The end of American leadership (Slate)

The coronavirus pandemic may mark the final shift of global power away from the United States.

In 1994, on his 90th birthday, the legendary diplomat George Kennan, architect of America’s Cold War containment policy, said, in a speech looking back on his life and times, “It is primarily by example, never by precept, that a country such as ours exerts its most useful influence beyond its borders.”

With our response to the coronavirus, so different from any crisis the country has faced for over a century, we are providing a very poor example, and as a result, our influence abroad is declining to a historic low point—so low that we may be experiencing a pivot in geopolitical power away from the United States and its allies.

American influence had already been waning for a host of reasons—the collapse of power blocs (which gave us leverage in the Cold War competition), the rise of terrorist groups and sectarian militias (which can’t be quelled by conventional military means), the surge of Chinese investment and pressure in Asia and beyond. All of these trends have been accelerated, sometimes willfully, by President Donald Trump, who has dissed or deserted traditional allies, embraced authoritarian regimes, and wavered in his response to China’s rise from obsequious kowtowing to self-destructive trade wars.

Even so, until recently, Trump’s retreat from the ways of previous presidents only highlighted America’s esteem and power. His behavior alarmed so many allies because they desperately wanted the return of U.S. leadership—and delighted so many adversaries because they could carve new inroads of influence in the absence of this leadership.

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