By Vijeth Kanahalli
Think about any global catastrophes in the 20th and 21st centuries and the United States of America would have played a major role in causing it. Let’s rewind a little. President Harry S Truman dropped the Atomic Bomb in Japan. He also led America into the Korean war which has technically still not come to an end. President Dwight Eisenhower propped up military dictatorships in Latin America and also backed monarchy in Iran by overthrowing the parliamentary form of government through a CIA sponsored coup. President Lyndon Johnson failed in his military adventurism in Vietnam. President George W Bush’s bid to spread democracy through the Afghan war and the Iraq war came at a terrible price in the form of the death of innocent civilians. And now, the ongoing Syrian war which began under President Obama. The logical conclusion that this list draws is that the United States must be isolated by any nation while framing its foreign policies.
But the abovementioned conclusion is not true in the real politik. Ever since the end of World War II, the U.S. has championed in all causes that any nation dreams to achieve. A vibrant democracy; a mighty military; an unshakable dollar but a shakeable economy; flourishing foreign trade; a hub for innovation etc. Whether one accepts or not, it’s the dream for anyone to attain and achieve freedom in the true sense that exists only in the United States of America. Every nation desires to have a friendly relation with the U.S. Also every nation accepts that for peace in the international order a dominant role of the U.S. is very necessary in any continent of conflict.
Despite multiple debacles in its endeavours to exert hegemony under the garb of spreading democracy, what makes the United States of America an acceptable leader worldwide? The answer can be found in its soft power and hard power. Liberalism is the America’s soft power and its military prowess is its hard power.
Since its inception in 1776, U.S.A. has had unshakable core values and ideals which are rooted in its love for unfettered democracy. Democracy coupled with a free market oriented mindset makes it a very attractive model for any nation to trade with. Even when it imposes trade barriers and tariffs as President Trump has, it is still bearable for countries to navigate their way into the U.S. due to its large consumption based society which is simply irresistible for any nation interested in trade. China has unfavourable technology transfer policies for investors and is also turning inward with its Made in China 2025 policy; Russia faces economic sanctions; The Middle East except for Dubai is still opening up for investors; Japan is culturally very rigid for an investor; Europeans love their own products like BMW, Mercedes, Bosch etc and are finding it hard to uplift consumers sentiments ever since the 2007-08 recession; India is heterogeneous in its economic mix of consumers having varying affordability power and also stringent investment laws; Majority of Africa is still in civil war making it risky for investors and South America lacks critical infrastructure for an investor. Therefore, this is what still makes America the greatest place on earth to invest in any form with investors waiting day and night for the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates so that they can park their money in the American Dollar.
When it comes to military hard power the United States military happens to possess every asset possible. They’ve got around 800 military bases world-wide, making them the natural military partner for any country in any part of the world. Whether its China or Russia, this is the only nation that can tackle both these nations with ease using its military might. The Americans boldly carry out Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea and have an ever expanding presence in Eastern Europe via NATO. This gives Europe the confidence that they are safe from Russia and South East Asia the respite that China can never fully occupy all territories that it wishes to in the region. Japan and South Korea go to sleep every night knowing that the mad man Kim Jong Un has no possibility of exterminating them, due to U.S. presence in their region.
Deep down even critics of the United States understand that the U.S. is a lesser of evils in maintaining the international order. There is unease in knowing that Russia will dominate the Syrian peace process. There is palpable fear in China’s intention in Afghanistan once the American’s withdraw. South East Asia knows that India is no match an alternate to America if it reduces its presence in the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia thrive and maintain regional hegemony due to U.S. presence in or close by to the region. The point is—the world today is at the mercy of the U.S. for peace and that is the uneasy truth. France’s President Macron may criticise Trump’s call for more contribution by NATO members but he knows the importance of America’s support for NATO because he would never wish to see another World War occur again.
The United States is here to stay. The world has options to choose from a range of countries to partner with. But, the core values of America make it a better option in comparison to any other nation. America has thus far been a hegemonic nation. However, under Trump they’ve become a bully that simply wants its way and no other way. This is what is now becoming hard to stomach.
When a country is at its zenith, it’s important that they uplift developing nations. It is important that they share the benefits of their progress and success. It is important that they protect the weaker nations without imposing a cost on them. However, America is meandering away from these principles that made it a benevolent beast that was an acceptable super power. I only wish that President Trump comes to his better senses sometime in the near future and understands the repercussions that the world stands to face due to his stand on climate change; anti-globalisation stance; trade barriers; unfriendly immigration laws etc.
America is and never was perfect. However, it gave a general sense of direction to other nations while framing their foreign policies and charting their course of action based on what the world leader was doing. However, under Mr. Trump there is no coherent direction in America’s foreign policies and 140 characters Tweets are not the best place to learn foreign policy of the United States from.
Honestly, if Trump wants to make America great again, I’ll settle for the one that existed prior to 2016. That level of greatness was good enough for the international order.
Vijeth Kanahalli is a Corporate Solicitor and a student of M.A. International Affairs (Diplomacy, Law and Business) at Jindal School of International Affairs at O P Jindal Global Univeristy.