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Eyes On U.S. – American Diplomacy Is Unable (Or Unwilling) To Adapt To A New World

Crises worldwide mean we need less nationalism and more cooperation, but the U.S., a weakened superpower, won't accept its diminished status.

Close up photo of a somber-looking flag of the U.S.

America the not-so-Great anymore

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Ginevra Falciani, Renate Mattar

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — There is widespread international consensus that the post-Cold War period, which began around 1990, is over. Initially, it heralded a "new order" under the guidance of the United States, which promised stability, justice and equity but became instead a run of crises, challenges, conflicts and failures.

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The West has been a chief culprit in this failed promise. For parts of the world, this short phase was both traumatic and predatory, thanks to the wars on terror, drugs and migrants. If it is said to have begun with the fall of the Soviet Union, it definitively ended with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as confirmed in a U.S. National Security Strategy paper published last October.

Yet the first question is whether or not the United States has also modified its grand strategy. The 1990s were intense in terms of foreign policy and defense debates and proposals, though all in a broad guideline: to promote international economic and political convergence in a unipolar framework.

A grand strategy

The terror attacks on New York on Sept. 11, 2001, helped clarify those ideas. The United States would implement a primacy strategy, meaning it would not tolerate an equal power in the world either as a partner (the EU), a resurgent former enemy (Russia) or challenger (communist China). This was implemented by the Republican President George W. Bush, forcefully and unilaterally.

His Democratic successor, Barack Obama, fine-tuned the primacy strategy with a measure of diplomatic tact and increased consultations with allies. Primacy became confused under President Donald J. Trump, who despised the multilateral approach and mistreated allies and rivals alike. President Joseph Biden hasn't abandoned the objective but implements the strategy in doses, seeking concessions to restrict China while fortifying U.S. military projection.

The nuances of the four administrations didn't mean the United States was relenting on its vision of global supremacy. But the country has become weaker. This has affected the domestic and material foundations of its immoderate ambitions and opened a gap between a sense of national superiority and global realities.

Difficulty adapting to a changing world

In that context, a second question is whether or not the United States is willing to adapt to a transformed and changing world.

There are factors and forces that seem to be impeding this, including presumptions of a manifest destiny and a vocation to lead the world, inertia inside civil and military bureaucracies, simple ideas of "friends and enemies" in the minds of decision-makers, the enduring interests of powerful sectors, a reluctance to change the "American way of life", and strong internal polarization. These are all making it difficult for Washington to adjust to the world as it is.

It is not about naively turning inward but forging a grand strategy.

Meanwhile, there is a parallel concept of restraint, which has sought, so far in vain, to challenge the primacy of, well, primacy. Restraint seeks moderation and shuns arrogance. It envisages possibilities and touts pragmatism instead of dogmatism in dealing with them. It won't propose a crusade against dictatorships, and prefers to tend to the welfare of citizens at home and anticipate certain shared challenges facing China and the United States.

It is not about naively turning inward but forging a grand strategy that actually chimes with realities in the United States and abroad. The center of gravity is moving eastward and three centuries of Western dominance (also of its values, beliefs, rules and interests) are setting on the horizon.

The notion of a "polycrisis," a term of the 1990s coined by French analysts Edgar Morin and Anne-Brigitte Kern, has returned to the fore. It is a state of "crises upon crises" that may, in short, entail catastrophic results for everyone.

Standing firm, resisting change

Today we may be facing an accumulation of risks that could run out of control. A response based on global and not just national criteria would be needed, for example, to reverse, if at all possible, the planet's degradation and a tremendous social malaise. Which is why one is skeptical of the United States' willingness to come to terms with the current state of the world.

In several areas, one sees a reaffirmation of sovereignty and a crucial role for defense (which has been given its biggest budget yet), and the predominance of local politics. The United States is turning to protectionism and even considering delinking itself from China in response to its trading dynamism.

The consequences of that break in trade have yet to be seen. The recent Inflation Reduction Act and other measures may prompt trade reprisals, even among partners. We should recall, the United States was 55th out of 64 countries listed in the 2022 Climate Change Performance Index.

In short, the United States seems disinclined in early 2023 to adapt itself to a world with a more diffused power configuration, greater cultural and ideological diversity, and facing new challenges. When it comes to resisting change, it is certainly standing firm.

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian / CLARÍN

In other news ...

📝 IN BRIEF

eularochard/veja

Brazilian CBN podcast reported that newly elected U.S. Rep. George Santos, whom it called “the biggest liar around,” had reportedly participated in drag queen beauty pageants in Brazil, at a time when he claimed to be attending college in the United States.

Since his election, Santos has embraced right-wing policies, expressing support for Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that bars teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in school and claiming that drag shows are a tool of the liberal agenda to groom and abuse children. “There are a total of 300 drag shows per day in New York City schools,” Santos stated in an interview. The figure was shown as being false.

Santos, son of Brazilian immigrants and the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent, had already been asked by New York Republicans to step down over other fabrications about his career and history.

In an article titled “An avalanche of fibs”, Rio-based culture magazine Piauí recalls a 2022 interview with him: “When asked jokingly if the dogs were named after drag queens, Santos bristled. 'Hey, now. Aurora is from Sleeping Beauty; Elsa, from Frozen; Anastasia, from the movie of the same name; and Electra is the daughter of Poseidon.'”

📝 IN BRIEF, PART II

“Was the Missouri House of Representatives inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale?” asks French public radio FranceInfo, as Missouri lawmakers adopt stricter dress code for women in the state House that will require them from now on to cover their arms.

This is the latest in a long list of references, by U.S. and international media, to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, which depicts a society where women are oppressed by the ruling class and everything in their lives is controlled, from reproduction to clothing.

📰 UP, FRONT PAGE AND CENTER

Japan News features U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kindisha looking chummy and “standing united”. The Japanese leader visited Washington last week, where he and President Biden agreed to strengthen the relationship between their countries. In their two-hour meeting, Kindisha and Biden reportedly discussed issues and challenges related to security strategies, sanctions against Russia, and their mutual goal of creating a world without nuclear weapons.

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Ideas

The Direct Link Between Turkey's Earthquake Toll And Global Real Estate Markets

The shoddy homes that collapse on their inhabitants in Turkey's recent earthquake were badly, and hastily, built as part of a worldwide real-estate fever typically fueled by greedy governments indifferent to safety norms and common sense.

Photo of a person walking in the aftermath of Turkey's earthquake

Aftermath of Turkey's earthquake

Hector Zajac

-Analysis-

There is bitter irony in an earthquake striking a zone already decimated by terrorism and war, where the vulnerable must suffer from natural destruction on top of their rulers' cruelty or, at best, cynical indifference. Under such calamitous conditions, how is one to interpret the observation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the February quakes that killed more than 40,000 were fate's work?

The countries hit, Turkey and Syria, lie on a seismic powder keg. They have shaken before and will keep shaking, and nothing can be done about that. But much can be done to prevent the natural vulnerabilities that threaten so many countries becoming disasters of Biblical proportions. Something can always be done to mitigate the harm of even a 7.8-level quake and its aftershocks striking at the end of a freezing winter night.

Talking of the clash of tectonic plates is confusing, as the scale can boggle the mind. But it refers to the movements of vast plaques, 70 kilometers thick, that rub against each other while shifting in opposing directions. Even without a cataclysm like the earthquakes, such movements can push up the ground a few centimeters a year to form mountain ranges over millions of years.

In this process, rocks on their edges accumulate enormous amounts of pressure that are suddenly released in quakes as they snap, before moving.

Our short time on this planet has amply shown the impact of a shifting earth on our fragile civilization and socio-economic organization.

And while science has evolved and can better predict earthquakes, it has yet to do it well enough to allow for a city's evacuation.

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