For three years, President Trump has tried to disentangle the United States from the burdens of world leadership. This week, it appears he has succeeded.
One of the most notable aspects of the crisis between the United States and Iran is how little the international community rallied to America's side. Yes, Israel's government applauded the president for "acting forcefully" in the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but many other traditional U.S. allies were at least a bit muted in their responses, and a few actively distanced themselves.
The government of Iraq voted to cast out American troops. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, said he wouldn't "lament" Soleimani's death, but joined other European leaders in calling on both sides to stop the escalation of violence. Saudi Arabia sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., asking the president to pull back from the brink of war. And while Israel offered its public support to the U.S., Netanyahu also reportedly told his cabinet that "the assassination of Soleimani isn't an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it."
Times have changed.
Even in 2003, when the United States invasion of Iraq was widely unpopular around the world, America was able to muster a much-mocked "coalition of the willing" of some four dozen countries — mostly lesser powers — to act as allies, either by sending troops or with mere expressions of support. Britain remained a steadfast ally during that time, but at the cost of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's reputation and political support: He will forever be remembered in his home country as George W. Bush's "poodle."
Now? At a moment of crisis, the United States appears to stand nearly alone in the world.
Much of this is Trump's fault. At home, there has been criticism of the White House's failure to brief lawmakers on the Soleimani assassination — but most important U.S. allies were also given the silent treatment ahead of the attack. Israel, of course, was the exception to this rule, along with some of Trump's guests at Mar-a-Lago. The result has been barely disguised irritation from governments around the world — particularly countries, like Canada, that also have troops in the region.
"Certainly, they (the Trump administration) didn't alert some of the countries that deserve being alerted, given they have a stake in what happens in Iraq as well," Robert Malley, the president of the International Crisis Group, told CTV News. "All of the countries that are present in the counter-ISIS coalition clearly are affected by what happened."
This president, of course, has routinely disregarded the interests of other nations, including traditional U.S. allies. He walked away from the nuclear deal with Iran. He pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. He has undermined NATO at a number of opportunities. The president has long demonstrated his disregard for international law and multilateral institutions, seeing them as unnecessarily constraining America's exercise of power in the world. To some extent, he is right — if the world had its way, Soleimani might still be alive.
But Trump failed to see how international relationships and institutions have acted to extend and support that same American power. He may have a better idea now. During his bizarre "victory" speech on Wednesday, Trump asked the countries of Europe, Russia, and China to join him in seeking a new nuclear deal with Iran. He called on the "civilized world" to confront Iran's sponsorship of terrorism. And he asked NATO to become more involved in the region, though the details of that request were murky.
The United States, it turns out, still needs allies to get anything done in the world.
The U.S. has a powerful military and a giant economy; the world isn't going to start ignoring Washington. But it is possible we are witnessing the end of American global preeminence. Trump, having so powerfully demonstrated his disregard for the interests and prerogatives of other nations, may find their governments more reluctant to follow him. Leadership, once forfeited, can be tough to recapture.
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