Success can backfire, when not properly managed
‘America First’ – the central theme of Trump’s inauguration speech on January 20, 2017 – is about putting America’s interests first: The well-being of its people and its security, as defined by Trump. Other considerations are – and should be – of minor importance, according to Trump: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first”.
America’s policies and wrong track must be addressed by its allies, to stop this (self-)destructive behaviour: Europe – but also NATO – cannot limit itself to the role of submissive cheerleaders. With this article, I try to promote this much needed discussion.
Apart from the fact that the term America first has a dark history (I will not discuss in this article), the whole idea does not make sense: America’s prosperity is a ‘co-production’ with the rest of the world.
The idea of putting America first – suggesting that America can go it alone, and still be secure and prosper – is a gross misconception; above all a symptom of serious megalomania.
America first – for that matter, Great Britain, China, whatever country first – ignores the basic reality that states in the System are highly connected, and highly dependent on each other for their prosperity, security, and the realisation of their (own) ambitions.
America, – the United States – is a remarkable country, which has achieved remarkable feats: It has developed from a Great Power into a superpower and successfully implemented a ‘Pax Americana’ in just a short period of time. America also is the source of most of the world’s innovations. Its success is – was? – based on some highly commendable values, it firmly promoted and protected.
The same flag: Yes they did it (Source: Nasa)
However, America also has achieved, also in a remarkable short time – in about twenty years – another feat: to become the target of choice for terrorist groups, and the lightning rod for revisionist states: Also America first, but not Trump’s version.
Why? How could this happen? Why got some people so agitated by the United States, that they organised themselves into terrorist groups, and chose to fly with airplanes into the World Trade Centre in New York, on September 11, 2001? A despicable act.
Why consider radical groups – terrorists – (especially) America, a high value target? Something went wrong.
We know how these terrorist did and do this and how they justify these despicable acts for themselves. But what triggered this response in the first place.
This question is not so difficult to answer: America is ‘all over the place’ and not everybody wants to be an American.
Not only are its carrier strike groups all over the place – to intimidate and if necessary to enforce other states to comply with America’s interests – but also its expansive economic activities and culture.
It is difficult for Americans – given their prosperity and success – to imagine that their American dream, is not everybody’s dream. There still are other definitions of prosperity, than America’s version.
The ‘idea of America’ is based on freedom, initiative and opportunity. America is about the individual, not about the collective (an idea the Republican Party and Trump confirm with their efforts to abolish Obama Care).
Until some twenty years ago, America (mostly) used a combination of soft and hard power to ensure its interests were taken care of. America considered the development of other states, an American interest. Development of other states, supported America’s expansionist (capitalist) ‘ideology’. And it served America – and at least to a degree – the world well.
However, America’s expansion and success also stimulated resentment, and – more importantly – undermined certain values that were – and are – central to other states, societies and religions.
American military capabilities could – at least to an extent – be ignored, but not the omnipresence – the ‘expansion’ of certain Western values – that promote individual freedom.
‘Hollywood’ – American films – popular culture and the Internet, also promote ideas – and make information accessible – that undermine values that are held in high regard by certain states and religions.
America underestimates how much irritation and resentment it causes, by imposing – often unknowingly – their ‘will’ and presence on other states and cultures.
Some individuals, ‘communities, or states see it as their duty to protect their values – religion(s) – against influences that according to them undermine them. Attack is considered the best defence.
The attack on the WTC on September 11, 2001 set in motion a series of events – including America’s manipulation of ‘evidence’ to justify an attack on Iraq in 2003 – that increasingly undermined the good will America still had.
America increasingly (only) applies hard power; soft power can not longer do the job, is the assumption.
He already is
Obama’s efforts to reverse this trend – to again promote a more inclusive version of America’s interests – did not work, and are now disqualified by Trump.
Yesterday, the United States dropped a so-called ‘Massive Ordnance Air Blast’ bomb, nicknamed ‘Mother Of All Bombs‘ in Afghanistan. The weapon was used for the first time in combat. Trump has given its military a freer hand in conducting military operations.
Now with Trump, a next phase is reached: it is gloves off. Hard power is where Trump – America – now stands for. America has developed from a benevolent – (mostly) well-intentioned super power, into a distrusted and disliked bully.
‘Do-it-yourself law enforcement’ is now also applied by America on the world stage.
(A certain) sympathy for the United States has rapidly developed into irritation and resentment. America’s self-confidence has become arrogance.
But, America’s show of force, in fact shows its weakness.
That is a shame. The values America promoted – their original version, and the interpretation by most of Trump’s predecessors – have brought prosperity.
Some highly needed American introspection could maybe still ensure that the same values can still underpin a more inclusive world order: That is the first American interest.
America’s allies play a doubtful role in America’s decline. America’s allies should be more critical, and should not – out of naivety or self-interest – limit their role to that of submissive and uncritical friends.
American allies have degraded themselves to cheerleaders, and instead of keeping America ‘in check’ further promote its bully behaviour.
SDF soldiers – American allies – carry the coffins of their comrades killed in a misdirected US-led coalition air strike, earlier this week – 11 April – in Syria. The international order, also will become a casualty of America’s actions.