America’s influence, once so dominant, waning under Trump

File photo showing US President Donald Trump standing during a joint statement with Singapore's PM at the White House. (Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

America’s influence, once so dominant, waning under Trump

  • Trump insists abandoning globalism for bilateral ties more beneficial to the US
  • Once-close allies including France, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have quietly edged away from Washington over the past three years

It’s whispered in NATO meeting rooms and celebrated in China’s halls of power. It’s lamented in the capital cities of key US allies and welcomed in the Kremlin.
Three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, America’s global influence is waning. In interviews with The Associated Press, diplomats, foreign officials, and scholars from numerous countries describe a changing world order in which the United States has less of a central role.
And in many ways, that’s just fine with the White House. Trump campaigned on an “America First” foreign policy and says the strong United States will mean a stronger world.
“The future doesn’t belong to globalists,” Trump told the UN General Assembly in September. “The future belongs to patriots.”
Trump insists he’s abandoning globalism for bilateral ties more beneficial to the US.
But there’s little sign of that.
Instead, once-close allies — France, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico, Turkey, Germany and more — have quietly edged away from Washington over the past three years.
Sometimes it’s not so quiet.
In a Buckingham Palace reception room during the recent NATO summit, a TV camera caught a cluster of European leaders grinning as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to mock Trump.
“You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau said, apparently speaking about his meeting with Trump, talking to a group that included the leaders of France, Britain and the Netherlands.
Trudeau quickly tried to walk back his words, telling reporters that he and Trump have a “good and constructive relationship.” But the footage brought into the open the increasing divide between the United States and its allies.
This is a major change. For generations, America saw itself as the center of the world. For better or worse, most of the rest of the world has regarded the US as its colossus — respecting it, fearing it, turning to it for answers.
“We are America,” said Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration. “We are the indispensable nation.”
To be sure, America is still a global superpower. But now, the country’s waning influence is profoundly redrawing the geopolitical map, opening the way for Washington’s two most powerful foes — Russia and China — to extend their reach into many countries where they had long been seen with suspicion.
Because of those longtime friends of Washington? Many are now looking elsewhere for alliances. Very often, they look to China or Russia.
In Islamabad, for example, where the US was once seen as the only game in town, Pakistan’s government now gets military aid and training from Russia and billions of dollars in investment and loans from China. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is nurturing closer ties to Beijing despite his nervousness over its expansionism in the South China Sea. In Egypt, long one of America’s closest Middle Eastern allies, Cairo now lets Russian military planes use its bases and the two countries recently held joint air force exercises. In Ukraine, which has looked to US military aid for years to try to keep an expansionist Russia in check, Trump’s questionable loyalty is seen as creating a dangerous vacuum.
“Once the US role in Europe weakens, Russia’s influence inevitably grows,” Vadim Karasev, head of the Kyiv-based Institute of Global Strategies said.
Or there’s France, whose friendship with America goes back to the days of George Washington. Perhaps more than any other Western leader, French President Emmanuel Macron has made clear that Europe should look to Beijing, not Washington, when it comes to addressing global issues from trade wars to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Macron’s recent trip to China was choreographed in part to convey that the European Union has little faith in Washington anymore.
Europe is on “the edge of a precipice,” Macron told The Economist magazine in a recent interview. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” he said, a reference to the announced US withdrawal from northern Syria.
Perhaps no US ally is more worried than the Kurds, America’s longtime battlefield allies. They bore the brunt of the combat as the Daesh group was driven from the territory it held across a swath of Iraq and Syria.
“Betrayal process is officially complete,” a Kurdish official said in a WhatsApp message sent to journalists after Trump’s defense secretary announced US troops would fully withdraw from northeastern Syria. That pullout paved the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters and signaled to the world that the US may no longer be as reliable as it once was.
The Kurds weren’t taken completely by surprise. Kurdish officials had been holding back-channel talks with Syria and Russia for more than a year before the announcement. The Kurds feared they would be abandoned by Washington.
China has been delighted by what it sees as the voluntary abdication of US leadership, particularly on free trade and climate change.
Trump’s pullout from the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, opened the way for Beijing to push ahead with its own alternative free-trade agreement.
Meanwhile, China has gone from being a climate change curmudgeon to sometimes reaping praise as a global leader on the issue.
The White House’s National Security Council did not respond to requests for comment about this story.
Trump insists he is not pulling the US off the world stage. He cites partnerships with other nations to fight terrorism and his administration highlights a recent high-profile raid in Syria that killed the leader of the Daesh group.
Trump has successfully coaxed NATO allies to spend billions more on their own defense to lessen the burden on the US He complains that America should not be the world’s policeman or its piggy bank, and needs to get out of what he calls “endless wars.”
Some former administration officials have cited Trump’s business background to describe him as having a “transactional” approach to foreign policy. He has pulled out of multilateral agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal, yet he needs international support to pressure Tehran for its regional aggression and nuclear program. He gets credit for opening dialogues with the Afghan Taliban and North Korea, although efforts to end America’s longest war and get Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons have so far been unsuccessful.
He also has set about negotiating bilateral trade agreements with many countries because he says deals made by previous administrations were unfair to the US He had success with South Korea, yet has not yet sealed a deal with China.
In some ways, Washington’s declining influence is simply a reflection of history: America is no longer the singular economic and military giant that overshadowed nearly every other nation.
In 1945, America had the world’s only nuclear weapons and produced roughly half the world’s gross domestic product. Today, the US has perhaps 15 percent of global GDP and even North Korea has nuclear weapons. Other countries have grown immensely. China, once a poverty-battered behemoth, has become a financial giant and an emerging superpower. Countries from Brazil to India to South Korea have become serious regional powers.
But if history plays a role, the diplomatic shifts of the Trump years are more about a White House unapologetically focused on the US
Globalism was once one of Washington’s few unifying themes. Now, it’s an insult in the capital, and the US gets more attention for rejecting multilateral agreements, from Trump pulling out of the Asia-Pacific deal to his rejection of the Paris climate accords. The president has hosted only two state dinners and has repeatedly sought to slash the State Department budget.
Trump insists talk of American decline is nonsense.
“The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to belittle my VERY successful trip to London for NATO,” Trump tweeted after the summit, adding that there was “only deep respect” for the United States.
America still has enormous power.
A 2018 Pew Research Center survey done across 25 countries found that only 25 percent of people believed the US plays a less important role now than it did a decade ago.
Another of the survey’s findings: People in nearly every country said they preferred a world order led by the United States.


Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

Updated 05 April 2020

Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

LONDON: As warm, sunny weather beckoned across Europe, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons on Sunday to exercise self-discipline in “an increasingly challenging time” as the country saw a record 24-hour jump in coronavirus deaths that even outpaced the daily toll in hard-hit Italy.
Britain recorded 708 new coronavirus deaths Saturday while Italy reported 631 deaths that day. With 621 more deaths reported on Sunday, Britain has 4,934 virus deaths overall among 47, 806 cases. Those coming down with the virus in the UK include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the health secretary, England’s chief medical official and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
There are wide fears that Johnson’s Conservative government did not take the virus seriously enough at first and that beautiful spring weather will tempt Britons and others to break social distancing rules.
In an address to the nation to be televised later Sunday, the 93-year-old queen said the pandemic had caused enormous disruptions, bringing grief, financial difficulties and daunting challenges to everybody. It is only the fourth time since her reign began in 1953 that she has given such an address.
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she said in pre-released remarks. “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”
The queen’s son, Charles, on Friday remotely opened a vast temporary hospital for corona patients in a London convention center after completing a week of isolation. Johnson still had a fever Friday but his infected pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds, tweeted she is “on the mend” after a week in bed.
As the sun shone and the temperatures rose toward 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sunbathing in public places was not allowed and the UK might even ban outdoor exercise if people still ‘’flout the rules.”
“The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home,” Hancock told Sky TV. “But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that — it’s quite unbelievable, frankly, to see that.”
As the numbers of infections rose, the deputy head of Britain’s National Health Service Providers said the agency needs to focus on quickly increasing ventilator capacity and getting more protective equipment for health care workers.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,’’ Saffron Cordery told Sky TV.
Restrictions on movement vary from country to country. In Germany and Britain, residents can get out to exercise and walk their dogs, as well as go to the supermarket, the post office and other essential tasks. Yet in Serbia and South Africa, dog walking is not allowed.
In France, heat-seeking drones have been whizzing over Fontainebleau forest to identify rule-breakers after the former royal estate in the Paris suburbs was closed to the public. That high-tech measure has been coupled with more traditional police patrols on horseback and roadblocks that turn back the cars of those seeking to escape urban areas.
In Sweden, authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants are still open.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and blessed palms for Palm Sunday in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica. Usually tens of thousands of faithful would have crowded the square outside to attend a papal Mass.
Holy Thursday and Easter services will beheld the same way. In the pope’s native Argentina, the faithful were using plants at home for a “virtual” blessing during a livestream of the Palm Sunday service.
Italians have not been immune to lure of the good weather either, even though the country has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 15,000.
Top Italian officials took to national television after photos were published showing huge crowds out shopping in Naples, Rome, Genoa and even the hard-hit Veneto city of Padua. Lombardy vice governor Fabrizio Sala said cellphone date showed 38% of the region’s people were out and about — the highest figure since March 20.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that all the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown began on March 10 risked being reversed.
As deaths and infections soared across the United States, new infections were slowing in Italy and Spain. Rome’s main hospital for coronavirus infections reported that, for the first time since Italy’s outbreak began, more patients were discharged than admitted.
Spain announced 6,023 confirmed new infections Sunday, taking its national tally to 130,759 but down from an increase of 7,026 infections in the previous day. Spain’s confirmed new virus deaths dropped for the third straight day, to 674 — the first time daily deaths have fallen below 800 in the past week.
“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
At week when millions of Spaniards typically go on holiday, data suggested most were following lockdown regulations. Transport authorities on Sunday reported an 85% decrease in long-distance public transport and an 80% drop in the use of private vehicles compared to a normal day.
Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and more than 65,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate under-reporting by some governments.
Almost 250,000 people have recovered from the virus, which is spread by microscopic droplets from coughs or sneezes. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. The World Health Organization says 95% of the known coronavirus deaths in Europe have been in people over 60.
The rapid spread of the virus in the United States has prompted a chaotic scramble for desperately needed medical equipment and protective gear, prompting intense squabbling between the states and the federal government.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised China for sending 1,000 ventilators, while President Donald Trump claimed that states are making inflated requests for supplies. In mixed messages, Trump warned that the country could be headed into its toughest weeks yet and see many deaths but also said he’s eager to get the US economy back on track.
The number of people infected in the US has soared to more than 312,000 as the fatalities climbed past 8,500.
New York City is the epicenter of the US outbreak but more than 400 people have also died in Louisiana, where state authorities have been rushing to find ventilators. Michigan has more than 14,000 infections and 500 deaths, mainly in Detroit.
Beijing authorities said Sunday about 78,000 people had visited cemeteries in the Chinese capital for annual “tomb-sweeping” ceremonies, down 90% over last year. Thousands of others paid their respects through an online portal that allowed them to light a candle, burn incense and offer wine and flowers, all virtually.

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