The Leadership Envisioned by the International Community

The 2017 Hamburg G-20 summit was another opportunity for internationalists and the anti-Trump community to reinforce their now well-known arguments. Headlines such as “Once Dominant, the United States Finds Itself Isolated at G-20” and “Australian Journalist Demolishes Trump at G-20: ‘Biggest Threat to the West’” reflected the focus of domestic and international media.[1] There was very limited coverage about the discussions, debates, and agendas negotiated at the summit, delivering instead a heavy loaded anti-Trump discourse. The Russian meddling theme continues to dominate the headlines while more important domestic and international issues continue to impact the lives human domestically and across the global system. But the most concerning theme that re-surfaced at the summit was the repetitive phrase that US “leadership” was in decadence as a result of president Trump’s decisions on trade and the environment. It is paradoxical that today the international community demands that the United States returns to being “the dominant force” that historically dictated “the agenda at the annual gathering,” when in the past our representatives were criticized and accused of being imperialist for setting the agenda and dictating the path on geo-politics and international trade.[2]

Since the system of globalization was put in motion under the Ronald Reagan administration the international community and global media that favored the same initiative, began to praise a version of US leadership that favored global trade expansionism at the expense of local economies and communities. From that point forward the protection and expansion of the internationalist agenda became the core leadership role of our country.

When it came to global environmental policy the United States was never singled out as a leader. On the contrary, its historic record of impeding the nation from entering global environmental agreements was highly criticized, and it was only under the Barack Obama administration that we earned the status of environmental leader. This status was revoked last month when President Donald Trump’s administration opted to remove the nation from the Paris accord.

The latest G-20 summit served the interests of internationalists who found in the gathering an important public relations opportunity to market to the world the idea that the United States is no longer the leader of the “free world” because its decision makers opted to pursue protectionist policies, that from the current administration’s point of view, tailor to the needs of domestic interests and not foreign interests. Nationalism, protectionism, and self-interest is seen by the internationalists as a threat to the status quo that the United States was committed to defend more than twenty years ago. Therefore, according to their worldviews, the United States is now “isolated” as it swims against the internationalist’s current.[3]

By design, internationalism requires that nation states give up sovereignty in areas such as trade, environmental regulation, immigration, and other aspects of foreign policy in order to accommodate the collective needs of all the other partners. Unfortunately for them, the US Democratic and Republican parties were unable to win over the nationalist and protectionist proposals of the political outsider, Donald Trump, and are now faced with an administration interested in altering the status quo constructed by both political parties since the late 1980s when the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) was set in motion.[4]

It is evident that since the implementation of CUSFTA and all the other trade agreements that have followed, the nation has sacrificed aspects of its sovereignty and has had to absorb costs that ultimately impact the well being of US taxpayers.[5] It is also clear that in an international system dominated by the principles of political realism, the internationalists found in their global initiatives a formula to diminish the power and influence that the US had gained after World War Two.[6]

This explains the frustration of the European Union (EU) over the change in direction of the Trump administration, considering that Germany and all the other EU partners had opted for an economic union as a long-term formula for playing the globalization game constructed by the internationalists. The same may be said about Canada’s Justin Trudeau who is also frustrated with the anti-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) rhetoric emanating from Washington, forcing his administration to strategize around the possible challenge to the trilateral status quo.

Canada, Australia, Japan, the EU and the other G-20 members became accustomed to the privileges of the status quo that allowed their private sector to expand their markets and control global resources at the expense of the US that incurred the costs of international leadership in areas such as external aid, international security, and more recently international environmentalism.

It is therefore not surprising that the international system and the pro-internationalist media are signaling that the US is being isolated by the international community and that its leadership role is at stake. As indicated by the New York Times we are loosing our influence because our President refused to comply with the Paris accord, because our government did not humiliate the Russians, and because the current administration is not willing to spread “prosperity through open markets and multilateral cooperation.”[7] According to Australian journalist, Chris Uhlmann, the nationalist and protectionist position of the current administration represents a disastrous foreign policy that presses, “fast-forward on the decline of the United States;” a position that signifies “the biggest threat to the values of the west.”[8]

International and domestic media resonated the voices of the internationalists and the anti-Trump movement, with more bark then evidence and facts. If it were true that our leadership role is at stake then it would be important to define what our leadership role has been since the early twentieth century. In fact, international media should be honest and accept that they have historically despised our leadership role, unless it favors their own national self-interests. If in fact China or Germany are going to step up to the plate and take over this leadership role, will their taxpayers, business sector, and civil society be willing to bear the costs for decades to come?

To the critics I must say that it is impossible for one single person limited by a strong democratic system and an active and free civil society to dismantle the system, institutions, programs, and cultural values that were rooted in our country and promoted globally since our independence. I also must remind people like Mr. Uhlmann that our president is just one of millions of ambassadors that promote western values, and that those western values that he claims to be threated today were actually responsible for the environmental crisis that humanity faces today.

Internationalists such as Mr. Uhlmann concluded that there was a strong sense that “some of the leaders” were “trying to find the best way to work around” President Trump, but it is evident that in an interdependent globalized economy no geopolitical and international trade decision may be made without the involvement of the largest economy and most aggressive consumer society in the planet. In a capitalist global economy, like the one we currently live in, it is bad business to isolate the US and its consumer market.

If in fact the nationalist and protectionist policies of the current administration do trickle down to the disenfranchised sectors of society that placed Donald Trump in power, then consumption will rise together with household incomes, and if this is the case then the internationalists will once again be happy as foreign trade grow. If the US private sector finds the profit margins to move forward with the acceleration of renewable energy, the American consumer will follow suit, and the environmentalists will be happy. If the Trump model is able to generate economic prosperity in the next four years then other nations will replicate the same economic development model, inevitably returning the “leadership” role to the United States. But it is all speculation; we must wait and see, remain vigilant and skeptic about what the critics have to say.

[1] Steven Erlanger and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Once Dominant, the United States Finds Itself Isolated at G-20,” New York Times, July 7, 2017; Naaman Zhou, “Australian Journalist Demolishes Trump at G-20: ‘Biggest Threat to the West,’” The Guardian, July 9, 2017.

[2] Steven Erlanger and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Once Dominant, the United States Finds Itself Isolated at G-20,” New York Times, July 7, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For more information see: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/topic/the-canada-us-free-trade-agreement.

[5] Today the United States has signed Free Trade Agreements with Australia, Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Central America, Israel, Jordan, Korea, Morocco, Mexico, Canada, Oman, Panama, Peru, and Singapore. For more information see http://trade.gov/fta/

[6] According to Kenneth Waltz, the founder of neorealism, all nations find themselves in a struggle for power and this power is historically constrained by the structures of the international system. (see Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 1979). Globalization seems to have constrained the maneuverability and power of the US according to the Trump administration and this explains his foreign policy decisions of the past six months.

[7] Steven Erlanger and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Once Dominant, the United States Finds Itself Isolated at G-20.”

[8] Naaman Zhou, “Australian Journalist Demolishes Trump at G-20: ‘Biggest Threat to the West,’” The Guardian, July 9, 2017.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.