(Credit: Getty/photo montage by Salon)
I think about “U.S. leadership” a lot these days. Well, I have considered this topic more or less daily since the Cold War ended, and especially since the events of Sept. 11, 2001: The fate of American power is the decisive question of our time. Of late everyone seems to be thinking and talking about it. The Trump administration has taken to asserting American leadership routinely. Then there are the Democrats and the never-Trumpers: They are irate because the president is ruining America’s global position. What is what with “U.S. leadership?”
Let us think this over. We are midway in an important point of inflection, if I read things rightly.
“World leader” seems to be inscribed on the Trump administration’s calling cards — the work of the generals who direct his administration on the foreign policy side, in my read. It has for many months claimed a leadership role in a “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea in response to its missile and nuclear programs. Lately the administration has called on other nations to “stand with the Iranian people” as they protest against corruption and economic deprivation. Now it wants the accord governing Iran’s nuclear accord rewritten. At the extreme there is the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: Team Trump is nothing if not out front in this case.
In swoop the Democrats. Last Wednesday their Senate foreign relations staff released a report purporting to detail “Vladimir Putin’s nearly two-decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country.” We Americans seem to have an endless appetite for evidence-free manifestations of paranoia of this kind. It is politically useful, among other things. But note the “across Europe.” The Democrats now propose to internationalize and institutionalize the theme. The report — here is the Senate’s summary — calls for yet another American-led “international coalition,” among its 30-odd recommendations. It wants “an annual global summit” to counter “all forms of Russian hybrid threats.”
You can read that last sentence again if you like. I’ll wait. Annual Russia–Russia–Russia summits chaired by Americans, given that no one else could conceivably take up such a task: Now this, readers, is American leadership in its very finest hour.
Quiz question: Apart from the intervening decades, how much distance is there between Joe McCarthy and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Democrat who initiated the Russia-themed report? I will watch the comment thread, per usual.
Washington is on a leadership binge, let there be no question. And it is always the same in these cases. The man constantly citing books and dropping names is certain to be badly read and poorly connected. “He who speaks does not know, he who knows does not speak,” as Lao Tzu had it. Our policy cliques and politicians noisily assert and claim American leadership precisely because it ebbs before our eyes. This is not Donald Trump’s doing. He happens to be in the White House, and the drift has his …read more