Mr. Trump added to this litany of non-compliance by withdraw the United States of the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Health Organization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Open Skies Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This is not the record of a country that has earned the right to world leadership. This is the record of a country that should first work on global membership.
Unfortunately, even Mr. Biden’s advisers – who are multilateralists by American standards – find it hard to imagine cooperation without dominance. “Whether we like it or not, the world just isn’t organizing,” Blinken said. But the United States has found out what happens “when another country tries to take our place or, maybe worse, nobody does, and you end up with a void that is filled by bad events” .
But it is not true that international cooperation collapses without America responding. After the United States announced it was leaving the Paris climate agreement, not a single other signatory followed suit. On the contrary, the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea recently pledged to make their economies carbon neutral by at least 2060. This summer, after the Trump administration threatened to quit the country. ‘World Health Organization, France and Germany promised to increase their contributions.
The point is not that American participation in joint global efforts is unnecessary. On the contrary, it is vital. But most of the time America is best serving these efforts less by dictating the rules than by accepting them.
Choosing partnership over leadership may seem un-American. But that’s what most Americans want. For 20 years, Gallup asked Americans whether the United States should play “the leading role”, a “major role”, a “minor role” or “no role at all” in world affairs. By large margins, the “major role” always comes first. In September, when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs asked the Americans that they preferred the United States to play a “dominant” or “shared” leadership role, “shared” won by nearly three to one.
It is not ordinary Americans who think the United States should “sit at the head of the table,” as Mr Biden said last week. These are the foreign policy elites, who often slander public opposition to American primacy as isolationism. But there is a tradition of dissenting foreign policy, often championed by those at the forefront of America’s domestic struggles for justice. In his 1967 speech Opposing the Vietnam War, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Such a government, he insisted, should not pretend “that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them”. Rather than seeking to dominate the world, argued Dr King, the United States should show “solidarity” with him: first, by limiting its own contributions to global misery, and second, by joining forces with him. others to fight “poverty, insecurity and injustice. “
The Biden team should make solidarity – not leadership – its watchword in approaching the world. In doing so, he would recognize that while the United States can do much to help other nations, its first obligation – especially after the horrors of the Trump era – is to stop doing harm.
Pierre Beinart (@PierreBeinart) is a professor of journalism and political science at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. He is also the editor of Jewish Currents and writes The Beinart Notebook, a weekly newsletter.
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