Home Will The New Government In Washington Allow American Power And Influence to Decline?

Will The New Government In Washington Allow American Power And Influence to Decline?

One of the inferences from President Trump’s first address to the joint session of the US Congress on February 28th, 2017, five weeks into his presidency, is that  he is willing to tone down much of the controversial post election rhetoric of the initial month, which had caused a lot of concern, not only in America, but also world-wide. He also announced a significant ten percent increase in defence spending, thus projecting  a more muscular US, bound for military glory during his tenure at the White House. These developments have to be seen in the context that some of President Trump’s earlier statements relating to his ‘America First’ policy had led many analysts to speculate whether these indicated an inevitable future decline in US global influence, thus providing space for China’s  unchallenged rise as a global superpower. It was contended that the US is showing portents of  gradual weakening of its existing strategic interests in Europe and the Asia Pacific, and would be  focusing inwardly on homeland security and improving the quality of life of common American citizens. The cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on President Trump’s first day in office,  his oft repeated statements against NATO and Japan, as well as his squabbling with the Australian PM are cited as  clear evidence of US intent to withdraw from the global stage.

     On the other hand, it can be argued that, despite inward focus of the new US government in terms of defending the US mainland from terror threats, protecting its trade interests and seeking to enhance job opportunities for its citizens, in keeping with President Trump’s election promises, in actual fact, the US has no intent to move away from its core interests, i.e. ‘global supremacy’ and ‘protecting its energy interests,’ which have enabled it to hold sway globally since the end of World War II.

     Retaining ‘global supremacy’ for the US entails a slew of measures worldwide,  individually and collectively as well as bilaterally and regionally, to enhance US influence with a view to keep the balance of global power tilted in its favour. The US has retained its status as the strongest economic power for a long time now and is predicted to remain in that position at least for the next decade or so. Further, the US is the only country today which has a significant military presence all over the world. The US has the advantage of the world’s leadership in science and technology, the strongest and most modern military, well established military alliances, a well entrenched tradition of human values like intellectual freedom and democracy as well as limitless soft power -  to remain as No.1 in comprehensive national power (CNP) - despite China’s growing economic and military strengths, combined with the latter’s focused efforts at replacing the US at the top. Clearly, the US is not likely to give up its status as the sole global super power just because China is growing faster economically and wants to challenge US supremacy, with Russia apparently by its side (and Pakistan and North Korea as its nuclear proxies).

      It is also significant that just a week earlier, on February 20th, Vice President Mike Pence visited Brussels to meet with America’s alliance partners and assure Europe of President Trump’s continued commitment to the NATO. The NATO has provided the US its desired presence and influence in Europe, since World War II, despite NATO force levels having been thinned down drastically after the Cold War. President Trump had repeatedly expressed concern over America’s European partners not contributing enough to NATO costs. The President’s remarks about European countries needing to increase their contributions towards NATO, though  conveyed sometimes in insulting or perplexing fashion, appears justified to many Americans in the context of the country’s reported $ 20 trillion debt,  which was fuelled significantly by  the ill advised US intervention in Iraq by the previous Republican government under President George W Bush. In the past, President Trump has also expressed a desire for rapprochement with Russia as a more effective way to reduce tensions in Europe and also deal with global threats like the Al Qaeda and Islamic State brands of terrorism.

President Trump’s conciliatory statement during his address that, “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a cold war that defeated communism” appeared an effort to assuage trans-Atlantic concerns that the new Republican dispensation is planning to leave Europe unguarded, without military presence and support. In fact, the friendly overtures towards Russia, which is causing much of that concern, are being explained as more to do with the desire to focus US efforts against China rather than wanting to leave Europe unguarded. On that issue, it appears the new US President and most members of the US Congress fully subscribe to the belief that  if the US does not challenge China’s new found belligerence under Xi Jinping, authoritarian China would rapidly spread its influence across the world, to the long term detriment of US power and interests.

     Where the US security policy appears to be confused is with regard to dealing with Iran. The Obama administration had shown an inclination to deal with Iran diplomatically in keeping with the latter’s  dominant influence over the Shia crescent, especially Iraq, even if it meant angering Tel Aviv and Riyadh as well as releasing pressure on President Assad’s government in Syria. Possibly, the change in policy of the earlier US administration towards Iran also indicated a desire to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to roll back its destructive policy of spreading  Wahhabi-Salafi radicalism globally and in the region.  But it is President Trump’s call now whether he wants to reverse the conciliatory policy towards Iran and deal with its unpredictable consequences. Undoubtedly, any major change in policy, under pressure from hawks and lobbyists in Washington, would disturb the carefully crafted agreement and balance that was achieved by President Obama’s administration in concert with the other members of the P5, Germany and the European Union.

      Also, despite the cancellation of the TPP, it is not likely that the US is going to provide a free run to China in the Western Pacific or the Indian Ocean regions. The fact that Defence Secretary Mattis started his foreign visits by trips to Japan and South Korea highlight the interest of the Trump government in the Western Pacific. It does not appear likely that the US will weaken its relationships with Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Taiwan, despite President Trump having reverted publicly to the ‘one China policy.’ As for the Indian Ocean region, the US is likely to strengthen its partnerships with India, Japan and Australia to protect its security interests. The only doubt is the extent to which the US government would be willing to go to challenge China’s assertiveness in the region, especially the East and South China Seas.

      On the subject of trade and economy, American brands still hold sway in the global marketplace in terms of quality of their products. The US has remained the global leader in innovations and technology in many fields.  In their quest to make their products competitive globally, American companies have been recruiting their work force locally and from other countries in the developing world. The US can give up these market driven practices only at the peril of losing their global standing economically.

       In sum, it appears likely that, despite some initial indications to the contrary, the US, under President Trump is likely to make a serious effort to retain its position as the sole superpower, in spite of its burgeoning economic problems, growing internal schisms and the ongoing challenges to its global supremacy. Whether the US is likely to achieve such an objective will be dependent on the level of moderation the US Congress  is able to bring to bear on the President and the more radical of his advisors.

One of the inferences from President Trump’s first address to the joint session of the US Congress on February 28th, 2017, five weeks into his presidency, is that  he is willing to tone down much of the controversial post election rhetoric of the initial month, which had caused a lot of concern, not only in America, but also world-wide. He also announced a significant ten percent increase in defence spending, thus projecting  a more muscular US, bound for military glory during his tenure at the White House. These developments have to be seen in the context that some of President Trump’s earlier statements relating to his ‘America First’ policy had led many analysts to speculate whether these indicated an inevitable future decline in US global influence, thus providing space for China’s  unchallenged rise as a global superpower. It was contended that the US is showing portents of  gradual weakening of its existing strategic interests in Europe and the Asia Pacific, and would be  focusing inwardly on homeland security and improving the quality of life of common American citizens. The cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on President Trump’s first day in office,  his oft repeated statements against NATO and Japan, as well as his squabbling with the Australian PM are cited as  clear evidence of US intent to withdraw from the global stage.

     On the other hand, it can be argued that, despite inward focus of the new US government in terms of defending the US mainland from terror threats, protecting its trade interests and seeking to enhance job opportunities for its citizens, in keeping with President Trump’s election promises, in actual fact, the US has no intent to move away from its core interests, i.e. ‘global supremacy’ and ‘protecting its energy interests,’ which have enabled it to hold sway globally since the end of World War II.

     Retaining ‘global supremacy’ for the US entails a slew of measures worldwide,  individually and collectively as well as bilaterally and regionally, to enhance US influence with a view to keep the balance of global power tilted in its favour. The US has retained its status as the strongest economic power for a long time now and is predicted to remain in that position at least for the next decade or so. Further, the US is the only country today which has a significant military presence all over the world. The US has the advantage of the world’s leadership in science and technology, the strongest and most modern military, well established military alliances, a well entrenched tradition of human values like intellectual freedom and democracy as well as limitless soft power -  to remain as No.1 in comprehensive national power (CNP) - despite China’s growing economic and military strengths, combined with the latter’s focused efforts at replacing the US at the top. Clearly, the US is not likely to give up its status as the sole global super power just because China is growing faster economically and wants to challenge US supremacy, with Russia apparently by its side (and Pakistan and North Korea as its nuclear proxies).

      It is also significant that just a week earlier, on February 20th, Vice President Mike Pence visited Brussels to meet with America’s alliance partners and assure Europe of President Trump’s continued commitment to the NATO. The NATO has provided the US its desired presence and influence in Europe, since World War II, despite NATO force levels having been thinned down drastically after the Cold War. President Trump had repeatedly expressed concern over America’s European partners not contributing enough to NATO costs. The President’s remarks about European countries needing to increase their contributions towards NATO, though  conveyed sometimes in insulting or perplexing fashion, appears justified to many Americans in the context of the country’s reported $ 20 trillion debt,  which was fuelled significantly by  the ill advised US intervention in Iraq by the previous Republican government under President George W Bush. In the past, President Trump has also expressed a desire for rapprochement with Russia as a more effective way to reduce tensions in Europe and also deal with global threats like the Al Qaeda and Islamic State brands of terrorism.

President Trump’s conciliatory statement during his address that, “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a cold war that defeated communism” appeared an effort to assuage trans-Atlantic concerns that the new Republican dispensation is planning to leave Europe unguarded, without military presence and support. In fact, the friendly overtures towards Russia, which is causing much of that concern, are being explained as more to do with the desire to focus US efforts against China rather than wanting to leave Europe unguarded. On that issue, it appears the new US President and most members of the US Congress fully subscribe to the belief that  if the US does not challenge China’s new found belligerence under Xi Jinping, authoritarian China would rapidly spread its influence across the world, to the long term detriment of US power and interests.

     Where the US security policy appears to be confused is with regard to dealing with Iran. The Obama administration had shown an inclination to deal with Iran diplomatically in keeping with the latter’s  dominant influence over the Shia crescent, especially Iraq, even if it meant angering Tel Aviv and Riyadh as well as releasing pressure on President Assad’s government in Syria. Possibly, the change in policy of the earlier US administration towards Iran also indicated a desire to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to roll back its destructive policy of spreading  Wahhabi-Salafi radicalism globally and in the region.  But it is President Trump’s call now whether he wants to reverse the conciliatory policy towards Iran and deal with its unpredictable consequences. Undoubtedly, any major change in policy, under pressure from hawks and lobbyists in Washington, would disturb the carefully crafted agreement and balance that was achieved by President Obama’s administration in concert with the other members of the P5, Germany and the European Union.

      Also, despite the cancellation of the TPP, it is not likely that the US is going to provide a free run to China in the Western Pacific or the Indian Ocean regions. The fact that Defence Secretary Mattis started his foreign visits by trips to Japan and South Korea highlight the interest of the Trump government in the Western Pacific. It does not appear likely that the US will weaken its relationships with Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Taiwan, despite President Trump having reverted publicly to the ‘one China policy.’ As for the Indian Ocean region, the US is likely to strengthen its partnerships with India, Japan and Australia to protect its security interests. The only doubt is the extent to which the US government would be willing to go to challenge China’s assertiveness in the region, especially the East and South China Seas.

      On the subject of trade and economy, American brands still hold sway in the global marketplace in terms of quality of their products. The US has remained the global leader in innovations and technology in many fields.  In their quest to make their products competitive globally, American companies have been recruiting their work force locally and from other countries in the developing world. The US can give up these market driven practices only at the peril of losing their global standing economically.

       In sum, it appears likely that, despite some initial indications to the contrary, the US, under President Trump is likely to make a serious effort to retain its position as the sole superpower, in spite of its burgeoning economic problems, growing internal schisms and the ongoing challenges to its global supremacy. Whether the US is likely to achieve such an objective will be dependent on the level of moderation the US Congress  is able to bring to bear on the President and the more radical of his advisors.

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Lt Gen Philip Campose

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