America’s Role In The World, 2022

Feb 19th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

With the 1945 allied victory in World War II, America emerged a superpower, but a superpower contending with the Soviet Union for influence and dominance.  With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1989-1991, American hegemony was achieved.  From this collapse until the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the US dominated the world in various domains of power—military, economic, political and cultural.  That hegemony is now breaking down.  Because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 combined with the war against terror in Afghanistan following 9/11, the world now questions whether military power alone can bring about significant political change.  It certainly did not in Iraq and the failure of the Biden administration to plan adequately for the rapid collapse of Afghanistan restored the Taliban to power.  In fact, Afghanistan is a metaphor for the perceived weakness of America and its democratic way of life.  The world of 2022 is a multipolar world with centers of power in China, Russia and the US, with Europe playing an increasingly important role.  As 2022 begins, America’s role in the world is confusing, ill-defined and potentially dangerous for world stability.

What are some of the factors feeding this confusing, ill-defined role?

  • Francis Fukuyama, senior fellow at Stanford University, suggests that America will remain a great power for years to come but it has lost significant influence due to important internal, domestic challenges.  He writes, “American society is deeply polarized, and has found it difficult to find consensus on virtually anything.  This polarization started over conventional policy issues like taxes and abortion, but has since metastasized into a bitter fight over cultural identity.  Normally a big external threat such as a global pandemic should be the occasion for citizens to rally around a common response.  But the covid-19 crisis served to deepen America’s divisions, with social distancing, mask-wearing and vaccinations being seen not as public-health measures but as political markers.”  He goes on to connect this to America’s role in the world:  Polarization has affected foreign policy directly.  “During Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans took a hawkish stance and scolded Democrats for the Russian ‘reset’ and alleged naivety regarding Vladimir Putin.  Donald Trump turned the tables by embracing Mr. Putin, and today roughly half of Republicans believe that the Democrats constitute a bigger threat to the American way of life than Russia does.”  As America attempts to rally the free world under the flag of democracy, its dysfunctional, divided government is a poor advertisement for its merits.
  • What does the national government need to do to better advertise the value and credibility of the democratic form of government?  Former senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has a valuable, worthwhile suggestion—“bring back regular order.”  What does he mean?  “Regular order” is a “sensible process that is open to public view and invites bipartisan collaboration in the national interest.  But ‘regular order’ is more than Senate rules and precedents.  To work, it requires an attitude toward public service that we haven’t seen much of in Washington in recent years from either party.  It begins with a personal decision by elected leaders that their primary purpose is to get things done for their country and constituents, and that getting things done matters more to them than pleasing their party, their campaign contributors, or the increasingly partisan media.  ‘Regular order’ requires a willingness to reach common ground—to meet with colleagues of both parties with humility, trust, civility, and an open mind, and then talk, negotiate, and compromise to get the votes necessary to enact good laws.”  American history is full of examples of “regular order” working (e.g., the Constitutional Convention, passage of the civil rights laws, Social Security reform under President Reagan, balancing the federal budget under President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, etc.).  It is an indictment of both the Republican and Democratic parties of 2022 that each is allowing relentless, deep partisanship to define our democratic-republic.  The world is watching the US right now—and so are Vladimir Putin and President Xi of China.  They love to cite this raw partisanship and dysfunction as evidence that democracy does not work—only their brand of authoritarianism does!
  • Finally, in an essay in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum demonstrates rather conclusively that while the 20th century was the story of democracy’s progress toward victory over other ideologies—communism, Nazism and fascism, and virulent nationalism—the 21st century so far is a story of the reverse.  She writes:  “If America removes the promotion of democracy from its foreign policy, if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, the autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding and ideas.  If America, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home . . . If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity.”

Consider this example of what the leading authoritarian governments are doing with their history.  Max Fisher writes that the world authoritarians are in the process of revising their respective histories to complement their authoritarian goals.  “In China, the ruling Communist Party is openly wielding schoolbooks, films, television shows and social media to write a new version of Chinese history better suited to the party’s needs.”  This same goal is rewrite history for authoritarian goals is evidenced in Russia, Hungary and Poland.  “In some places, the goals are sweeping: to re-engineer a society, starting at its most basic understanding of its collective heritage.  Emphasizing the importance of that process, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has repeated a 19th century Confucian scholar’s saying: ‘To destroy a country, you must first eradicate its history.’”  Russia is doing the same thing under Putin:  He has ended the major historical effort under The Memorial Project to document the horrors of the Gulag under Joseph Stalin.  Putin seeks to massage the memories of the Soviet Union; he seeks to sanitize this history by focusing only on the greatness of Russia, eliminating the horrors of that dreadful period of brutal communism.  Poland has passed legislation making it a crime to suggest that Poland bore any responsibility for Nazi atrocities on its soil.  Viktor Orban is doing the same thing in Hungary; revising Hungary’s history by portraying Hungary as an innocent victim during both the Nazi and Communist periods of its history.  As a Christian, I believe history should be studied with honesty, integrity and truthfulness.  Because humanity is fallen and sinful, the history of a nation will be filled with triumph and defeat, with examples of achievement and egregious failures.  It is wrong to sanitize history for despicable, nefarious ends.

The United States faces the 21st century as a troubled democratic-republic that is not functioning well in a world faced with serious, formidable authoritarians.  It is a contest between democracy as a form of government versus authoritarianism as a solution to the dysfunction and disorder of this troubled world.  Leaders who lie and distort history for their own personal ends should be rejected and called to account.  The leaders of our democratic-republic should put the good of the nation above power and selfish ambition.  For those of us who are Christians, we should insist that our leaders embrace honesty, integrity and the common good—and restore “regular order” to our functioning democracy.  The world is watching America right now.  May America step up and meet this challenge; the future of our nation for our children and grandchildren is at stake.

See Francis Fukuyama in “The World Ahead 2022” published by The Economist, p. 40; Joe Lieberman ins the New York Times (24 December 2021); Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic (December 2021), pp. 42-54; and Max Fisher in the New York Times (6 January 2022).

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