Professors James Goldgeier and Bruce W Jentleson, in a provocative article in Foreign Affairs, say that despite the fact that the notion “That the United States should lead the world is often taken for granted, at least in Washington, D.C. … [because] … The country played that role for more than seven decades after World War II, and most Americans don’t want China to assume it … [but] … global leadership is not an American entitlement,” even though Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a committed internationalist, in their view, claimed, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, that if he replaces Donald Trump as US President things will just go back to “normal.”
Drs Goldgeier and Jentleson explain that President “Trump has broken with traditions of U.S. global leadership in a long and familiar list of ways. But while most of Washington’s allies (with a few notable exceptions, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia) are of the “Anybody but Trump” inclination, restoring a constructive U.S. role in the world will require much more than proclaiming that the United States is back and reverting to a pre-Trump playbook. The country must come to terms with fundamental shifts in its global position. Seen in historical perspective, the country has gone from being apart to atop and, now, to amid the world, and the transition requires some adjustments.” I think that’s a very fair assessment: America has forfeited it’s “top dog” position and must now, as they say, adapt to being “not apart or atop but rather amid the world, both shaping and being shaped by global events and forces … [because, they say] … Today’s world is no longer one in which any nation – whether the United States or China – can sit atop the others. Shifts in the relationships between states have made such domination less likely.“
The crux of their proposal, it seems to me, is that the US needs to “come back,” it needs to be a leader amongst the nations of the world, again … but not THE leader. It needs to be at the tables ~ and there are plenty of them ~ but it cannot expect to be at the head of them all. In some fora, NATO, for example, it will be THE dominant power for some long time … without US combat and logistical power NATO is a paper tiger, at best. But in others, including in the WTO, I suspect, it needs to be at the table but its views will not always or perhaps even often prevail.
A dark, even ugly side of America has been revealed over the past few years. Tens of millions, I daresay even a hundred million Americans agree with Donald J Trump that America’s presumed friends and allies are, in fact, just a bunch of freeloaders who want American to protect them even as they swindle the friendly, innocent Americans and steal American jobs. Nothing Joe Biden or any other US leader can say (even do) will erase the knowledge that many, many Americans look at Australians, Brits, Canadian, Danes and so on as opponents. Donald J Trump told a stadium full of cheering fans that Canadian aluminium and steel were threat to America’s national security … and they cheered him!
He’s said similar things about Australia, Germany, Japan the Netherlands and South Korea … and the crowds cheered then, too. America has been sitting at the head of most tables since 1944 …
… but it seems pretty clear that in some fora, like the World Heath Organization, China has already displaced America as “top dog,” and it aims to do so in others. Even the G7 is, no longer, America plus six friends; countries like Germany and Japan are, simply, unwilling to accept America’s “lead.” Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama are gone … America’s claim to leadership went with them.
The problem, as I have alluded to before, is that there is not an obvious leader out there … beyond Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea. What’s needed, I think, are fewer tables with “heads” and more and more “round tables” …
… where there might be a “convenor” but “sherpas,” senior diplomats and officials who do the day-in-day-out, year-in-year-out work of making the admittedly creaky liberal international system work, focus on what is manageable. The United States is, still, blessed with an outstanding diplomatic service, as are Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and so on.