The lead to this article in Bloomberg says everything we need to know about the state of American leadership in the world:
Europe is facing a convergence of the worst crises since World War II, and the overwhelming consensus among officials and experts here is that the U.S. no longer has the will or the ability to play an influential role in solving them.
American “will” is embodied in one man: the president of the United States. Where would the world be without the “will” of Ronald Reagan, who had the courage and foresight to face down the Soviets by believing that the U.S. could win the Cold War, not simply manage it?
But now, we’re stuck with a weak, vacillating, incompetent, and ultimately naive man who can’t summon the will to defend American interests for the simple reason that he doesn’t believe in America.
At the Munich Security Conference, the prime topics are the refugee crisis, the Syrian conflict, Russian aggression and the potential dissolution of the European Union’s very structure. Top European leaders repeatedly lamented that 2015 saw all of Europe’s problems deepen, and unanimously predicted that in 2016 they would get even worse.
“The question of war and peace has returned to the continent,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the audience, indirectly referring to Russian military interventions. “We had thought that peace had returned to Europe for good.”
What was missing from the conference speeches and even the many private discussions in the hallways, compared to previous years, was the discussion of what Europe wanted or even expected the U.S. to do.
Several European officials told me that there was little expectation that President Barack Obama, in his last year in office, would make any significant policy changes to address what European governments see an existential set of crises that can’t wait for a new administration in Washington.
“There’s a shared assessment that the European security architecture is falling apart in many ways,” said Camille Grand, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “There is a growing sense that this U.S. administration is focused on establishing a legacy on what has already been achieved rather than trying to achieve anything more. Yet the problems can get much worse.”
During the first day of the conference, the U.S. role in Europe was hardly mentioned in the public sessions. In the private sessions, many participants told me that European governments are not only resigned to a lack of American assertiveness, they also are now reluctantly accepting a Russia that is more present than ever in European affairs, and not for the better.
“There’s not a lot of talk about how the United States can be part of the solution. We seem to be disappearing from their calculations,” said Walter Russell Mead, a historian with the Hudson Institute. “From the European standpoint, Putin has become somebody that like it or not that they have to deal with.”
And the administration is completely oblivious to the fact that no one cares what they think. John Kerry speaks as if he is from an alternate reality:
“We know many Europeans right now feel overwhelmed by the latest round of challenges,” he said. “I want to express the confidence of President Obama and all of us in America that, just as it has so many times before, Europe is going to emerge stronger than ever, provided it stays united and builds common responses to these challenges … We are going to do just fine.”
The mortal danger that could arise from this is that Obama may actually wake up one morning and discover that America’s position in the world has been destroyed. Putin could be in Vilnius or Riga before the president bestirs himself to issue the inevitable “strongly worded letter” to Putin. Or, he may lash out, triggering WW III. The uncertain future before us is a minefield that the next president will have to navigate successfully if we are to make it through this crisis.
The consequences of the loss of faith in American leadership among Europeans cannot be calculated. As in the Middle East, with nations there making their own “arrangements” with Iran, western Europe may find themselves forced to make their own deals with Vladimir Putin, appeasing the bully while slipping into defeatism and pacifism.
What presidents for the last 70 years have strived to maintain — American leadership and influence in the world — has been frittered away by this president in eight years.