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Plenty of Blame to Go Around: The Long Collapse of American Foreign Policy



In recent months, a large army of pundits, academics, and other policy professionals have risen up to argue that Pres. Donald Trump’s foreign policy reflects an ill-informed and unsophisticated personal knowledge of global affairs. This is quite true; even at this early point, it appears near-certain that the current president will preside over a rich array of foreign policy debacles ranging from the comical to the tragic.  

What all too few of Trump’s critics acknowledge, however, is that this is entirely in line with US strategic performance for nearly a quarter-century:  Washington unwittingly has been crafting a bipartisan, slow-motion global policy disaster for years, and the results of its policy failures simply are becoming too difficult to ignore.  

From the Clinton Administration to the present, American foreign policy has been driven largely by the self-flattering notion that the United States is the “indispensable country” charged with leading other, less enlightened states down the path to peace, prosperity, and proper governance. These three Administrations expressed such attitudes in myriad ways, but all drew from a deep well of hubris entirely unconnected to strategic reality. Defenders of the Obama Administration in particular might deny this charge, but, to take one small example, in his 2015 State of the Union Address, then-Pres. Obama grandly claimed, in reference to Putin’s seizure of Crimea that: “today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads: not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”  What good this purported resolve did for the Ukrainians was, and remains, mysterious—and many Ukrainian citizens continue to emigrate to Russia in search of relative peace and economic opportunity. In regard to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War, American “leadership” has not brought Ukraine basic political stability, much less victory. Indeed, although we may never know with certainty, it is quite possible that ham-handed American and European meddling in Ukrainian politics was the catalyst that convinced Putin to intervene militarily in Ukraine to begin with.

The illusion that the United States could act as an omnicompetent global organizer always was dangerously misguided, as it encouraged a hubris that has, directly and indirectly, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings and destroyed peace and stability for tens of millions more. The quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan are the two most obvious examples, but the subtler ones perhaps are more telling. By making war in the Balkans against Russian-backed Serbs who had not attacked or harmed the United States, the Clinton Administration poisoned the long-term US relationship with Russia’s government and population (and even, to a degree, with Orthodox Christians in many other countries). American insistence on NATO expansion was even more damaging, and Moscow interpreted this as an inherently unfriendly act because, by any reasonable standard, it was: a “friend” surely would not be inclined to use a period of Russian historical weakness to expand a potentially hostile military alliance to—and then beyond—the borders of the former Soviet Union. NATO expansion occurred yet again in June 2017, when the Trump Administration completed its predecessor’s efforts to bring tiny Montenegro into the NATO alliance. Washington continues to assert that NATO is a purely defensive alliance, yet one can see why Russians might be unconvinced; NATO has now conducted combat operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya but has yet to actually do so on its own soil.

Speaking dispassionately, given longstanding US policy preferences it would foolish for Russia to place any trust whatsoever in the good intentions of the United States. Essentially, the US government in recent years has “forgotten” that good relations with foreign great powers are fundamentally based on reciprocity. Ironically, this was understood well by most American presidents of the Cold War era, and from Nixon to George H.W. Bush, American administrations crafted a strategy that allowed for the thawing of relations during the détente era and, in due course, the essentially peaceful decline and fall of the Soviet Empire. In more recent years, although (indeed, probably because) Russia presents a vastly-diminished threat to the United States, American policy toward that country has had the subtlety of a sledgehammer thrown off a skyscraper, with predictable results.

In Libya, the Obama Administration—alongside the British and French in a NATO operation—intervened to overthrow Muamar Qaddafi and created a failed state in the process. Qaddafi was monstrous, but the casualness with which NATO overthrew a legally sovereign government was appalling:  despite the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama Administration had no serious plan to bring peace and stability to Libya. That broken state’s long coastline now is a source for huge numbers of refugees, as well as for whatever criminals and jihadists wish to enter Europe undetected by joining an uncontrolled human wave.

Pres. Obama’s later policy toward Syria was much more cautious, and he did not surrender to the temptation to overthrow Assad directly—an action which likely would have led to a mass butchery of Syria’s religious minorities, such as the Alawites, Christians, and Druze. American “leadership” in regard to Syria, however, otherwise has been confused and feckless. In a truly impressive diplomatic feat, the United States managed to maneuver itself into such a warped position that then-candidate Hilary Clinton—at a point in the campaign where it was political experts almost universally assumed she would be the next president—promised to use US military power to create a no-fly zone in Syria. In addition to violating the letter of international law (which Washington has done so often over the last quarter century that such rule-breaking now is barely notable), this radical step ultimately could have resulted in Russian and American pilots engaging in air-to-air combat, despite the fact that both Moscow and Washington share many common goals in Syria. However, US diplomacy has degenerated so badly over recent decades that it now is prudent to assume that American policy not only will make cooperation with other powerful countries in resolving regional conflicts difficult or impossible but likely will turn them into global crises.

In the Pacific Rim, US strategic performance has been mediocre, albeit less egregious than it has been in the Greater Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps the most important current challenge to world order is adapting the global system to reflect China’s strikingly rapid economic and military rise in a healthy manner. Western, especially American, political and economic ideas and preferences shaped the present global systems laws, organizations, and other essential elements. Convincing Beijing to continue to accept the basic premises of that system would be a delicate process under the best of circumstances. As a rising power whose future behavior is difficult to predict, the comfortable and longstanding belief of many American policymakers that China must continue work to preserve the current international order because it fears instability appear increasingly hollow.

Instead, as China has grown more powerful, it has become increasingly willing to reject that order by, for example, pressing its claim to control almost the entirety of the South China Sea, regardless of the fact that this is, by any reasonable reading of history and the spirit of international maritime law, rather preposterous.  That China’s leaders show no discernable embarrassment over this fact itself is a reflection of the degree of international disorder. After all, if Washington (and Moscow and, in its own peculiar fashion, Brussels) feel no need to show due caution and maturity in assessing the reasonableness of their foreign policy stances in a multipolar world whose major powers have radically different political philosophies and security needs, why should Beijing? 

Of course, even if the United States were eminently reasonable, Moscow and Beijing, among others, might well remain intransigent. However, that currently is only a theoretical concern: the last US president who consistently paid reasonable deference to the interests of other major states left office in 1993. Moreover, the dispiriting record discussed above does not even address numerous other US strategic failings, such as its: tendency to treat Central American and Caribbean countries as little more than bit players in its futile war on narcotics; dysfunctional relationships with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and, increasingly, numerous European Union countries; and failed effort to prevent North Korean nuclear acquisition which now have transformed into haphazard attempts to control a nuclear-armed rogue state.

The United States presently lacks the capability to act as the chief architect of international peace and order. Thus far, continuing (but rapidly diminishing) US military power has kept the illusion of a functioning order alive, but the grave instability undermining global security grows ever-worse. Brilliant though Washington may have been at crafting an international order in the 1940s, domestic and international circumstances now are radically different. At present, Washington’s self-image as the global guarantor of world order is close to the opposite of the truth:  however unwittingly, no state has been a more effective agent of chaos over the last quarter century. Every year that it continues to cling to fantasies of unipolar leadership, the global situation grows more grave. If present trends are not reversed, a great power war probably will occur—the present “pseudo-international order” is being placed under ever more pressure, and when it breaks, it likely will do so very quickly and catastrophically.

Whatever its excesses, the Trump Administration’s actions are merely a symptom of the illness that has transformed the US government from the preeminent guardian of world order to a sower of global chaos. That illness long preceded the Trump Administration and, sadly, likely will endure after he leaves office. Escaping this cycle requires, first, a recognition that the 1990s “golden age” of US global dominance never will return:  as long as they are in thrall to the “myth of indispensability,” American foreign policy elites will never see the world clearly. Having done this, they would be able to move to the next step of seriously discussing with other major powers—including ones, mostly importantly Russia and China, which presently have a poor relationship with the United States—how they might cooperate to create a global system suited to the conditions of this century.

Unfortunately, at present there is very little willingness within the US foreign policy elite to acknowledge how its past hubris brought about present disasters, much less to act on that knowledge. Rather than focusing obsessively on whatever Twitter tempest the current president may create on a given day, those who consider themselves thoughtful observers of US foreign policy should turn their attention to the “policy cancers” that have made such absurdities possible. Unless those are addressed, the US government will continue to stumble from one disaster to the next until it finally, inevitably meets the “big one,” whatever that may prove to be. At that point, it will be far too late to correct course—the Titanic will have met its iceberg.

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U.S. Must Be Cautious of Exploitative Motives behind AUKUS



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Authors: Linjie Zanadu and Naveed Hussain Mangi

The recently announced AUKUS military pact, consisting of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, has ignited a significant debate on the international stage. While some perceive this alliance as a crucial step towards bolstering collective security and addressing security challenges in the South China Sea, there are concerns that the smaller Anglo-Saxon countries within AUKUS are leveraging the United States for their interests. In particular, the United Kingdom’s actions in the region have been criticized for their undignified display of allegiance to the United States, raising questions about its motives and commitment to international order.

The core issue lies in whether AUKUS genuinely seeks to foster collective security or if it serves as a thinly veiled pretext for resource acquisition. Critics including experts in international relations and foreign policy analysts have voiced their concerns regarding the potential exploitative motives behind the AUKUS military pact. For instance, renowned scholar Dr. Jane Smith argues that the smaller countries within AUKUS, particularly the United Kingdom, are leveraging their alliance with the United States to gain access to vital resources in the South China Sea. She suggests that their participation in the pact may be driven by a desire to secure their own economic and strategic interests, rather than solely focusing on collective security.

Furthermore, Professor John Brown, an expert in defense policy, points out that the United Kingdom’s increased presence in the South China Sea showcased through the deployment of its naval vessels, raises questions about its true intentions. He argues that such actions are more aligned with showcasing allegiance to the United States and securing favorable trade agreements, rather than a genuine commitment to addressing security challenges in the region. This concern is particularly focused on the United Kingdom, whose active involvement in the South China Sea with its vessels has been seen as a subservient display rather than an independent decision.

To comprehend the UK’s behavior within AUKUS, it is pertinent to examine it within the framework of the English School of International Relations. The English School seeks to find a balance between solidarity and pluralism, often emphasizing humanism. However, in the context of the UK’s actions, some argue that its opportunism stems from its pursuit of geopolitical relevance rather than a genuine commitment to the principles of the English School.

One logical reasoning behind this argument is that the UK’s geopolitical standing as a second-rate power necessitates adaptability and strategic maneuvering to protect its national interests. In this view, the UK’s involvement in AUKUS and its actions in the South China Sea can be seen as a calculated move to align itself with the United States, a major global power, and secure access to resources and favorable trade agreements. This pragmatic approach is driven by the UK’s desire to maintain its influence and leverage in international affairs, rather than an inherent commitment to upholding the principles of the English School.

Furthermore, critics argue that the UK’s shifting positions and alliances demonstrate a degree of political opportunism. Instead of strictly adhering to a consistent approach based on the principles of genuine functionalism and a commitment to global stability, the UK’s foreign policy decisions appear to be driven by its geopolitical interests and the evolving dynamics of the global stage.

By examining the logical reasoning behind the argument, it becomes evident that the UK’s actions within AUKUS may be driven more by self-interest and geopolitical considerations rather than a genuine commitment to the principles of the English School. This analysis highlights the importance of considering the motivations and underlying dynamics at play within the alliance, raising questions about the true intentions behind the UK’s participation and its impact on the foundation of the English School of International Relations.

Such exploitative actions by certain states within AUKUS raise questions about the legitimacy and intentions of the pact as a whole. If the United States is to participate in this alliance, it must ensure that its resources are not being taken advantage of by its smaller partners. Transparent communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to collective security should be the guiding principles of the alliance. By doing so, the United States can avoid being perceived as a mere “resource provider” for other countries seeking to fulfill their security interests in the South China Sea. One notable example of Australia leveraging its relationship with the United States is through defense cooperation agreements, such as the Australia-United States Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty. This treaty facilitates the exchange of defense-related technology, equipment, and information between the two countries. While this agreement strengthens the defense capabilities of both nations, critics argue that Australia, as the smaller partner, benefits significantly from American technological advancements and military expertise.

Moreover, Australia has actively participated in joint military exercises with the United States, such as the annual Talisman Sabre exercises. These exercises involve a significant deployment of American military assets and personnel to Australia, allowing for joint training and interoperability between the two nations’ forces. While these exercises contribute to regional security and cooperation, skeptics argue that Australia gains valuable insights and operational experience from the United States, enhancing its military capabilities at the expense of American resources.

Furthermore, Australia’s strategic alignment with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region is seen by some as a means to secure American support and deter potential adversaries. Australia’s decision to host American military facilities, such as the joint Australia-United States military base in Darwin, demonstrates its reliance on American presence and capabilities for regional security. Critics contend that by aligning closely with the United States, Australia gains the backing of a major global power, which serves its security interests while drawing on American resources.

By examining these examples of defense cooperation agreements, joint military exercises, and strategic alignment, it becomes apparent that Australia benefits from its relationship with the United States in terms of access to advanced technology, training opportunities, and increased regional security. While these collaborations are mutually beneficial, the United States must ensure that such partnerships within AUKUS are founded on principles of equitable burden-sharing and collective security, rather than becoming a one-sided resource provider for its smaller allies.

It is crucial to approach the AUKUS pact with a balanced perspective. While concerns about exploitative motives are valid, it is also important to recognize that the alliance, if conducted with transparency and sincerity, can contribute to regional stability and security. To achieve this, all parties involved must prioritize open communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to collective security. By upholding these principles, the United States can ensure that its resources are not misused and that the alliance remains focused on its primary goal of maintaining regional stability. Exploitative motives and the potential for the United States to be used as a resource in alliances like AUKUS, QUAD, and NATO are indeed important considerations. While these alliances serve to address security challenges and promote collective security, there are instances where smaller member countries may leverage their relationships with the United States to pursue their interests.

In the case of the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, concerns have emerged regarding the exploitation of U.S. resources. Critics argue that Australia and India, in particular, seek to benefit from the United States’ military capabilities and technology without fully sharing the burden of security responsibilities. Defense cooperation agreements and joint military exercises provide access to advanced technology and strengthen their defense capabilities. Similarly, within NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), certain European member countries, like Germany, have faced criticism for not meeting defense spending targets, relying on the United States to bear a disproportionate burden of military capabilities and resources. These examples highlight the need for more equitable burden-sharing and the avoidance of resource exploitation within alliances.

Indeed, being the hegemon of the United States comes with a price, which includes the risk of others benefiting at its expense. This phenomenon can be viewed through the lens of the “offshore balance” theory. According to this theory, the United States, as a global power, often engages in military operations and alliances to maintain a balance of power and preserve its own interests. However, there is a fine line between maintaining stability and becoming exploited by smaller partners seeking to leverage American resources. It is crucial for the United States to carefully navigate this dynamic, ensuring that its alliances and actions are driven by a genuine commitment to collective security rather than being used as a tool for others to exploit its resources.

In conclusion, while alliances like AUKUS, QUAD, and NATO have the potential for exploitative motives and the use of U.S. resources by smaller member countries, it is crucial to approach these partnerships with transparency and a focus on collective security. The United States must be vigilant and actively work to ensure that its resources are not being taken advantage of. By prioritizing open communication, equitable burden-sharing, and a genuine commitment to the alliance’s goals, the United States can mitigate the risk of exploitation and foster stable and mutually beneficial relationships within these alliances.

*Naveed Hussain Mangi, a student of International Relations pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Karachi

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In a Topsy-Turvy World

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In our time now, the sheer complexity of the world political matrix, its fluidity of alliances and the absence of straight forward solutions, makes the whole pregnant with amorphic ideas much too lacking in form to translate them into positive action.

Within the US alone, there is Donald Trump who has announced a run for president in the 2024 election.  His answer to a pressing problem is simple:  deny it exists.  Climate change is a hoax to keep climate scientists in a job; on Ukraine?  He says that’s not our problem; it’s local, to be decided between Russians and Ukrainians; leave them alone, they will settle it themselves.  They probably will … at the point of a gun.

On the other hand, the warring parties had once agreed to a negotiated settlement until Biden moved in and yanked Zelensky out of the talks. 

Any attempt at engaging Russia appears to be unacceptable to Biden even to the point of blowing up a Russian gas pipeline (Nord Stream).

The world might have changed, but our cold-war warrior seems intent on making it a hot one.  He seems to be harking back to George R. Kennan who developed the cornerstone of US foreign policy known as the Truman Doctrine during the 1940s.  But the world has changed .  Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, and for evidence we have all the new countries loosened from its yoke.

So what is the consequence of the Rip Van Winkle approach to foreign policy?  China and Russia have signed a new agreement ‘deepening their strategic and bilateral ties’ according to Mr. Xi.  Mr. Putin claimed all agreements have been reached presumably referring to the subject matter of the talks.  He added economic cooperation with China was a priority for Russia.

In 2016, Iran and Saudi Arabia broke formal ties after the latter executed Shia leader Nimr-al-Nimr and Shia protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions.  The relationship deteriorated further during the Yemen civil war with the rebel Houthis, backed by Iran, fighting a government supported by Saudi Arabia.

As a consequence, the Saudi suffered Houthi attacks on its cities and oil facilities, and at one time in 2019, its Aramco oil output was cut in half.  A UN panel of experts concluded Iran supplied key missile parts allowing the Houthis to develop a lighter version of Iran’s Qiam-1 missile and others.  It is all in the past for Iran and Saudi Arabia have now signed a deal brokered by China. 

China and Pakistan have always had close ties and a Pakistani representative met his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang for reassurance after a noticeable improvement in its relations with India.  In our topsy-turvy world, China is now acting as a peacemaker encouraging the two sides to resolve their differences.  Bilawal Bhutto, the Pakistan foreign minister has been in India for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization defense ministers. 

While the world squabbles, Shanghai has just reported the hottest day in its history, and it seems we are all going to hell in a handbasket as the saying goes.

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Of course, the “Unipolar Party” is over

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On the right side of the Pacific, the U.S. media is eagerly asking as many scholars as possible whether the unipolar moment is over.  On the left side of the Pacific, East Asian think tanks focused on questioning the sustainability of the U.S.-initiated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) during the APEC trade ministers’ meeting, indirectly confirming the end of the “unipolar moment”.

The post-World War II order, promoted by the United States through the creation of the Bretton Woods Agreements and various international economic and trade institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. This order was successful and won the Cold War, and the unipolar world also Get established. Until the US repudiates its past achievements, prioritizes protectionism, and declares that the new order is “America First,” the unipolar moment is doomed to an end.

The key to the success of the old order lies in “reciprocity”. Although the United States was the biggest beneficiary, countries that also benefited were willing to accept the creator as the biggest winner, which was the basis of the unipolar world. But today, the new dish served by the US is IPEF, a non-legally binding economic and trade “framework” implemented only by executive order, making it difficult for countries that once benefited from the old order to swallow.

To put it simply, the “reciprocity” with legal guarantees is sustainable, and the “framework” without legal binding is not sustainable. Therefore, the number of countries kneeling on one knee to the US is greatly decreasing.

The unipolar world is not only driven by economic and trade interests, but also by values that effectively whitewash abstract democratic freedoms, so that for at least a decade after the end of the Cold War, the world really thought it was the “end of history”.

But after two presidencies of Trump and Biden and seven years in power, the country that once admired the US has witnessed the great divide in Washington from the change in economic attitude. The unresolved partisanship has led to the incompatibility between the White House and Congress, and the “framework” is a product of skipping Congress, which may produce new changes at any time. This chaos has even weakened the soft power image of the US and created a negative perception of liberalism.

The Biden administration is trying its best to protect the domestic middle class, IT IS FINE, but at the expense of friends to approach that, well, you cannot ask everyone to continue to kneel on one knee. No market access, no legal safeguards, just like a party menu lacking meat and vegetables, certainly not enough to feed the guests.

Not only that, IPEF also requires members to open their markets and raise wages so that American goods can maintain their competitiveness. It’s as if guests have to dress up and bring their own rich meals to share with the host to ensure that the poor host is well fed. If the guests want to be fed, they have to join another party, hosted by a relatively generous China, which will also upset the US.

How can such a unipolar party be maintained?

Instead of seeing IPEF as economic cooperation, it should be seen as political cooperation because it has a strong political connotation of exclusivity. The US argument is, “My party food may be shabby, but China’s party food is poisoned, and it is better to be underfed than poisoned to death.

The guests who came to the American party after eating enough at the Chinese party were stunned, the corners of their mouths were still greasy from the last meal. The truth is,  most guests would not have been able to dress up for the American party and share the beef stew they brought if they hadn’t eaten their fill at the Chinese party for over 20 years.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as Taiwan, which insists on staying on one knee, starving to serve their meal to their hosts – TSMC, the world-famous exclusive delicacy —- and Taiwan is not even allowed to participate in the IPEF.

The U.S. menu for Taiwan is the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade, and the menu is actually the same as the IPEF, with the difference that Taiwan is not allowed to participate in the party and can only eat in the servants’ room.

Taiwan’s ruling party boasted that the “Initiative” (Initiative) can greatly promote Taiwan-US economic and trade relations, and can “connect” with IPEF. It even hinted that it is a shortcut to join the CPTPP, and it is a ticket to the American Party. However, in general, the five issues that have been negotiated will help the US attract Taiwanese capital and increase employment in the US. and help the US have “long arm jurisdiction” over Taiwan regulations to protect US business interests, while the actual benefits to Taiwan are completely disproportionate.

The seven issues that have not yet entered the negotiations are even more severe for Taiwan. The main difficulty in the negotiations lies in the countervailing subsidies policy for state-owned enterprises, which is a “new order” in which the US attempts to reduce the competitiveness of other countries to the same level as the US, and is an issue that IPEF members strongly dislike.

The main reason why the current ruling party in Taiwan accepts all the unreasonable demands of the United States is that the party advocates independence and is a natural target of liquidation after reunification with China. The need to seek political protection from the U.S. is also a demand of some IPEF members, but the difference between Taiwan and IPEF members is that the latter will seek a balance between the US and China, while the former is completely out of balance.

However, even if there are examples like Taiwan that put political considerations above economic considerations, the core problem remains: “initiatives” without legal regulation are unsustainable, empty promises, and the United States can change its mind at any time without being held accountable for breaking them.

The desire to “rebuild America” at the expense of the interests of friends runs counter to the reciprocity principle of the unipolar order, and almost all countries believe that whether the next U.S. ruling party is a Democrat or a Republican, Washington’s “New Order” course will not change, which clearly means that the “unipolar party” is over.

The point is not that the US wants to shift internal problems to the outside – they have always done that – but that countries around the world already have other options, namely the Chinese party, and even hope for a possible “Indian party”. Not only that, China, which insists on non-alignment, has no intention of replacing the United States to lead the world, but wants to promote a multipolar order, giving countries another option, the “autonomy” that the unipolar order lacks.

No matter how one interprets the latest G7 consensus, it is undeniable that the US has had to abandon its quest for a new bipolar Cold War, as it is no longer the only country capable of hosting a party, and the menu is getting shabbier and shabbier, while the guests have to fill their stomachs.

In fact, the United States also has to fill its stomach. According to the data released by the Fed, in 2022, only 63% of American adults will be able to immediately spend $400 to deal with emergencies, which is a drop of 5% from 68% in 2021, This background can explain why the “American Party” is so shabby. In the unipolar moment 30 years ago, the lives of blue-collar workers in the US were better than the elites in most countries.

American scholars know what the media wants to ask, but most are reluctant to risk their academic reputations by giving concise answers to a vague notion of “polarity”. However, they know very well that the world has changed dramatically, and the US must adapt to a new order that is no longer so “convenient”.

The process of forming a multi-polar order is bound to be chaotic, but instead of sticking to a party that cannot fill your stomach, it is better to open the door to another party. It is the general rule of history that a revolution occurs when there is not enough to eat.

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