American world leadership has gone to the dogs

Dear Editor,

The world needs leadership.  For close to a century America filled that role, sometimes wisely and admirably, other times less than thoughtfully and constructively.  Now the occupant in the White House by his every and many moves has relinquished some of that leading from the front through one snafu after another.  The leader here in Guyana is reticent to point of the order of religious vows; on the other hand, the character over there relishes opening his mouth and proving what a man in his position can ill afford.  A look is instructive.

What is the best way to describe current American foreign policy?  To be charitable, it is somewhat chaotic, and is evidenced by growing strains of the quixotic; the unsparingly harsh may see only the problematic.  The delicate network of alliances, the intricate arterial relationships-personal ones cultivated-so vital, and so beneficial at this level-have been squandered time and again in favour of the capricious and the arbitrary, and the utterly distasteful, too.  America is giving up valuable ground on the diplomatic and economic front through misguided stances and actions.  It has gone even further in surrendering the moral high ground on the human rights front, too, as former president Jimmy Carter lamented recently.

Specifically on the economic side, I agree that NATO partners ought to step up and bear more of the financial burdens associated with their own defence, and that China should be held to a higher trading standard.  But there are better ways to achieve this than through mindless tweets and undiplomatic postures and language; there is both art and science to these things, a certain exquisite movement that mirrors a Chopin prelude.  Hard bargains can be driven without resorting to the patently shallow and what is found to be repeatedly insulting in the drawing rooms of partners.  The curious space inhabited by this trio of American, North Korean, and Russian bedfellows is slippery territory and cannot be durable.  Who can conduct lasting meaningful business with the secretive and the troubled?  This is being kind.  Treasonous it is labeled in some American quarters.

Maligned partners, competitors, and adversaries have constituencies to face.  Moreover, the losing of face in some cultures can be seen as unforgivable.  Already those being squeezed publicly and beaten humiliatingly with a big stick have fallen back on strategies of dividing, realigning, and forging ahead where national self-interests trump (no pun) historical associations.  It is also a savvy way to dilute the impact of overused sanctions, while making the opening gambits in reconfiguring the world order through mutual dependencies and new loyalties.  Some view this as the early hours of extricating from the suffocating American hegemony and broader Western dominance (read as either Anglo-American or Anglo-Saxon), through more pragmatic and reinforcing relationships.

For one thing, the Middle East oil picture is reflecting the beginnings of a more eastern tilt.  A lot of economic and military muscle follows that trajectory.  It is promised to be more pronounced as time goes by.  The Europeans are locked into rewarding energy linkages with the Russians; there are encouraging quid pro quos.  Rather surprisingly, there has been neither public posturing nor public phrasing from the Chinese involving their economic nuclear option.

That would be those trillion-dollar reserves of US currency and US government debt, either of which would be devastating if unleashed.  Perhaps the mainland communists turned convenient capitalists are content with maneuvering Pyongyang for distracting and draining proxy purposes, while exploring a new Sino-Russo partnership quietly.  Both have worked well to the disadvantage of the supposed sole superpower.  From the American side, there has been bags over the head, corks in the ear, and a mouth that is better ziplocked.

History has shown that an openness to be flexible leads to the compromises of reciprocal concessions.  There must be realism as to how the world revolves today and a vision that is panoramic, rather than the easy reflexive jingoism that has become the norm; this begins with a willingness to listen and to adapt.  Tariffs provoke retaliatory moves, as Smoot-Hawley proved in the decade of the 1930s; they energize nationalism previously suppressed.  Walls in whatever form-goods, people, attitude, communications-do not work.  Today, all the sledgehammers in the arsenal (oral and cyber) and overbearing New York mannerisms are counterintuitive and already are counterproductive.  Pick a few business sectors, and those waiting in alarm.  Heavy-handed protective measures rankle; they are going to fail to attain the desired results.  In fact, American producers have started to feel the pinch; there is a kick to it.

Whether Canada or China or comrades in Europe, there is intense resentment at this overbearing caricature of a heavy-handed suffocating Uncle Sam at his worst.  It is found to be unacceptable personally, philosophically and diplomatically by many national leaders.  While this galvanizes in parts of Appalachia and elsewhere in an increasingly simmering homeland, it redounds in ways unanticipated on the vastly more cultured and nuanced world stage.  Clearly, American world leadership has gone to the dogs; or at least to the Russians now on the upsurge, and the Chinese waiting their time.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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