Posted by Curt on 2 June, 2017 at 8:12 pm. 1 comment.


David French:

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset: There is no such thing as a “moral superpower.” By that I don’t mean that a superpower can’t behave in moral ways, but rather that morality alone can’t make a nation powerful. Specifically, as the term is used today, adherence to leftist norms on climate, immigration, or social-welfare policy does not grant meaningful international authority. In international relations, power flows through military and economic strength combined with the choice to exert that strength to impose the national will. Leadership is a function of power, and leadership without power isn’t leadership at all.

Keep those realities in mind as you read and ponder hyperbolic analyses in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. According to some, this was the moment when America abdicated its international leadership. This was the moment when our allies would start to turn their backs on their most powerful international partner. Consider these comments, in a Washington Post news analysis of Trump’s decision:

“It’s going to seriously complicate any effort President Trump makes to build a counterterrorism coalition or mobilize the West on any set of policy issues,” said Bruce Jones, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.

Or this:

“Having pulled out of the Paris accord, after sowing doubt at NATO and killing the TPP, President Trump is on the way to ending the U.S.-led international order,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a firm that assesses political risks. “I think we’re heading toward a Hobbesian, each-on-his-own world.”

No. This is flat-out wrong. The worst impact on international relations may be a series of petty or petulant retaliatory decisions that do precisely nothing to permanently either adjust the world balance of power or render America a bystander in world affairs. The likely impact is little more than a series of tweets and public temper tantrums — much sound and fury, signifying no real change in the international order.

How do I know this? First, America has a long, bipartisan tradition of rejecting international climate pacts without fundamentally altering its role in the world. We’ve seen this movie before. In 1997, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, hoping to bind the United States to an agreement to combat climate change. The Senate responded with the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution, rejecting the protocol by a whopping 95–0 margin. In 2001, President Bush announced that the U.S. wouldn’t even voluntarily implement the agreement, breaking with 140 countries that had ratified the pact. America retained its international influence.

Second, and more important, decades of national choices have left Trump’s political opponents with no real option other than feeble protest and symbolic gestures. America is indispensable to the national security of every single one of its allies. America is arguably even indispensable to the economy of every single one of its allies. So long as America remains in NATO, keeps its treaty obligations elsewhere, and maintains its economic strength, it is and will be the leader of the free world, and the world’s dominant global power.

America is indispensable to the national security of every single one of its allies. America is arguably even indispensable to the economy of every single one of its allies.

Will Germany, in a snit over Paris, actually take the international lead outside of Europe? Hardly. It can’t even maintain basic security in Europe without the United States. Its military is incapable of projecting power and suffers appalling readiness gaps. In the recent past less than half of its best fighters were operational, and it’s currently strained supporting token forces abroad.

Is China capable of becoming a world leader? Well, to the extent that European elites actually care about morality, the People’s Republic of China is hardly preferable to the United States of America. And good luck securing Chinese help against jihadists in the Middle East or Putin in Europe.

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