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Not a Global Leader

Not a Global Leader


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Since February, the American public has been focused first on the pandemic and the economic meltdown followed over the past three weeks by the racial unrest and police violence precipitated by the murder of George Floyd. The pandemic and the economic collapse were unpredictable although managing them better, quicker, and on a national level certainly would have reduced much of the health/economic upheaval and death that has ensued. What has been ignored in the midst of the pandemic has been the damage that continues to be happening to the role of the U.S. as a global leader and world power.

It is hard to comprehend how low America’s place and prestige has fallen in the eyes of the world over the past three and a half years. This was the case even before the pandemic. It is for this reason that the blow-up that occurred during the past few weeks over the cancellation of the September G-7 Meeting is so telling.

Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel announced on May 30 that she would not be attending the September G-7 meeting which was scheduled to be hosted at Camp David by President Trump. Not wanting to be upstaged by Merkel’s decision which he perceived to be grabbing the global spotlight from him, President Trump–rather than admitting that Merkel’s decision was sensible given the global coronavirus— Trump announced he had decided to cancel the meeting.  The President then refocused her decision on “his” postponed conference. Jumping further into combat mode, the President said that he had been planning to recommend that the G-7 agree to ask Russia to re-join the group from whence it had been ousted in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimea.

Less than a week later, as a further insult to Europe’s leading power, President Trump announced he intended to order the withdrawal of 9500 U.S. troops from Germany; one quarter of the U.S. force. This announcement was not well received not only by NATO but by many at the Pentagon as well as on Capitol Hill; including many of his strongest political supporters.

These moves followed similar announcements that the President had ordered all U.S. forces removed from Afghanistan by May 2021 but really wanted them out by November 2020. Such a move is now seen by many in the military as premature given the activities on the ground in Afghanistan. This action is interpreted as well by many as being another political move which could damage America’s global posture. At the same time further talk of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq–which the President has sought to achieve by this fall– also have begun to be challenged by events on the ground.

Trump continues to send multiple and very confused signals to China largely dictated by trade and economic considerations, not geopolitical ones.  His approach to North Korea which has been mixed and suspect from the beginning continues to make U.S. leadership look indecisive and weak.

President Trump is playing a board game with real nations and organizations as if he were moving pieces of property on a MONOPOLY board. Trump, however, is playing with real people and countries. If Trump is reelected there is no confidence that his behavior will change. If the likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected, he will have his hands full trying to re-establish America’s global leadership, just as the country hopefully will be emerging from the pandemic.

What is unsaid and will remain part of America’s struggle is the global damage that has been done during the Trump Presidency. It could take years for the U.S. to recover from the Trump leadership failures.

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