If we reach the following highly unpleasant conclusion, what are the implications?
The United States has taken a political turn which, at least for the next four years, will guarantee that it does not play the role of a great power mindful of and willing to protect its own true interests, to support its allies, and to combat its real foes. On the contrary, through inaction or active effort the leadership of America will take counterproductive actions that achieve the opposite result. And there are certain factors — radical ideological hegemony, a weak economy and growing debt, structural social changes, the weakness and disorganization of the opposition — that may make this situation regarding America’s international behavior and policies a long-term, partly irreversible condition. In other words, we don’t know if America is finished as the world’s leading power, but we do know that it will not have leadership and certainly not leadership in a good direction for a while and perhaps will never fully recover.
So what do those outside the United States do to face this situation? (Please note that I am speaking here only of U.S. foreign policy and just remarking on the domestic situation.)
There are those readers who would contest the accuracy of this statement. They will say that Barack Obama is a great president, or at least a decent one, and there is no big problem regarding U.S. foreign policy at all. In fact, he and his team, which now includes Secretary of State-designate John Kerry, will be just fine, or at least okay. They will make the point — valid, but irrelevant — that the United States doesn’t control everything in the world.
Of course, but what about the things it can affect? Unfortunately, American allies and clients cannot afford the luxury of clueless optimism or wishful thinking. Some will grumble publicly and scramble to limit the damage. Others will smile, praise the president, and scramble to limit the damage.
To put it another way: it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. I’m telling you what’s actually happening.
Other readers will want to debate endlessly on the cause of the problem. Why is this happening? Is it deliberate or due to incompetence and bad ideology? Various conspiracy theories will be raised, and time wasted on them. To put this another way: for the purposes of this particular article at least I don’t care who or what you blame or what you intend to do about it, I’m talking about what’s happening right now.
It is fortunate that in these post-Cold War times there is no candidate to replace America as world leader. Instead, we have candidates to be regional leaders: China in Asia; the European Union already playing that role in Western Europe; Russia trying to do this in Central/Eastern Europe; and Egypt, Iran, and Turkey competing for hegemony in the Middle East.
But here’s the real issue: things look bad. What does this mean specifically, and how can potential victims react? Let’s begin with a very brief survey of the world scene.
Latin America: there are now several radical regimes in the area — most notably Venezuela — alongside, of course, Cuba. America’s allies in the region are dismayed that the former group (except for Cuba) gets soft, even favorable, treatment by Washington. Fortunately, radical revolutions or major armed insurgencies don’t seem probable. So leaders in the region will worry a lot, be frustrated (why should we be nice to the United States when it doesn’t help us, and even rewards being anti-American?) but get through it. Ironically, of course, the current administration favors policies that are sure to fail in South America, so to the degree Washington has influence it will be to help sabotage the region’s economic progress.
Sub-Saharan Africa: what is truly remarkable is how the Obama administration has done nothing to change U.S. policy in the area. One might have expected that given its worldview and certain ethno-racial factors and ideas in the U.S. leadership, Obama would have wanted to make this region a showcase of how he differed from his predecessors; a model of reparations for past colonialism and racism. But no such luck for the Africans. They will continue to suffer economic and political hardship without significantly increased U.S. help. Bad, but not a change from the usual neglect. Let them eat rhetoric!
South Asia: the pro-Pakistan policy will continue; India will be mistreated. Again, bad but no big change. It will just be more watching Pakistan help conceal al-Qaeda terrorists, working for a radical Islamist Afghanistan once the U.S. forces withdraw, and sponsoring terrorism against India as Washington pays more billions in aid money. The Afghanistan issue might cause a crisis: why did hundreds of Americans die there? Someone — albeit not likely someone in the mass media — might ask this if and when Kabul is taken over by a new anti-American regime.
Also slated to be killed: Afghans who helped the Western forces. They will start seeking new protectors very soon.