of the conflicts that did break out; and a special caution about nuclear weapons that led to arms control and reduction agreements as well as an international effort to limit nuclear proliferation.

All of those American-led building blocks of global order are now in jeopardy. Candidate rump was openly skeptical of the alliances and many of the international organizations and even indifferent to nuclear proliferation. He doesn't want to try to buy influence or support with aid programs; on the contrary, he expects one-time allies to pay more to maintain U.S. support.

Leadership requires followers; followers must be willing to accept the plans of the leaders. A unilateralist America that fails to listen to its potential followers will forfeit that role. And the world will be a mre dangerous place.

Maybe Trump won't be as bad as many now fear. But his comments and behaviors have raised profound uncertainties over the direction of American foreign policy. Europe is facing its own extremist, populist right wing surge. Putin is winning. The pivot to Asia is over. TPP is dead and the regional powers are looking to cut their own deals with Beijing. The new global leader on climate change policies is China! Now if ever is the time for U.S. leadership.

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