New World Order is leaving the US behind

August 13, 2017

New World Order is leaving the US behind

James Gibney, Bloomberg View

  • Pointing the way: German Chancellor Angela Merkel


Of all the global consequences of US President Donald Trump’s first half-year, surely one of the most surprising is the rise in multilateral diplomacy.

After all, this is the guy who came into office pledging to put America First. He downgraded the security guarantees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to a definite maybe — and only if its members ponied up more defence dollars.

The Iran nuclear pact was “the worst deal ever”, and the Paris accord on climate change wasn’t much better. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead on arrival. Japan and South Korea’s freeriding days were over. The North American Free Trade Agreement was toast. The US would ignore the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

And from its proposed cuts in foreign aid and United Nations peacekeeping to the empty offices and embassies of the State Department, the Trump administration has made clear how little it thinks of soft power and diplomacy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the disintegration of the international liberal order. It’s started to reconstitute itself — only not with the US at its centre. Unfortunately, that has less to do with a realisation among our allies and partners that the burden must be more equitably shared than with the increasing recognition that Trump is not, as some US diplomats liked to say about Third World dictators during the Cold War, “someone we can do business with”.

That sentiment found its most trenchant expression in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration, following Trump’s May trip to Europe, that the continent “must really take our fate into our own hands”. The net result of the Trump administration’s antipathy to free trade and co-operation on climate change and refugee resettlement was a united front against the US at both the Group of Seven and Group of 20 meetings.

Jilted by the US, the other 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are moving ahead on their own. Canada and Mexico are working together more closely than ever to save NAFTA. Asian nations are hedging their bets between the US and China. Trump’s tough talk on Mexico has prompted it to reach out to its hemispheric rival Brazil on defence co-operation.

Serious differences among allies are nothing new. During the Ronald Reagan administration, for instance, hardline US attitudes towards a planned gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Europe caused a transatlantic breach that strained even the “special relationship” with the UK. And the call for fairer burden-sharing by American treaty allies — the “free riders” — is also as old as the alliances themselves, even if Trump turned the volume up to 11.

Yet as destabilising as Trump’s transactional mindset — we’ll protect you if you pay us — has been, his temperament has been even more destructive. In Latin America, his brash bullying plays to the worst caricature of Yankee behaviour. No wonder the foreign ministers of 12 nations in the Americas who pledged this week in Peru not to recognise Venezuela’s new constituent assembly — a remarkable regional diplomatic achievement — chose to keep the US mostly out of it.

Then there is Trump’s uncoordinated impulsiveness. His “fire and fury” outburst towards North Korea upended earlier efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis to reassure South Korea and Japan that the US was not about to put them in danger.

Tillerson has seen Trump repeatedly sandbag his efforts to broker a rapprochement among the US’s fractious Gulf allies. And transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto suggest that both men could be forgiven for thinking they were dealing with Homer Simpson, not the Leader of the Free World.

Image result for Goodbye AmericaAmerica’s Sell-by date came with Donald J. Trump–The White House and State Department are talking at cross purposes


Every hegemon has a sell-by date, and the US is no exception. Even during the halcyon days of the 1990s — remember when the US was being called a “hyperpower”? — President Bill Clinton’s administration was focused on creating institutions and a rules-based international order that it hoped would constrain China’s economic and strategic rise and extend the half-life of US supremacy. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out so well.

In that and other respects, the willingness of other democracies to step up on the world’s non-zero-sum challenges is welcome. Moreover, whether in matters of security or trade, Trump’s strong preference for bilateral deals that allow the US to make the most of its leverage could yield clear benefits.

If he and Chinese President Xi Jinping achieve a compact that balances their respective interests, so much the better. That approach could apply to US relations with Japan, the UK, and other US allies and partners. Strong bilateral agreements, after all, can provide a basis for stronger multilateral ones in years to come.

Image result for Barack Obama's Pivot to AsIa

Obama understood the importance of Asia and Xi’s China

But even bilateral agreements require a degree of discipline and co-ordination that Trump has yet to display. For now, Trump’s reflexive trashing of President Barack Obama’s policy choices without offering any coherent alternatives has left the US on awkward ground. It’s one thing for other countries to fill a diplomatic vacuum created by a gradual US withdrawal; it’s another for them to do so in the wake of a scorched-earth retreat. If and when the US recovers its strategic senses, it might find itself reduced to occupying a much less attractive seat at the multilateral table.

•James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a foreign service officer and a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and president Bill Clinton

5 thoughts on “New World Order is leaving the US behind

  1. Classical liberal started in the United States and it then propagated to the rest of the world, just like Hollywood movie industry become popular in the United States before it propagates to the rest of the world.

    So many people of the world think they are holding the best of liberal ideas, and they, like the author above, are aghast at the United States for leaving the liberal world order. But the notion of liberal has only its former shell as this weekend Wall Street Journal’s Review Article by a liberal has so well articulated the problem with contemporary liberals in the United States:

    “The Liberal Crackup”

    The question for Malaysians and those in this blog is that is the above Bloomberg’s article tell us about the right things about classical liberal ideas or the distorted liberal ideas of contemporary liberals of the United States? I think it is the latter.

    • Don’t talk nonsense. Liberalism started in the USA?
      Do you know where Thomas Jefferson, the intellectual behind the American Republic, got his ideas from?

  2. There’s an old truism that goes: In a democracy, you get the leaders you deserve, not the leaders that you want. The worst thing about Trump as a President is that he embodies the American character right now – irresolute, short attention span, irascible and grouchy, childish and ignorant of the complexities of both US and world politics.

    America today is not made up of the policy wonks who work in think tanks. It’s a melting pot of fragmented, frustrated, underpaid and overworked, competing interest groups. We’ve mind-numbing levels of drug abuse and overdoses, severe alcohol problems, children that are selfish and undisciplined to the point of being feral.

    Trump isn’t the cause, he is a symptom of our national state of mental health. And right behind him is our Congress, which has fragmented into so many splinter groups that neither party can function no matter who has the majority.

    We as a collective body need to get hold of ourselves, and realize we can’t fix anything by throwing temper-tantrums. The spoiled child act has got to go. We need to stop the name-calling and the egregious exaggeration of our opponents faults, and start thinking and cooperating.

    Read Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth”, we need to rescue the princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and let them start moderating our public discourse….. or start stockpiling freeze-dried food and bullets for the civil war we’re rapidly degenerating towards.

    I know Malaysia is facing some similar problems. But Americans are not brought up meek like sheep. We’re taught to stand for our beliefs and fight for our rights, with guns if necessary. What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is the testament to that. A civil war is brewing.

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