Saturday, December 30, 2017

A global leadership transition - America steps down while China steps up

Yesterday morning the Daily Star printed an op-ed by Fareed Zakaria, The great global story of our age, in which he takes America, and particularly the Trump administration, to task for abandoning 70 years of American global leadership.

… the largest trend today is the decline of American influence. Not the decline of American power — the country remains economically and militarily in a league of its own — but a decline of its desire and capacity to use that power to shape the world. The current administration seems intent on dismantling America’s great achievements — as it is doing with the World Trade Organization — or to simply be uninterested in setting the global agenda. Donald Trump will be the first president in nearly a century to end his first year in office without having held a state dinner for a foreign head of state.

And this erosion of America’s global leadership is already causing other countries to adjust. [Scriber: Zakaria cites Germany and Canada as examples.]

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech to the 19th Communist Party Congress in October that reflected his own recognition of these new realities. “China’s international standing has risen as never before,” he noted, and the nation is “blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization.” Xi announced “a new era … that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” In previous speeches he suggested China would become the guarantor of the global trading order.

This, then, is the global story of our times. The creator, upholder and enforcer of the existing international system is withdrawing into self-centered isolation. The other great supporter and advocate of the open, rule-based world, Europe, has not been able to act assertively on the world stage with any clear purpose and remains obsessed with the fate of its own continental project. Filling the power vacuum, a host of smaller, illiberal powers — Turkey, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia — are surging forward in their respective regions. But only China truly has the wherewithal and strategic prowess to potentially shape the next chapter of the story of our age.

World Stage: Exit America

But our leaders either don’t recognize the rather earth-shaking shift, or are deluding themselves as part of their kow-towing to Trump, or just don’t care.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) provides more evidence for these claims as he picks apart a recent column in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy. Benen counters: Despite Tillerson’s boasts, U.S. standing falters abroad.

Last week, ahead of a United Nations vote on Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the American president pressured member nations to oppose the measure. Trump even threatened U.S. allies, warning that he might cut off foreign aid for those who criticize his decision.

The U.N. General Assembly ignored Trump, voting 128 to 9 to rebuke the White House’s policy. As international rebukes go, the vote was a dramatic setback for the United States.

It’s against this backdrop that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a new op-ed, published in today’s New York Times, assuring the public that Americans “should be encouraged” by the Trump administration’s diplomatic “progress.”

That’s one way to look at the international landscape. The L.A. Times had a good piece this week examining a more realistic view.

China has now assumed the mantle of fighting climate change, a global crusade that the United States once led. Russia has taken over Syrian peace talks, also once the purview of the American administration, whose officials Moscow recently deigned to invite to negotiations only as observers.

France and Germany are often now the countries that fellow members of NATO look to, after President Trump wavered on how supportive his administration would be toward the North Atlantic alliance.

And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S., once the only mediator all sides would accept, has found itself isolated after Trump’s decision to declare that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Across the board, on practically every issue, American influence under Trump has waned, at times as part of a deliberate White House strategy. The Times’ article cited international critics of the administration saying the Republican president has taken positions on a range of challenges that have “disqualified the United States from the debate or rendered it irrelevant.”

The assessments are bolstered by quantitative evidence that shows international confidence in the White House, most notably among our closest allies, collapsing in 2017.

Nicholas Burns, a former senior American diplomat under Republican and Democratic administrations, added, “Trump is weak on NATO, Russia, trade, climate, diplomacy. The U.S. is declining as a global leader.”

For more, see Benen’s piece and the LA Times’ report, Trump claims he’s boosting U.S. influence, but many foreign leaders see America in retreat.

This comment on Benen’s piece from Dennis, Columbus, Ohio, is telling.

Confidence in the US by other nations has dropped from 64% a year ago to just 22% this year.
See pages 6, 7 and 8 for great visuals.
It wasn’t even that low in any year during the GW Bush administration.

World Stage: Enter China

After our most recent trip to Africa in 2016, I reported on how China with a vision is Africa’s all weather friend, building railways and airports.

China’s enthusiasm for constructing railroads, schools and stadiums in Africa stands in marked contrast to the role of the United States, which has largely shied away from financing infrastructure on the continent. One of the few exceptions, Power Africa, a $9.7 billion initiative announced by President Barack Obama in 2013, has fallen far short of its goal of providing electricity to 20 million households within five years.

When it comes to trade, China surpassed the United States in 2009 to become Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the United States was also missing opportunities to cultivate loyal customers.

“If you’re looking for new markets, Africa is the place to be,” he said. “But right now, the U.S. is not leveraging Africa’s huge potential. By contrast, the Chinese are there, and they are willing to take risks.”

Aboubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, said he hoped the new railway linking his country to the Ethiopian capital would be just the first leg of a long-dreamed trans-Africa route, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.

“The train is already a game-changer,” he said, noting that it will cut to 12 hours what until now had been a grueling three- or four-day trip by truck.

Mr. Hadi praised the Chinese for going all in after Western banks declined to help finance the nation’s glaring infrastructure needs.

“We approached the U.S., and they didn’t have the vision,” he said. “They are not thinking ahead 30 years. They only have a vision of Africa from the past, as a continent of war and famine. The Chinese have vision.”

From the SkyIslandScriber archives here is more evidence of China’s growing economic and political influence around the globe.

America, you see, still has an influence on the world stage. We bankroll China as it does important stuff that we do not - or, in the era of Trump, we will not, and perhaps in the post-Trump world, we cannot.

Zakaria closes:

A decade ago, I described a “post-American world,” brought on not by the decline of America, but by the “rise of the rest.” That world is indeed coming to fruition because other countries are prospering, but the changes are being dramatically accelerated by the Trump administration’s foolish and self-defeating decision to abdicate America’s global influence — something that has taken more than 70 years to build. As the president might tweet, “Sad!”

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