A leaderless world
It’s been around seven months since Biden replaced Trump as president of the United States. There were very high expectations for Biden, considering the low esteem for Trump all over the world except among rightist, populist leaders like in Hungary and Brazil.
In hindsight, such expectations were too high for such a troubled nation. The government is in virtual deadlock, considering the US Senate is evenly divided between the two parties. Then the Democratic party has two conservative members – Munching of West Virginia and Sinema of Arizona – who often side with the opposite party.
The United States was expected to lead the world in the fight against climate change and even the global pandemic. Despite the evidence that climate change is already affecting the world in the form of more heat waves, severe droughts, floods and heavier rainfall, the world seems unable to rally around a common agenda to fight the ongoing climate disaster. Perhaps this is understandable, as the major preoccupation now is the pandemic.
Another major obstacle is that the major beneficiaries of the present climate condition of the world are the fossil producers. While they pay lip service to the need to address the climate disaster, companies in the coal and oil industries continue their massive investments in their industries. The emission of greenhouse gases is still continuing. It is obvious that money is more important to them than the common good.
China is the other superpower that wants to replace the United States as the global leader. However, its initial attempts at world leadership has not succeeded because of major missteps. Its cover up of the source of the pandemic has again aroused distrust of Chinese pronouncements. Its “wolf warrior” diplomacy has created an image of a nation engaged in bullying diplomacy and extra-territorial belligerence like in the South China Sea.
It has also been revealed that China is engaged in massive human rights horrors, including its mass internment and torture of millions of Uighur Muslims living within its borders. This has had severe adverse reaction, especially from countries that believe in human rights.
Gallup polling about China’s approval rating has shown a median of 32 percent over 130 countries. In the United Kingdom, disapproval of China was under 40 percent five years ago. Today it is almost 75 percent. This trend is evident in poll results in countries like Australia, Canada, Germany and South Korea.
There is also global concern about Chinese developmental initiatives under the Belt and Road Initiative. When the Malayan prime minister canceled billions of dollars worth of China-financed infrastructure projects approved by his predecessor, he said: “It’s all about pouring in too much money which we cannot afford, which we cannot repay… With that debt if we are not careful we can become bankrupt.”
According to Harvard Professor Samantha Power : “…a 2019 study estimated that the 50 biggest recipients of Chinese lending then had debts with China worth 15 percent of their GDP, on average, up from less than 1 percent in 2005. However, there have been some concerns about China’s infrastructure projects because of environmental degradation and the flood of Chinese workers.”
The most recent area of concern is the nationwide propagation of Xi Jinping Thoughts and its being made mandatory teaching in all Chinese schools. This is reminiscent of the days of Mao Zedong which led to the Cultural Revolution and the export of Mao Zedong Thoughts to other countries.
The global situation presents an ideal environment for the United States to regain its stature as the leader of the “Free World.” However, after several months, it has failed to do so. The basic reason is that the Biden administration has so far demonstrated a high degree of incompetence in major areas.
The world’s greatest threat right now is the pandemic. The United States, instead of leading, had lagged behind other European countries, Australia and New Zealand in bringing down the number of COVID cases. With the entry of the Delta variant, this has even made it more difficult. The obstacle to the Biden administration is purely political.
There is a large minority of Americans who refuse to be vaccinated. Even worse, there are governors like Abbott of Texas and Santis of Florida who are refusing to allow schools in their states to impose mask mandates for children.
I think that this opposition to vaccine has gone beyond being a political crisis. It has now entered the arena of cultural wars in the United States. Those who oppose vaccines and masks are basically the same groups that oppose abortion, immigration, gun control and voting rights, especially for minorities. These are the same groups that include a number of white supremacist groups and are now espousing violence.
Biden must find a way to impose vaccination and mask mandates among these groups if he hopes to make any progress in defeating the pandemic in the United States.
The other display of incompetence of the Biden administration was the story of Afghanistan. Most people agreed that after 20 years it was time for the Americans to leave. However, the methodology for leaving showed that there was very poor intelligence report, very bad planning and very poor execution of the evacuation plan, if there was any. Unfortunately for Biden, the whole chaotic process was live on television.
The last hope of the United States is an economic recovery and jobs program that will restore confidence.
The world now has two superpowers who, for different reasons, are unable to be beacons of inspiration for the world. No country right now is providing global leadership in fighting the pandemic, climate change and poverty. The world will have to wait and see what happens in the next few months.
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