by Julian Glassford
Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the greatest Briton in history. Here was a larger than life, notoriously brash and uncompromising Western leader, and one who allied himself with a Russian tyrant. 70 years on, and the political mainstream finds itself consumed with juxtaposed vexation. The source of all this consternation: a similarly bold and irrepressible, if relatively uncultured, rabble-rousing “Russophile”.
Granted, Donald Trump is no Churchill, but rather than jumping the gun in mourning the presumed death of American exceptionalism and Pax Americana, perhaps we ought to take the opportunity to pause, contemplate, and culture our concerns.
The cry that “democracy has lost its champion” smacks of selective amnesia regarding a string of less than illustrious foreign adventures from Vietnam to Iraq. It is also as if certain commentators skipped classes on the role of European ‘soft power’ and complex interdependence. It should be clear to any learned, objective analyst that increased stability and human flourishing has in many instances occurred not because, but in spite, of US-led interventions and initiatives.
Clearly, there is much to be said for the exercise of high minded influence by major players on the world stage – no-one wants to see a return to the dark days of American isolationism – but beware the false dichotomy. Notwithstanding the solipsistic antics of a certain “dangerous vulgarian” i.e. widely condemned neo-mercantile Trumponomics and discriminatory migration policy, a United States of Anarchy is not a realistic prospect.
Precarious as the present international order may be, it is unwise to presuppose that an unfiltered US President – or British foreign secretary, for that matter – will send the house of cards crashing down; that is, so long as the UN Security Council remains united in their opposition to nuclear proliferation, and the East-West arms-race in prospect confined to peaceful competition.
On pertinent fiscal policy, why should the US Treasury spend 5 per cent of GDP on defence (e.g. compared to the UK’s 2 per cent), in continuing to prop up NATO? The alliance was established in order to deter/repel Soviet aggressors that have long since ceased to exist – except, that is, in the skittish imagination of certain over-caffeinated Pentagon militarists and conspiratorial CIA types.
Trump’s administration-in-waiting is quite right to signal its intent to avoid sabre rattling with Russia, as if provocation were the best form of ‘defence’. Evidently, there exists a need to (sometimes firmly) encourage international colleagues to lead responsibly, but no nation/collective is compelled to adopt an antagonistic posture in any event. The Russian bear has been backed into a corner; further prodding could prove extremely unwise.
On China, before he’d even taken the oath, Donald Trump had succeeded in stirring up greater interest and controversy than Barack Obama managed during 8 years in office! Again, the response of the media appears somewhat conflicted: in recent years, Western leaders have repeatedly come under fire for their mute criticism of Chinese oppression and regional encroachment. Trump may have clumsily stumbled into Taiwanese controversy, but Chinese protestation over one democratically elected leader picking up the phone to another speaks to the retrograde normalisation of totalitarian repression as much as it does to political naivety.
On climate change accords, what binding, material commitments did the 2016 Paris Agreement exact upon developing nations? Ask interlocutors this and their answers tend to betray an optimistic, if ill informed and tragically flawed, presumption. Plainly, the USA’s (narrow) interests are not well served by remaining signatory to environmental deals that stop short of imposing meaningful limits on developing nations, whose total CO2 emissions by now far outweigh those of the developed world incidentally.
The Republicans campaigned on an “America first”, pro-industrial revival, climate change sceptic ticket. In the above context, to revisit green agreements would thus be entirely consistent with their mandate – even if those of us concerned for the environment would prefer the next US administration not to rock the boat.
Until detractors comprehensively address legitimate questions posed by articles such as this, most sensible observers would be well advised to reserve judgement, sit tight, and see how things develop. In a world of sore loser sniping and virtue signalling, ‘post-truth’ anti-democratic protestation, ‘Project Fear’ alarmism, and (related) buyers’ remorse, it’s all too easy to get sucked into the politics of doom and gloom. To do so now would be premature.
An epochal shift in international affairs may well be just around the corner. But the degree to which the land of the free and the home of the brave suddenly recoils from global leadership, and the extent to which others step up and fill the void, remains to be seen. We must have faith in modern democratic institutions and the power of diplomacy, and hope that common sense, human decency, and long-view strategic interests will prevail.
Whatever the case, the displacement of status quo ‘suits’ by populists in 2016 offers, if nothing else, a timely reminder that history will judge the leaders of tomorrow not by method, nor even values, but by results.
Julian Glassford is a UK-based multidisciplinary researcher and social entrepreneur.