Off to the Races

Trump Erodes U.S. Tradition of Global Leadership

The president has pulled America back from the role it has played for decades.

AP Photo
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
Charlie Cook
July 3, 2017, 8 p.m.

When Pres­id­ent Trump heads to Po­land and the G-20 sum­mit in Ger­many this week, he will be go­ing in a dif­fer­ent ca­pa­city than any pres­id­ent in our life­times.

Dur­ing the first half of the 20th cen­tury, the U.S. be­came the lead­er of the West­ern, demo­crat­ic world. In the second half of that cen­tury, there was no real rival as lead­er of the free world. With glob­al lead­er­ship came prestige and clout, but also re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and bur­dens. With little com­plaint, gen­er­a­tions of Amer­ic­ans shouldered those re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, some in uni­form (though at a cost of both lives and treas­ure, tax­pay­er funds that surely could have been spent at home).

In less than a year, that tra­di­tion of glob­al lead­er­ship has vir­tu­ally evap­or­ated.

Cov­er­ing a speech by Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel shortly after a NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels and a G-7 meet­ing in Italy, the head­line in the May 29 New York Times was “Wary of Trump, Merkel Doubts U.S. Is Sol­id Ally.” Merkel said, “The times in which we could rely fully on oth­ers—they are some­what over,” adding that European coun­tries should “really take our fate in­to our own hands.”

Soon after, Ca­na­dian For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land told the Ca­na­dian Par­lia­ment that she “has come to ques­tion the very worth of its mantle of glob­al lead­er­ship,” Canada, like oth­er coun­tries, must “set our own clear and sov­er­eign course.” Free­land is a former U.S. ed­it­or of the Fin­an­cial Times. Paul Hein­beck­er, former Ca­na­dian am­bas­sad­or to the United Na­tions and ad­visor to a num­ber of Ca­na­dian gov­ern­ments, com­men­ted, “I saw it as be­ing based on the re­cog­ni­tion that Wash­ing­ton can’t or won’t lead.”

As Richard Haass, pres­id­ent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, wrote last month, “It is in­creas­ingly clear that U.S. Pres­id­ent Don­ald Trump rep­res­ents a de­par­ture when it comes to Amer­ica’s glob­al out­look and be­ha­vi­or. As a res­ult, the United States will no longer play the lead­ing in­ter­na­tion­al role that has defined its for­eign policy for three-quar­ters of a cen­tury, un­der Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents alike.”

Haass, au­thor of the new book, A World in Dis­ar­ray: Amer­ic­an For­eign Policy and the Crisis of the Old World, ad­ded that “a shift away from a U.S.-dom­in­ated world of struc­tured re­la­tion­ships and stand­ing in­sti­tu­tions and to­ward something else is un­der way. What this al­tern­at­ive will be, however, re­mains largely un­know­able. What we do know is that there is no al­tern­at­ive great power will­ing and able to step in and as­sume what had been the U.S. role.”

However, “the ab­sence of a single suc­cessor to the U.S. does not mean that what awaits is chaos. At least in prin­ciple, the world’s most power­ful coun­tries could come to­geth­er to fill Amer­ica’s shoes. In prac­tice, though, this will not hap­pen, as these coun­tries lack the cap­ab­il­it­ies, ex­per­i­ence, and, above all, a con­sensus on what needs do­ing and who needs to do it.”

It isn’t just world lead­ers and for­eign policy elites who see this change; a re­cent Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey of cit­izens in 37 coun­tries around the world with at least 800 in­ter­views in each found that in “the clos­ing years of the Obama pres­id­ency, a me­di­an of 64 per­cent had a pos­it­ive view of the U.S. Today, just 49 per­cent are fa­vor­ably in­clined to­ward Amer­ica,” not­ing that “some of the steep­est de­clines in U.S. im­age are found among long-stand­ing al­lies.” The study found that “the drop in fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings for the United States is wide­spread. The share of the pub­lic with a pos­it­ive view of the U.S. has plummeted in a di­verse set of coun­tries from Lat­in Amer­ica, North Amer­ica, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings have only in­creased in Rus­sia and Vi­et­nam.”

The poll found that “a me­di­an of just 22 per­cent has con­fid­ence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to in­ter­na­tion­al af­fairs. This stands in con­trast to the fi­nal years of Barack Obama’s pres­id­ency, when a me­di­an of 64 per­cent ex­pressed con­fid­ence in Trump’s pre­de­cessor to dir­ect Amer­ica’s role in the world.” The Pew study showed that the “sharp de­cline in how much glob­al pub­lics trust the U.S. pres­id­ent on the world stage is es­pe­cially pro­nounced among some of Amer­ica’s closest al­lies in Europe and Asia, as well as neigh­bor­ing Mex­ico and Canada. Across the 37 na­tions polled, Trump gets high­er marks than Obama in only two coun­tries: Rus­sia and Is­rael.”

In a May study con­duc­ted for the Asi­an Re­search Net­work, a con­sor­ti­um of pub­lic-policy in­sti­tutes in Aus­tralia, China, In­done­sia, In­dia, Korea, and Ja­pan, and su­per­vised by pro­fess­ors Si­mon Jack­man of the United States Study Centre at the Uni­versity of Sydney and Gor­don Flake of the Perth USAsia Cen­ter at the Uni­versity of West­ern Aus­tralia, showed that “as­sess­ments of Amer­ic­an in­flu­ence and value in the re­gion have di­min­ished—par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, and Korea, but not in China.” The sur­vey, which in­ter­viewed at least 750 cit­izens in each of those six Pa­cific Rim coun­tries, found that in Aus­tralia, for ex­ample, “re­spond­ents in­creas­ingly see China as hav­ing the most in­flu­ence in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion (72 per­cent).” Only 11 per­cent chose the United States. Ad­di­tion­ally, “more than half of Aus­trali­ans (62 per­cent) per­ceive Amer­ic­an in­flu­ence in the next five years as neg­at­ive un­der U.S. Pres­id­ent Don­ald Trump.”

There is no doubt that elec­tions have con­sequences. Last Novem­ber, Amer­ic­ans voted for Trump and his slo­gan, “Make Amer­ica Great Again.” But what ex­actly were the voters say­ing? It is clear that many Amer­ic­ans felt ig­nored or dis­respec­ted, that the elites on the East and West Coasts, in gov­ern­ment, the me­dia, and in both cor­por­ate Amer­ica and in or­gan­ized labor, had ig­nored their in­terests and watched idly while their real in­comes waned as oth­ers flour­ished. The rich and power­ful were do­ing well, but these voters felt that they were work­ing harder and harder and mak­ing little, if any, pro­gress. There was also a sense that some were cut­ting or get­ting pro­moted to the front of the line, along with re­sent­ment about minor­it­ies and im­mig­rants that had been build­ing for some time.

While cer­tainly many of these Trump voters want us to fo­cus more on prob­lems at home, did they con­sciously choose for the United States to ab­dic­ate its po­s­i­tion as glob­al lead­er, as the Lead­er of the Free World? Did they in­tend a fun­da­ment­al change in the dir­ec­tion of U.S. lead­er­ship? For a lot of for­eign policy pros, if you asked them who is the most re­spec­ted lead­er of all demo­crat­ic coun­tries, they would more likely say An­gela Merkel than Don­ald Trump.

What We're Following See More »
Sessions: DOJ Will No Longer Issue Guidance Documents
18 minutes ago

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the Justice Department will revamp its policy for issuing guidance documents. Speaking at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington Friday, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer issue guidance that 'purports to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.' He said DOJ will review and repeal any documents that could violate this policy." Sessions said: “Too often, rather than going through the long, slow, regulatory process provided in statute, agencies make new rules through guidance documents—by simply sending a letter. This cuts off the public from the regulatory process by skipping the required public hearings and comment periods—and it is simply not what these documents are for. Guidance documents should be used to explain existing law—not to change it.”

Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
1 hours ago
Steele Says Follow the Money
3 hours ago

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
3 hours ago

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
4 hours ago

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.