Pretending that the nation is in decline will do little but provide succour to those who want to maintain an unchallenged American hegemonyby Daniel Bessner / January 15, 2020 / Leave a comment
Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, there has been widespread discussion about the decline of the United States’ position in the world. Trump’s victory, manifold members of the US foreign policy establishment have argued, has engendered the decline of US “world leadership” and the “liberal international order” that, they affirm, fostered peace and prosperity in the seven decades after World War II’s end. Embedded in these criticisms is the anxiety that Trump’s strategy of “America First” has surrendered the United States’ claim to moral global leadership. As Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor, wrote in The New York Times in December 2017:
In Mr. Trump’s estimation, we live in a world where America wins only at others’ expense. There is no common good, no international community, no universal values, only American values. America is no longer “a global force for good,” as in President Obama’s last strategy, or a “shining city on a hill,” as in President Reagan’s vision.
To observers like Rice, Trump’s presidency has augured the end of the era in which non-Americans (supposedly) respected the United States as a force fighting for the global good.
And it is true that Trump is widely distrusted throughout the world. In the United Kingdom, only 32 per cent of those polled believe Trump will “do the right thing regarding world affairs;” in France and Germany that number falls to 20 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively; in Mexico, it’s only 8 per cent. Trump is also among the least trusted of world leaders, with 64 per cent of people polled in over 30 countries expressing “no confidence” in the president.
But, fortunately for advocates of “world leadership” like Susan Rice, American hegemony has very little to do with trust and espoused values and far more to do with actual and potential martial capabilities. The United States is by far the world’s dominant military power and will likely remain so for years to come. It is this material might—not “soft power,” not…