We often take our relationships for granted. Why? Sometimes we forget about where that friendship was forged, or what common struggle we endured. Sometimes we forget the bread we once broke together. Othertimes, as often is the case, our relationships become reciprocal, straying far from the catalyst. And no matter how strong the bond, relationships are conditional. This conditionality is important because it creates trust, and trust, trust is the good stuff. And in foreign policy, trust is the most fundamental facet.
There’s a quote by Hemingway that goes: “the only way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I find this to be a bunch of malarkey, or rather, an oversimplification that doesn’t do the word “trust” justice. Yes, one must first trust, but such an application of this tender sentiment is built slowly, and wrapped in moments of tumult. Thus, what brings humans together is not always our own volition, but the volition of the events that whirl around us. The United States has found itself the benefactor of this whirlwind, and through it, we have forged formidable alliances.
The “world order” as we know it today, is a child, or rather a baby boomer, of the second world war. When Europe was suffering, the United States provided aid. This bond has all the characteristics of a strong relationship: built out of strife, and continually built up with mutual guidance and care. Yet, a relationship is still conditional.
President Donald Trump’s actions have put in stark clarity the conditionality of our alliances with our European allies. In many ways, Trump did this by not attending to his relationships (Macron, Trudeau, and Merkel). Instead, he’s cozied up with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. As a result, the worldwide perception, specifically by our “former” allies, has plummeted. Confidence in Trump to do the correct thing in foreign affairs is not just low, it’s nonexistent: in Europe a dismal 11% in France and 10% in Germany, compared with a score of 84% and 86%, respectively, for Barack Obama in 2016.
The opinions of these countries matter. The United States holds about a quarter of world GDP, but by accessing our network of allies, we can turn that small sum into 60% of world GDP. This is the kind of influence that China and Russia can not claim to have. Instead of utilizing the full capacity of our allies to solve global issues, Trump continues to praise Presidents Putin and Xi. It is clear that Trump’s foreign policy plan is nothing more than a narcissistic escapade.
Trump’s foreign policy, centered on throwing our weight around with little time to stop and think, has caused us to fade from the world stage. With little warning as to the direction of U.S. foreign policy, our allies have shunned us. It is now hard for U.S. diplomats and officials to be taken seriously abroad; they condemn kleptocracy while their own president does the same.
As a result, China’s power has grown immensely over a short period. China now leads the most committees at the United Nations (UN), including the Human Rights Council Panel. And yet, it is widely known that China has internment camps in Xinjiang for Uygur minorities. With China actively abusing human rights, the United States should have lobbied for a different head of the panel. Yet, Trump has been quoted as saying that what President Xi did to the Uygur population was “exactly the right thing to do.” Such statements garner no respect from allies, and indicate Trump’s inability to lead the most powerful country in the world.
Yet, the United States can still be a global leader. While some may scoff, suggesting that the United States can’t influence the political attitudes of countries across the pond, they ought to remember that the United States has acted as a political hegemon since 1945. Amidst and post-Cold War, we established a foreign policy and military precedent that the rest of the world followed. Despite our faults, our democracy has been a beacon of hope for much of the world. As we seek to solve issues of climate and conflict, this will matter more than anything. Foreign policy will be the bedrock that serves to solve climate change amidst a developing and divided world.
It will take more than a Biden administration to build back better on foreign policy; the relationships Trump killed were forged out of the second world war. These relationships have lost their glow. Yet, if Biden is able to rally around the global shared interest in the fight against COVID-19, then maybe, just maybe, he can save the United State’s reputation abroad. Maybe, he can establish a new era of trust, only this time built out of his predecessor’s plunder, and open to the entirety of the world, not just Europe. For if we seek to solve global issues, we shall need a global leader. One that embraces everyone, not just tyrants and the wealthy lot. And someone who takes breaking bread as seriously as talking business.