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The Rise of the Rest

By: Ryan Lafferty

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States assumed a position that no previous world power had ever faced: rebuilding a world shattered by a war of brutal proportions, reconstructing a world order fragmented by isolationism and authoritarianism, and restoring a world plagued by war, chaos, and instability. In a world decimated by conflict, America became the world’s preeminent economic, political, and military power, and used its unprecedented power and influence to construct the “liberal world order” –– a world order premised on multilateral cooperation and global solidarity. In the years since the end of WWII, the amalgamation of America’s leadership and the liberal order it helped to create has ushered in an unprecedented era of global wealth, relative tranquility, and protection of fundamental human rights. The United States helped to construct global agreements and pacts, like the United Nations, and spearheaded the development of global trading platforms, like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The U.S. militarily intervened in conflicts to protect human rights, such as in the Balkans. Although the U.S. did, indeed, have bloody hands at times, its leadership helped to develop a world order premised on human rights and liberalism.

But now, America is betraying it. And in its place stands a world order of turmoil, instability, and authoritarianism.

In recent years, a wave of nationalism and protectionism has marked a deliberate philosophical and pragmatic shift in American policy from globalism to unilateralism. Under the Trump Administration, the United States has withdrawn from international agreements, like the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, repudiated free trade, such as by imposing tariffs on goods from the E.U. and China, and abandoned long-standing allies, including Canada, Germany, and France. Fundamental American values like speech and freedom –– long protected by American Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike –– have been questioned and criticized. And the world is suffering the consequences.

Rogue, authoritarian regimes feel emboldened by the illiberal ideologies that have taken control of Washington. After Cambodian ruler Hun Sen violently cracked down on the media and his political opposition, he claimed President Trump “...had his back.” Hungary’s autocratic Prime Minister claimed Trump has given him “permission” to shun liberal values. In 2018, when the Nigerian military fired upon civil protestors, it defended itself by referencing Trump’s threats to do the same at the Mexican border. When representatives of the U.N. Security Council visited Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief –– who does not speak a single word of English –– to investigate the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim population, he used the phrase “fake news” a dozen times.

But this is not just a “Trump problem” –– this is an American problem. All around the world, countries are embracing the opportunity to exploit America’s callous disregard for global stability and order. America’s hesitancy to fully back the embattled North Atlantic Treaty Organization has allowed Russia to become increasingly aggressive in Eastern Europe, such as in November 2018, when Russia fired upon Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait and illegitimately arrested several sailors. America’s rejection of global free trade has emboldened China to adopt increasingly aggressive trade practices in its Belt and Road Initiative, a transnational trade initiative seeking to expand Chinese trade networks, such as in Sri Lanka, where abusive Chinese loans have crippled the economy. And America’s recent military withdrawal from the bloody conflict in Syria has not only tainted the image of American leadership, but also damaged the integrity of America’s commitments to other nations. As a result, countries are revisiting their own commitments to international law, like Australia, which has announced that, as a result of America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, it will decrease funding for investment into green technologies and lessen regulations on emissions standards for automobiles. America’s blatant disregard for the Iran Nuclear Agreement risks catastrophic nuclear proliferation in a region already rife with instability.

The world of American leadership may well be a world of the past. And that should worry us all –– America’s abandonment of the world it helped to shape condemns the world to a future of uncertainty and turmoil.

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