Farewell to the West

December 7, 2016

Farewell to the West

by Joschka Fisher@Project Syndicate

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Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, the end of what was heretofore termed the “West” has become all but certain. That term described a transatlantic world that emerged from the twentieth century’s two world wars, redefined the international order during the four-decade Cold War, and dominated the globe – until now.

The West shouldn’t be confused with the “Occident.” While the West’s culture, norms, and predominant religion are broadly Occidental in origin, it evolved into something different over time. The Occident’s basic character was shaped over centuries by the Mediterranean region (though parts of Europe north of the Alps made many important contributions to its development). The West, by contrast, is transatlantic, and it is a child of the twentieth century.

When World War I began, it was a European conflict between the Central Powers and the Entente of Britain, France, and Russia. It became a true world war only in 1917, when the US entered the fray. This is the moment when what we now call the West began to take form.

The West can be said to have received its birth certificate during World War II. In August 1941, after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met on a warship off the coast of Newfoundland and signed the Atlantic Charter. That agreement would later develop into NATO, which, for four decades, enabled an alliance of independent democracies with shared values and market economies to withstand the Soviet threat – and which has safeguarded Europe to this day.

More fundamentally, the West was founded on an American commitment to come to its allies’ defense. The Western order cannot exist without the US playing this crucial role, which it may now abnegate under Trump. As a result, the future of the West itself is now at stake.

No one can be certain what Trump’s election will mean for American democracy, or what he will do when he takes office. But we can already make two reasonable assumptions. First, his presidency will be highly disruptive to American domestic and foreign policy. Trump won the presidency by flouting virtually every unwritten rule of American politics. He beat not only Hillary Clinton, but also the Republican Party establishment. There is little reason to think that he will suddenly abandon this winning strategy come January 20.

We can also safely assume that Trump will stick firmly to his pledge to “Make America great again”; this will be the foundation for his presidency, come what may. Former President Ronald Reagan also promised this, but he did so while the US, still engaged in the Cold War, could take an imperial approach. Thus, Reagan pursued rearmament on such a large scale that it ultimately led to the Soviet Union’s collapse; and he paved the way for an American economic boom with a massive increase in the national debt.

Trump does not have the luxury of an imperial approach. On the contrary, during the campaign, he heaped criticism on America’s senseless wars in the Middle East; and his supporters want nothing more than for the US to abandon its global leadership role and retreat from the world. A US that moves toward isolationist nationalism will remain the world’s most powerful country by a wide margin; but it will no longer guarantee Western countries’ security or defend an international order based on free trade and globalization.

The only remaining questions now concern how quickly US policy will change, and how radical those changes will be. Trump has already pledged to scrap the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership – a decision that amounts to a gift to China, whether he realizes it or not. He could also bestow upon China another gift: reducing US engagement in the South China Sea. China might soon find itself the new guarantor of global free trade – and probably the new global leader in combating climate change, too.

With respect to the war in Syria, Trump might simply hand that devastated country over to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran. Practically speaking, this would overturn the balance of power in the Middle East, with grave consequences well beyond the region; morally, it would be a cruel betrayal of the Syrian opposition and a boon to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

And if Trump defers to Putin in the Middle East, one wonders what he will do with respect to Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. Should we expect a Yalta Conference 2.0 to recognize Putin’s new de facto sphere of influence?

The new course Trump will chart for the US is already discernible; we just don’t know how quickly the ship will sail. Much will depend on the opposition (Democrats and Republicans alike) that Trump encounters in the US Congress, and on pushback from the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

But we should not harbor any illusions: Europe is far too weak and divided to stand in for the US strategically; and, without US leadership, the West cannot survive. Thus, the Western world as virtually everyone alive today has known it will almost certainly perish before our eyes.

So what comes next? China, we can be certain, is preparing to fill America’s shoes. And in Europe, the crypts of nationalism have been opened; in time, they will once again release their demons upon the continent – and the world.


11 thoughts on “Farewell to the West

  1. Superb take on the Donald Trump’s twitter generated and egocentric personalised foreign policy. Hillary Clinton is sorely missed by Asians like me. She lost because she did not understand the aspirations of middle class Americans who are disappointed with Obamanomics. Maybe my friend LaMoy has something substantial to add on why Hillary lost.–Din Merican

  2. “She lost because she did not understand the aspirations of middle class Americans who are disappointed with Obamanomics.”

    Dato Din nails it. There’s a disconnect between Hillary and the electorate.

    No one question the intelligence of Hillary. She can be a very good bureaucrat but she is simply not cut out to be a leader. She is remote and robatic. She is not perceptive, react to events after fact, unable to see potential problems few steps ahead. She is boring and a lousy public speaker, scripted and thin-skinned, unable to take any criticisms, not even the constructive ones, and she likes to short-circuit debate within her own advisory group. She is not a creative and constructive person. She cannot see the aspirations of the American masses for change and job security. For the last eight years she only mingle with the rich and powerful all over the world, never give a hoot to the poor and working class in America.

    Obama may be leaving the White House favorably with one of the highest rating in history. That’s how the American people see him as a person, not on what he achieved as a president. American people like him as a very honest person with high integrity. But working class Americans are very disappointed with his Obamanomics. Hillary cannot see this, thinking she could simply take a free ride on Obama’s popularity.

    Obama’s “Yes, we can” mantra perfectly captured the 2008 political moment. Trump has “Make America great again.” Hillary cannot come up with something creative, except appealing to the public, “I’m a woman, vote for me.” But she has a poor showing with young women.

    The last election is about personality contest, nothing said about the economy. In as much the general public dislike Trump, they, too, dislike Hillary. Her weaknesses include unworthiness, unlikability, and a lackluster style on the stump. White men really dislike her. She is perceived as utterly corrupt and a compulsive liar.

    As nice as she looks in public, fake smiles, pretty white pantsuits and Botox can’t cover ugly. The kind of ugly that flows from the inside out. Nice smiles can’t whitewash over grieving Benghazi family members who tell us she lied to them about why those heroes died. They died in a country she botched up so badly. 600 requests were made for more security. In the end, four men died because Hillary never acted to safeguard their lives. How could a failed Secretary of State become a good President of the United States?

    Perhaps the shade threw at Hillary by Obama best explain why she lost: “I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW Hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points. There’s some counties maybe I won, that people didn’t expect, because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.”

    Hillary lost Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin because she was arrogant and lazy. She took those states for granted. Those states are often called a “blue wall” because they almost always vote Democratic. Hillary completely ignored them, never stepping foot in Wisconsin to rally supporters. Trump went there and promised to bring back those jobs that no one believe could be brought back. (See Krugman’s Trade, Facts, and Politics in Din’s blog.)

    In conclusion I would say, Hillary lost because she is an arrogant conventional candidate in an unconventional election in which voters clearly favor renegades.

  3. The contribution by LaMoy is as comprehensive as it is precise and leaves no one in doubt why Clinton lost and really why she deserved to lose. She, like the current crop of leaders in Europe just fail to understand the reality of economics and politics in the ”middle’ and was swayed by the general media who themselves have been deluding themselves. And Obama has to take on board his contribution to Trump’s victory too. Too much emphasis was being place on social issues including racial and gay issues. Obama wanted to be a popular president with the ‘in’ crowd’ and neglected middle America. Hilary wanted to be popular with Wall Street.
    But looking at Trump’s cabinet appointments so far it looks to me that he is making the mistake of isolating the urban base and leaning too far right may well see him being a one term president. Perhaps that could be a relief for some.

  4. Funny how Trump has suddenly being held up as a kind of latter-day hero simply because he is now the most powerful man on Earth, and poor Hillary has suddenly become Miss Muffet in the nursery rhyme:-

    Little Miss Muffet
    Sat on a tuffet,
    Eating her curds and whey;
    Along came a spider
    Who sat down beside her
    And frightened Miss Muffet away.

    Whatever one thinks of politics, there certainly is rhyme and reason if one look hard enough.

  5. There never was the “West”. The so-called West is mainly directed by the Anglo-Saxon axis in a hapless manner supported by Europe. This eulogy on the death of the West is actually asking the United States to continue leading “The West” in its ruthlessly exploitative business empire all over the world, enslaving billions through all the clever tools, like economy, finances, “culture”, marketing, and if necessary by military.

    Don’t worry, Joschka Fisher, your worry of the United States under Donald Trump will “moves toward isolationist nationalism” is of great folly. I believe he is going to “make America great again” by revamping the war economy.

    A look at the nominees to his cabinet scares me to shit my pants. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a retired US Marine Corp General, is nominated to become the Secretary of Defense; John Kelly, a retired US Marine Corp General, to become Secretary of Homeland Security; Michael T. Flynn, retired Lieutenant General, to become National Security Adviser; Mike Pompeo, former Army officer, to head the CIA; Steve Bannon, 10 years in the Navy, to become Counselor to the President; and David Petraeus, a retired 4 star General of the US Army, is under consideration to be nominated to become the Secretary of State.

    With all these military personnel, no one will believe the Trump Administration will become an isolationist one. Do you feel better now, Mr. Fisher, that the United States will continue to lead your country to wars and more wars? Happy now?

    “China, we can be certain, is preparing to fill America’s shoes.” No, sir, China is quietly preparing for war with America. Trump has already fired the first shot through a phone call.

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