Jan 13th 2020

America’s Decline Continues

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

 

Despite its claims of making America more respected and feared in the world, the Trump Administration’s behaviors have only contributed to accelerating the decline in America’s leadership. President Trump’s demonstrated disdain for international agreements and law, his erratic behavior, and his reckless tweets, have left world leaders and their publics alternating between being confounded and frightened. One result has been that some allies and opponents have sought leadership and more predictable partnerships elsewhere.

This was not the way it was just three decades ago when the United States emerged victorious from the Cold War and the first Bush Administration appeared to seamlessly manage the transition to a unipolar world order. While the Clinton Administration largely maintained continuity with their predecessor’s approach, President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq marked the beginning of the unraveling of American leadership and the end of the idea of a unipolar world.

Unlike the constructive use of diplomacy favored by his father and President Clinton, George W.’s policies were reckless and unilateral, and, more often than not, shaped more by ideology than reality. The results were devastating to the US and the world. Iraq was a case in point.

According to the neoconservative ideologues who were driving George W.’s approach to the Middle East, a decisive use of force against Iraq would accomplish a number of critical objectives. First and foremost, it would secure the US role as the dominant world hegemon, insuring a US-led unipolar world for the foreseeable future. They also believed that with Saddam gone, democracy would spontaneously take root in Iraq, transforming not only that country but the entire Middle East.

As we have seen, the opposite occurred. America became ground down in a long costly war that took a terrible toll not only in lives and treasure, but in America’s standing in the world. As the war dragged on, it became clear that not only was America weaker and less respected, but other regional and international players began to assert themselves. As a result of this foolish war, the very multipolarity the neoconservatives sought to forestall became a reality.

Globally, Russia and China expanded their roles and, in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran sought increased influence, as did Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners. Maybe the most consequential impact of the Iraq war was the extent to which it emboldened and unleashed Iran, enabling it to pursue its meddlesome sectarian behavior across the region.

The Obama Administration began with great promise. Recognizing the damage done by his predecessor, President Obama declared his intention to correct course and rebuild confidence in America’s role in the world. So desperate were some to see America restored as a stable leader and partner that the new president was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The award proved to be premature. Obama’s failure to deliver on his visionary promise and his administration’s tendency to hesitate and/or meander when confronted by challenges, caused both frustration and deep disappointment.

Then came Donald Trump. Despite early signs of erratic behavior and his “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” approach to global and domestic problems, there was some hope –especially in parts of the Middle East – that given his business background, he would be fair and decisive in the policies he pursued in the world. This, too, proved to be premature. 

After Bush and Obama, what many across the Middle East hoped for was a “Goldilocks and Three Bears” US president. One who wouldn’t be “too much” or “too little” – but “just right.” They wanted American leadership that was decisive, principled, and predictable. What they got instead was the worst of the past combined in one president. He has been reckless, bombastic, and unpredictable. And he has made great promises that have elevated expectations, only to fail to deliver on them.


Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East.     

In the fall of 2019, for example, we found that the initial optimism in some Arab countries that Trump Administration policies toward some regional concerns might move in a positive direction has now dissipated. There is a sharp decline in respondents’ views of US policies toward resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, helping to stabilize Syria and Iraq, deal constructively with the Muslim World, and coherently address the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear and regional agendas.

When we asked respondents in 10 countries whether they have seen positive or negative change in US policy toward each of these critical concerns – in almost every instance and in almost every country, negative change far surpassed positive change. In only one case – that of US policy toward Syria – did respondents in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE see some signs of positive change – largely due to the successful fight against Daesh. This, however, was before the Trump Administration sent conflicting signals about its intention to withdraw from Syria. As a result, when we asked respondents in the same 10 countries to look forward to the next decade and identify the countries they felt would be their most dependable ally, the US ranked first in only Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Ranking high in other countries were the EU (first in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Turkey) and China, with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and India scoring well in a few others.

The bottom line here is that in just three decades, the US has gone from being the undisputed superpower to a mere competitor with other global and regional powers. Far from restoring America’s leadership role, the Trump Administration’s failure to deliver on its promises, its lack of coherency, and its penchant for one-off dangerous acts, have made it feared, but not trusted as a reliable partner. And so other nations, have either turned elsewhere for partnerships or been forced to rely on their own resources. The decline of America’s role continues. 

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Sep 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world. The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland."
Sep 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime."
Sep 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Huawei case is a harbinger of a world in which national security, privacy, and economics will interact in complicated ways. Global governance and multilateralism will often fail, for both good and bad reasons. The best we can expect is a regulatory patchwork, based on clear ground rules that help empower countries to pursue their core national interests without exporting their problems to others. Either we design this patchwork ourselves, or we will end up, willy-nilly, with a messy, less efficient, and more dangerous version."
Sep 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s footprint in global foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased notably since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. That served to bring Chinese overseas FDI closer to a level that one would expect, based on the country’s weight in the global economy. China accounted for about 12% of global cross-border mergers and acquisitions and 9% of announced greenfield FDI projects between 2013 and 2018. Chinese overseas FDI rose from $10 billion in 2005 (0.5% of Chinese GDP) to nearly $180 billion in 2017 (1.5% of GDP). Likewise, annual construction contracts awarded to Chinese companies increased from $10 billion in 2005 to more than $100 billion in 2017."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created and still creating health issues, economic challenges, political crises and social conflicts around the world. These challenges and conflicts lead the international community to re-evaluate global governance and international structures, which is based on the second world-war and post-cold war. The pandemic will emerge a new era of international society that will not be similar to the pre-Corona world."
Aug 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Russia has changed, and has been changing, since its beginnings in ancient Muscovy to its current condition as Putin’s realm. Some general features appear in much of Russian history. Most of its rulers have been authoritarian—but so, too, were most of England’s, France’s, and Germany’s. Many of its political and intellectual elites have considered Russia a special civilization deserving a place in the sun—but just as many have not, wanting to transform Russia into a Western state with Western values. Many Russians have been enamored of their country, but even more have probably damned it for destroying them and their children. What, then, is Russia? It is, and has always been, many, oftentimes contradictory, things—sometimes coexisting, sometimes getting the upper hand, always shifting, always eluding simplistic analysis. But, and this needs to be emphasized, the same holds true for every other country in the world."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Double dips – defined simply as a decline in quarterly real GDP following a temporary rebound – have occurred in eight of the 11 recessions since the end of World War II. .............Financial markets aren’t the least bit worried about a relapse, owing largely to unprecedented monetary easing, which has evoked the time-honored maxim: “don’t fight the Fed.” Added comfort comes from equally unprecedented fiscal relief aimed at mitigating the pandemic-related shock to businesses and households.......This could be wishful thinking."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "There is no question that the re-election of President Donald Trump would endanger both the US and the world. Moreover, there is ample reason to fear that a close election could drive the US into a deep, prolonged constitutional crisis, and perhaps into civil violence.........One can only hope that the election will produce a decisive winner both in the Electoral College and in the popular vote. Yet, even then, tallying the final result may take time, owing to the massive increase in mail-in voting that is expected. Every ballot that has a postmark of November 2 or 3 (depending on the state) will be considered valid, which means that the final result will not be known until after Election Day. During that window of uncertainty, either or both campaigns may try to claim victory based on the current vote count. In any case, there is no chance that Trump will wait graciously in the Oval Office for days or weeks to receive the final tally. In interviews, he has already issued vague statements suggesting that he will not leave the White House if he loses; indeed, he seems to be actively preparing for such a scenario. If he follows through, the world’s leading superpower will find itself facing a protracted – and perhaps intractable – constitutional crisis.
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "the European Union is a community of values as much as an economic and trade bloc. But the behavior of member states such as Poland and Hungary has called into question their commitment to liberal democracy. Above all, in the US, President Donald Trump is widely criticized, even by lifelong Republicans, for not respecting or understanding the US constitution and the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Does Trump even believe in democracy? Does he want all Americans to vote in November, regardless of race or party affiliation, or only those who will support him? And will he accept the election result if it goes against him? "
Aug 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The fundamental difference in values between the West and China will remain indefinitely, and it is here that the West must draw the line. Any concession that entails a sacrifice of fundamental principles, for example in cultural matters, must be rejected. If this values-based approach results in economic disadvantages, so be it. By the same token, the West should abandon the conceit that it can push, force, or cajole China to become a democracy wrought in its own image. "
Aug 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is light years ahead of most of the rest of the world in deploying digital payment technology. Alipay or WeChat Pay apps are all that is necessary to accomplish almost anything that requires a payment in China; the country is largely already making paper money obsolete. "
Aug 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seven hundred fifty billion euros is less than 5% of the stock of US government debt held by the public. It’s a drop in the bucket, in other words. And a drop does not a liquid market in safe assets make. Even if this really is Europe’s “Hamiltonian moment,” ramping up EU issuance by a factor of 20 will take decades. "
Aug 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "But the race is not over. In the 2016 election, prices moved the most in the two months just before the election. Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in prediction markets throughout the campaign and was seen as favourite only on election day – showing that the underdog can recover. So despite Trump’s poor position now, he might still regain some ground."
Aug 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "Last year, in the midst of the country-wide protests against corruption, I was honored by a Lebanese humanitarian organization. I began my remarks paraphrasing Kahlil Gibran’s poem “You have your Lebanon, I have my Lebanon.” Like Gibran, I love the Lebanese people, their poetry, art, song, and love of life. I love their generous and welcoming spirit. I also love what Lebanon has given to the world – especially its gifted people. And I love the sheer beauty of the country – its majestic snow-capped mountains and its pristine seascapes. And, like Gibran, I do not love Lebanon’s petty bickering politicians who lead because of an accident of birth. Nor can I embrace the country’s system of sectarian privilege and the corruption that is endemic to the political-economic regime that has squeezed Lebanon dry to the benefit of their chosen ones. And I reject the armed militias, whether they be Christian, Muslim, or secular that in the past and in the present continue to torment those who challenge their dominance. I told the audience that the Lebanon I loved was in the streets making their voices heard demanding fundamental reform – an end to sectarianism, corrupt feudal elites, and rule by force of arms."
Aug 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is time for the world’s governments and companies to wake up. Beijing’s reach is wide and deep. It is taking advantage of the West’s openness – and gaps and inconsistencies in our data protection protocols - to acquire information on all of us. The hacks on Anthem, Equifax, Marriott, and the US government are good examples of how they have already done so. American and Western companies need to take a hard look at the costs and benefits associated with operating in China and continuing to have Chinese partners. Those partners must comply with these Laws. American and Western companies that continue to operate with them may unwittingly well be aiding and abetting the Chinese government."
Aug 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "James Murdoch is not the most obvious candidate for editorial heroism. His route to resigning from the News Corp board because of “disagreements over certain editorial content” has been circuitous and colourful."
Aug 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Say what you will about the slippery slope the US government has been on since Trump came to power, America has a rich history of promoting creative thought, running head-first into particularly uncomfortable subjects, and encouraging robust debate internally and among its allies and partners. Once Trump leaves the scene, America is sure to be perceived as having briefly lost its senses and will come charging back into the mainstream of global thought, debate, and engagement. China has entered the global arena crippled by its own ideology. Ultimately, the US is better equipped to lead the world. It knows that, and so does most of the rest of the world. Someone had better tell Beijing."
Jul 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Chinese government has for years argued that its ‘nine-dash line’ of sovereignty over the entire Sea is based on centuries of maritime history, and that China’s claim is air tight. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has even asserted that ample historical documents and literature demonstrate that China was “the first country to discover, name, develop and exercise continuous, effective jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands”. "
Jul 23rd 2020
EXTRACTS: "Like many, I have long been critical of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union as a dysfunctional currency area. Notwithstanding a strong political commitment to European unification as the antidote to a century of war and devastating bloodshed, there was always a critical leg missing from the EMU stool: fiscal union. Not anymore. The historic agreement reached on July 21 on a €750 billion ($868 billion) European Union recovery fund, dubbed Next Generation EU, changes that.................Unlike the United States, which appears to be squandering the opportunities presented by the epic COVID-19 crisis, Europe has risen to the occasion – and not for the first time."
Jul 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "I cannot recommend strongly enough Anne Applebaum’s recent book Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends. Advancing her arguments with eloquence and personal testimony, Applebaum passionately decries the corrosion of liberal, open-society values in the last three decades. Her book is a practical reminder of what all democrats should have learned from reading Karl Popper’s magisterial The Open Society and Its Enemies, itself written in liberal democracy’s darkest hours during WWII."