No one is looking to the US for leadership during the coronavirus crisis. Is this the new normal?
Global crises tend to accelerate trends, and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. The trends which this pathogen is jolting pertain to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), global governance, neoliberalism, and international institutions such as the European Union.
It is a safe bet that when lockdowns lift and economies fully reopen, we will not "return to normal". The international order of the post-coronavirus period will differ from what the world had before this disease shook everything.
Without question, the world is—and will remain—too interconnected for any serious analyst to consider this pandemic bringing globalisation to an end. Nonetheless, the Covid-19 pandemic can be expected to result in globalisation coming under assault like never before.
Many in the world who oppose free trade will argue that the coronavirus crisis has validated their arguments in favour of protectionism. Bigoted, xenophobic, and far-right nationalists across multiple regions will exploit this pathogen to advance agendas that target immigrants, refugees, minorities, and other marginalised groups.
Defenders of neo-liberalism—as embodied by DC-headquartered institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund—must confront significant challenges to their orthodoxy.
The coronavirus crisis has further highlighted inequalities created by decades of neoliberal policies that leave the weakest members of societies more vulnerable to the forces of the free market with fewer safety nets and public services available to those in most need.
Amid this pandemic, citizens of countries worldwide are demanding more protection from and intervention by the state. As John Feffer, the director of Foreign Policy in Focus, recently wrote:
"Market fundamentalists are like Christian Scientists. They refuse government intervention just as the faithful reject medical intervention. Much like God's grace, the invisible hand operates independent of human plan. Then something happens, like a pandemic, which tests this faith. States around the world are now spending trillions of dollars to intervene in the economy: to bail out banks, save businesses, help out the unemployed."
The demise of "American Exceptionalism"
While the world copes with Covid-19, Washington's friends and foes alike are witnessing America back off from many of its global responsibilities and commitments. Coronavirus has served to further challenge and call into doubt longstanding assumptions about Washington's international role in the post-World War II era (1945-present).
Perhaps the former Prime Minister of Sweden best described "the first great crisis of the post-American world" when he tweeted: "The UN Security Council is nowhere to be seen, G20 is in the hands of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and the White House has trumpeted America First and Everyone Alone for years. Only the virus is globalised."
Abundantly clear is that the global power which spent trillions fighting its "War on Terror" following the attacks of September 11, 2001, was extremely ill-prepared for the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the world, people are seeing footage of seemingly endless lines of jobless and hungry Americans and also observing President Donald Trump's narcissism, erraticism, petty tweets, and undermining of expertise from scientists and medical authorities. Meanwhile, the weaknesses of America's health care system stand exposed.
More governments and societies around the world are no longer viewing the US as a global power that can lead by example, despite being the wealthiest nation on earth. Put simply, the concept of "American exceptionalism" has suffered amid this pandemic, and the relative decline of US hegemony is another trend from the pre-coronavirus era that this disease has only accelerated.
Thus, the odds are good that when the next international crisis erupts, even fewer people will consider the possibility of being able to turn to the US as a global leader.
Amid this pandemic, countries such as Cuba, China, Turkey, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been making headlines in the global press for their "Covid-19 diplomacy". Notably, the United States has not.
As the New York Times' Katrin Bennhold wrote, "this is perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century where no one is even looking to the United States for leadership."
The ramifications of these shifts in the international order will impact all countries in the world. The US's allies and partners will further hedge their bets and explore deeper relationships with "rising alternative powers" (China, France, India, Russia, etc.) that counter-balance Washington's power while America's enemies and rivals will be keen to exploit this transformation of global politics.
To be sure, Trump and his administration have accelerated America's move away from a leadership role in the world. Since his presidency began in early 2017, the US has been unilaterally withdrawing from multilateral accords and undermining various treaties and global institutions which Washington spent decades leading and shaping to advance US interests.
But it would be naive to attribute this entirely to Trump as an individual leader.
After all, the president's electoral victory in 2016 was in no small part due to Trump's ability to capitalise on 'anti-globalist' attitudes that had already found fertile ground, particularly in America's heartland, before Trump's ascendancy.
Fall of a great power
The Covid-19 pandemic is hot-wiring the decline of American influence in a world that was already becoming increasingly multipolar and more Asia-centric. With Trump at the helm, the US will continue to isolate itself from the norms of global diplomacy with daily developments exemplifying this point.
Whether former Vice President Joseph Biden can win this year's presidential election and, if so, how much he could do to slow down the decline of America's global influence remain to be seen.
Without a doubt, coronavirus has forced all governments to look around the world and see how different powers are dealing with the unprecedented challenge. Long after a vaccine is developed, people of all countries will remember how the US government failed to lead amid this pandemic.
No matter how politics in the US play out this year, the damage done to America's international reputation during the Covid-19 crisis will continue to shape perceptions of the US as a power in decline.
Welcome to the post-American world.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
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