Why Weakening US Roles in Global Institutions Isn't Wise in the Long Run

The world, according to Donald Trump, is full of Bogeymen that are out to get the United States.  These Bogeymen are various, and can be found on every corner of the globe.  The most evil of these Bogeymen though is the myriad of international organizations that, as Trump believes, have been destroying U.S. sovereignty and preventing its economic growth.

The favorite Trump piñata as of late is, of course, the United Nations.  Trump’s very real assault on the UN, through funding cuts to key institutions like UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, has garnered applause from his right-wing base.  But actions such as this, whether regarding UNRWA or pulling the US entirely out of the UN Human Rights Council, flies in the face of decades of history, where the U.S. was one of the chief architects and arbiters of the current international order (as well as one of its primary beneficiaries). The reasons behind this are well known. 

The year was 1945. The world was reeling from a long, bloody, and devastating global conflict of apocalyptic proportions, in which new weapons of mass destruction capable of annihilating entire cities had become a source of fear. The old imperial powers of Europe were lying in ruin, while their colonies and other parts of the planet ravaged by the conflict were coping with the chaos produced by World War II. Nevertheless, the United States rose from the ashes of the war, more powerful than ever and ready to build a global order that suited its interests. And of course, it did just that. 

From international financial and economic regimes like the Bretton-Woods system, to the UN and its Security Council, the U.S. was the supreme player on these fronts. It could veto and dominate, convince and influence at will.

With the end of the Cold War and the acceleration of economic and cultural globalization spearheaded by the U.S. and its multinational corporations, the power and wealth of the U.S. and its elites continued to grow. This supremacy, coupled with the massive influence the U.S. had and continues to have over powerful organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, meant that the U.S. was firmly in charge of a unipolar world. Through national programs like “structural adjustment” for countries seeking financial assistance, extensive liberalization and privatization opened up new economies to investment by western companies.   

Neoliberalism had become orthodoxy.     

Now, as the world becomes more multipolar, Trump somehow believes undermining the U.S. role in the international order will MAGA. If the goal of the President is to ensure continued U.S. power globally, then it certainly makes no sense to weaken its role in international institutions. What Trump has done is only open the door for other countries (and even non-state actors) to fill the gaps left by the U.S. and thus erode U.S. influence in key sectors. Take the issue of UNRWA and Palestine: already, other countries have stepped up to help plug funding gaps in the agency. Moreover, Trump’s cessation of funding has only further alienated the U.S. as a credible player in peace negotiations related to Israel-Palestine (which, as far as I can tell, was never the case). Of course, to the Palestinian Authority, this is only further proof that the U.S. cannot assist with ensuring a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine and made clear its views when Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem

Ultimately, these actions are not MAGA. They are the signals of a shriveling empire, no longer seen as relevant on critical fronts of global governance. Already, other states are showing greater leadership in the international arena and expanding their influence, whether it is Russia and its handling of the crisis in the Levant and Syria, or China in matters related to climate change. They are building coalitions and partnerships that bypass the U.S. entirely. With John Bolton’s recent tirade against the International Criminal Court (ICC), one commentator is now claiming that this attack by the U.S. is exactly what the court needs to help build its strength and its ability to prosecute crimes against humanity. It is surprising that while we are in the midst of the era of MAGA, some of the dictates of the world’s “only superpower” are now not only viewed with derision, but with open contempt. 

Certainly, the growth of a multipolar world and an international system more free from the constraints of U.S. prerogatives is a good thing. But it is unclear how President Trump and his supporters can square the MAGA circle when U.S. influence is being diminished by these actions on the world stage. The irony here is that while the Trump Administration is a major proponent of a harsh version of American Exceptionalism, it is the actions of this government that are helping degrade U.S. influence abroad. Power is shifting and change is happening quickly. The question remains: what will be left of U.S. influence once Trump is out of office?

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