Jan 13th 2020

America’s Decline Continues

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

 

Despite its claims of making America more respected and feared in the world, the Trump Administration’s behaviors have only contributed to accelerating the decline in America’s leadership. President Trump’s demonstrated disdain for international agreements and law, his erratic behavior, and his reckless tweets, have left world leaders and their publics alternating between being confounded and frightened. One result has been that some allies and opponents have sought leadership and more predictable partnerships elsewhere.

This was not the way it was just three decades ago when the United States emerged victorious from the Cold War and the first Bush Administration appeared to seamlessly manage the transition to a unipolar world order. While the Clinton Administration largely maintained continuity with their predecessor’s approach, President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq marked the beginning of the unraveling of American leadership and the end of the idea of a unipolar world.

Unlike the constructive use of diplomacy favored by his father and President Clinton, George W.’s policies were reckless and unilateral, and, more often than not, shaped more by ideology than reality. The results were devastating to the US and the world. Iraq was a case in point.

According to the neoconservative ideologues who were driving George W.’s approach to the Middle East, a decisive use of force against Iraq would accomplish a number of critical objectives. First and foremost, it would secure the US role as the dominant world hegemon, insuring a US-led unipolar world for the foreseeable future. They also believed that with Saddam gone, democracy would spontaneously take root in Iraq, transforming not only that country but the entire Middle East.

As we have seen, the opposite occurred. America became ground down in a long costly war that took a terrible toll not only in lives and treasure, but in America’s standing in the world. As the war dragged on, it became clear that not only was America weaker and less respected, but other regional and international players began to assert themselves. As a result of this foolish war, the very multipolarity the neoconservatives sought to forestall became a reality.

Globally, Russia and China expanded their roles and, in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran sought increased influence, as did Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners. Maybe the most consequential impact of the Iraq war was the extent to which it emboldened and unleashed Iran, enabling it to pursue its meddlesome sectarian behavior across the region.

The Obama Administration began with great promise. Recognizing the damage done by his predecessor, President Obama declared his intention to correct course and rebuild confidence in America’s role in the world. So desperate were some to see America restored as a stable leader and partner that the new president was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The award proved to be premature. Obama’s failure to deliver on his visionary promise and his administration’s tendency to hesitate and/or meander when confronted by challenges, caused both frustration and deep disappointment.

Then came Donald Trump. Despite early signs of erratic behavior and his “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” approach to global and domestic problems, there was some hope –especially in parts of the Middle East – that given his business background, he would be fair and decisive in the policies he pursued in the world. This, too, proved to be premature. 

After Bush and Obama, what many across the Middle East hoped for was a “Goldilocks and Three Bears” US president. One who wouldn’t be “too much” or “too little” – but “just right.” They wanted American leadership that was decisive, principled, and predictable. What they got instead was the worst of the past combined in one president. He has been reckless, bombastic, and unpredictable. And he has made great promises that have elevated expectations, only to fail to deliver on them.


Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East.     

In the fall of 2019, for example, we found that the initial optimism in some Arab countries that Trump Administration policies toward some regional concerns might move in a positive direction has now dissipated. There is a sharp decline in respondents’ views of US policies toward resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, helping to stabilize Syria and Iraq, deal constructively with the Muslim World, and coherently address the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear and regional agendas.

When we asked respondents in 10 countries whether they have seen positive or negative change in US policy toward each of these critical concerns – in almost every instance and in almost every country, negative change far surpassed positive change. In only one case – that of US policy toward Syria – did respondents in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE see some signs of positive change – largely due to the successful fight against Daesh. This, however, was before the Trump Administration sent conflicting signals about its intention to withdraw from Syria. As a result, when we asked respondents in the same 10 countries to look forward to the next decade and identify the countries they felt would be their most dependable ally, the US ranked first in only Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Ranking high in other countries were the EU (first in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Turkey) and China, with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and India scoring well in a few others.

The bottom line here is that in just three decades, the US has gone from being the undisputed superpower to a mere competitor with other global and regional powers. Far from restoring America’s leadership role, the Trump Administration’s failure to deliver on its promises, its lack of coherency, and its penchant for one-off dangerous acts, have made it feared, but not trusted as a reliable partner. And so other nations, have either turned elsewhere for partnerships or been forced to rely on their own resources. The decline of America’s role continues. 

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Feb 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "The EU must ask itself if it is prepared to do what is necessary to remain an independent player, united in the common interest of all Europeans. Otherwise, Europe’s viability as a democratic, sovereign entity in control of its own destiny will be called into question – and therefore tested by adversaries – like never before."
Feb 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The world economy has clearly caught a cold. The outbreak of COVID-19 came at a particularly vulnerable point in the global business cycle. ...........This matters little to the optimistic consensus of investors. After all, by definition shocks are merely temporary disruptions of an underlying trend. While it is tempting to dismiss this shock for that very reason, the key is to heed the implications of the underlying trend. The world economy was weak, and getting weaker, when COVID-19 struck. The V-shaped recovery trajectory of a SARS-like episode will thus be much tougher to replicate – especially with monetary and fiscal authorities in the US, Japan, and Europe having such little ammunition at their disposal. That, of course, was the big risk all along. In these days of dip-buying froth, China’s sneeze may prove to be especially vexing for long-complacent financial markets."
Feb 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that this new coronavirus is likely to do much more damage than SARS. Not only has COVID-19 already caused more deaths than its predecessor; its economic consequences are likely to be compounded by unfavorable conditions – beginning with China’s increased economic vulnerability.................So far, US investors seem unconcerned about these risks. But they may be taking too much comfort from the US Federal Reserve’s three interest-rate cuts last year. Should the US economy falter, there is nowhere near enough room for the Fed to cut interest rates by 500 basis points, as it has in past recessions."
Feb 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis."
Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Does this mean that the dream of European unity is over? Does the exodus of a member state obliterate the vision of Victor Hugo and Václav Havel? Does Europe now fit the description of what the great American president Abraham Lincoln called a house divided against itself? Not necessarily. History is more imaginative than we are. The EU still has the option of keeping Britain close in heart and mind. We can still benefit from our absent partner, by resurrecting the partnership through our actions."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.........Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So all that is why Cramer is talking about the death knell of petroleum stocks. We probably agree on almost nothing else, but when people are right, you have to give them credit. He is right."
Feb 3rd 2020
EXTRACT: "........as the citizens of the remaining 27 states have observed the destabilising impact that the referendum decision has had on British politics, they have been inoculated against the desire to secede from the EU. Outside the UK, national-populist parties have moderated their anti-EU rhetoric and nowadays profess to want to change the EU from within instead of destroying it."
Feb 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Senators will soon decide whether to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump without hearing any witnesses. In making this decision, I believe they should consider words spoken at the Constitutional Convention, when the Founders decided that an impeachment process was needed to provide a “regular examination,” to quote Benjamin Franklin. A critical debate took place on July 20, 1787, which resulted in adding the impeachment clause to the U.S. Constitution. Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, said that when the president falls under suspicion, a “regular and peaceable inquiry” is needed."
Feb 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Britain will be celebrating its glorious independence from the complications of international cooperation at a time when the intellectual, political, and economic hostility between China’s communist leadership and liberal democracies is becoming ever clearer. If liberal democracy is to survive, it must stand up for itself. And we should be under no illusion: open societies under the rule of law, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are in China’s hostile sights. The West should not aim to encircle or pen in China. But liberal democracies cannot allow it to distort international norms in its own favor."
Jan 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Switzerland and Denmark have gone furthest into negative territory, both offering unprecedentedly low rates of -0.75%. The Swiss National Bank, which has kept its rate at this level since 2015, signalled recently that it intends to stick with this experiment and is not ruling out going even more negative. It has said that negative rates were boosting the economy and that the country’s fundamentals were not being significantly affected."
Jan 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Electricity will dominate the future global energy system. Currently, it accounts for only 20% of final energy demand,......Without assuming any fundamental technological breakthroughs, we could certainly build by 2050 a global economy in which electricity met 65-70% of final energy demand,....."
Jan 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."