Due to the rise of the extreme right-wing movement gathered arround the former US President, Donald Trump, “white supremacy“ has now become a widely popular notion. When the number of the people who claim that the American nation needs to be reconstituted on the basis of its White Anglo-Saxon Protestant foundations has risen up to almost seventy million, thereby producing a potential basis for creation of a separate, exclusively white American nation – as opposed to the existing, multi-racial one – it has become difficult to ignore the concept of “white supremacy“ on which this movement seems to have been built. However, one of the basic questions is whether this movement is really built on these ideological foundations, or simply flirts with the concept of “white supremacy“ in order to acquire a degree of ideological articulation and thereby overcome the populist chaos that marks its imminent appearance? More importantly, is the populist movement surrounding Trump, presumably based on racial supremacy, a pattern that can successfully resonate with other parts of the world where members of the white race find themselves in the position of power and domination?
Above all, however, we should ask the question whether supremacist ideology in the US is a truly racist one, or simply a part of a new type of American nationalism? For, mobilizing people on the basis of racial identity can also be a best available instrument for implementation of a nationalist ideology, rather than a genuine goal to put a particular race in the dominant position, a goal based on the deep-seated belief in one’s racial supremacy. But then, we should also ask, why a robust form of nationalism, flirting with the principles of “white supremacy“, has emerged in the US?
In the first place, a robust form of nationalism has emerged in the United States due to the long-term domination of the neoliberal economy, which caused a dramatic widening of the socio-economic gap between the richest few and the rest of society. This widening has made the gap between these two layers economically, but also socially, unsustainable, leading to the increase of labour-socialist tendencies that may become a threat to the capitalist system itself. The mechanism is simple: the more aggressive exploitation of the labouring classes, the wider the gap; and then, the more robust nationalism required, as a solution that engages the potentially revolting masses with the ideology of absolute allegiance to the idol of national unity, behind which the very system of capitalist exploitation is safely hidden. However, the systemic crisis of capitalism in the period 2008-2021 has gradually brought the system to the breaking point, so that the need for more robust and aggressive forms of nationalism has arisen in an increasing number of countries.
This is becoming particularly visible in the birthplaces of both capitalism and nationalism, as well as neoliberalism, such as Great Britain and the United States. While counting on the system’s stability, their elites championed liberal democracy as the ultimate form of government. However, since they were the most active in a thorough application of the neoliberal doctrine, they have also dramatically widened the gap between the richest 1% and the rest of their populations. Therefore, as a logical consequence, they had to introduce the extremely aggressive nationalist narratives of America First and Brexit in order to mobilize the most affected parts of the population in a war-like mode and generate in their minds the radical nationalist idea of their exceptionalism and supremacy over the rest of the world. However, this mobilization has not turned out to be an end in itself, as was usually the case with nationalist narratives. At the same time, it has allowed the right-wing governments representing the top 1% to further legitimize enormous concentration of power by introducing certain authoritarian elements, while surpassing the hitherto unavoidable democratic procedures and institutions. This also demonstrates that a systemic crisis is at stake and that the system itself can hardly survive it in the same form. Indeed, the contemporary nationalism may reach a point of total divorce from democratic principles, those that characterized nationalism from the 19th and 20th centuries. The 21st-century nationalism, acting in alliance with the hitherto most robust form of capitalism, may actually become fully linked with the most robust forms of authoritarian government.
Therefore, the lesson to be learnt from the emergence of robust, semi-authoritarian nationalisms in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries is the following one: if the widening of the gap between the richest and the rest happens to go beyond the point of reparation, so that the crisis develops into a systemic one, then nationalism in a common form, no matter how aggressive it may be, cannot serve as the only cure. Then it has to be implemented in the form of a lasting authoritarian or totalitarian regime, in which the rebellious tendencies among the masses are going to be suppressed in a double-key, with nationalism imposed, rather than proposed, as the only dimension of human existence.
What is the role of “white supremacy” within such a system? As we could see it during the riots on January 6 and the following attack on the Capitol Hill, launched by Donald Trump’s most extreme supporters, the new White Anglo-Saxon nationalism is closely related to both authoritarian tendencies and the concept of “white supremacy”. For, it was a coup attempt with the ultimate ambition to overtake both legislative and presidential power, with abolishment of democratic institutions and introduction of an authoritarian regime and one-man rule. On the other hand, the rioters and their ideologues, in their effort to seize power and give it back to Trump, legitimized the whole enterprise with the narrative of the necessity to empty the framework of the official American national identity from the multiracial content of the current US population and fill it in with the exclusively white, Anglo-Saxon one. Does that narrative imply the existence of an inherent “white supremacy” over other races contained in this concept of the American nation? Is the mono-racial concept of the American nation based on the idea of superiority of the white race over others?
If we look at the original concept of the American nation, the one framed by the Founding Fathers, to which Trump’s supporters refer as their guiding light, it is not based on the idea of inherent racial superiority. It is rather based on the idea of private property: the white Anglo-Saxons who founded the American nation did not perceive themselves as legitimate founders because of their declared racial superiority over the native inhabitants of America, but because they were the first to appropriate the land, having introduced the concept of its private possession, a concept that was totally unknown to the native Americans. The concept of private property over land is what initially separated the white Anglo-Saxons in America from the native Americans: the skin color was far less relevant than the concept of private property. But it also consequently detached the former from the British Crown and its sovereignty and led them to proclaim their own sovereignty over that land. In other words, those who appropriated the land and turned it into private property eventually had to claim sovereignty over it. For, they may have initially appropriated the land on behalf of the British Crown, but once they turned it into private property, they felt an urge to claim their own sovereignty over it. Thus, the founding and legitimizing principle of the American nation is not to be identified with the concept of racial superiority, but rather with the concept of landed property. It was only with the introduction of black slavery, several decades later, that racial hierarchy was introduced into the American society as a relevant principle.
The white Anglo-Saxon fundamentalists, those who belong to Trump’s political movement and now claim their exclusive right to nationhood, do not advance such claims on the basis of racial superiority over other inhabitants of the United States. Their claims to exclusive nationhood are based on the exclusive right to land possession, the right inherited from those white Anglo-Saxons who initially appropriated the land in America and turned it into landed property. In their views, private property, especially the one over land, constitutes the very spirit of the American nation: from this perspective, non-whites are not regarded as inferior in racial terms, but rather as those who disturb the spirit of exclusive landed property that pervades the American nation. For, these non-whites are coming to live in urban slums and the possession of land is equally alien to them as it once was to the native inhabitants of America. In this sense, these newcomers are not treated as racially inferior to the so-called “white trash”, the white blue-collar inhabitants of poor urban areas: they are all treated as equally inferior in terms of absence of landed property.
Property, rather than racial supremacy, has also remained the foundation of American global expansion and domination: American appropriation of natural resources in foreign lands has always been legitimized exclusively by their capital, by their ability to possess. If we go back to these roots of the American nationhood, a nation whose all-pervading spirit is the possession of land is, in effect, a nation of the propertied land-oligarchy: constitutional democracy that their Founding Fathers established in the 1770s was actually a democracy tailored for this oligarchy; it was never meant to be applied to the entire population located there. Hence the founding slogan, “Life, liberty, property”: only the propertied white Anglo-Saxons were meant to be free to elect their political representatives. Therefore, other racial groups, but also other social classes, were not granted the right to vote until the mid-1960s.
When the right to vote and elect their representatives was extended to the entire population, the oligarchic spirit of the original American nationhood was lost, so that the concept of democratic rule also became disputable to those who were seeking a return to the property-related foundations of the American nation. The fundamentalists are, therefore, ready to change the very rules: in order to preserve the oligarchic spirit of the original American nationhood, they are ready to abandon a democracy that applies to the entire population and introduce an authoritarian regime that would more securely protect their property, with power concentrated in a small oligarchic group or a single person. Donald Trump intuitively recognized all these tendencies and therefore received unlimited support from the fundamentalist groups that wanted the American nation to return to its oligarchic, property-related foundations. On the surface, it may have looked like a white supremacist movement, but beneath the surface it was much closer to an oligarchic fundamentalist movement.
However, the concept of “white supremacy” is closely related to the expansion of European powers into other continents in the process of the former’s colonization of the latter. In this sense, those who point to the fact that the true foundations of the American nation are exclusively white and Anglo-Saxon are formally correct – it was the white Anglo-Saxons, supported by some other white Europeans, that colonized the American continent and eventually established a nation-state for themselves, having withdrawn from the position of suzerainty to the British crown. The very idea of colonization and the subesquent ideology of colonialism were based on the concept of white men’s intrinsic right to exploit the lands that had previously been occupied by non-white populations. Of course, colonialism was a consequence of capitalism’s perpetual expansion, indeed, of its inherent need for perpetual expansion and its consequent conquest of the entire world. As such, it had no moral grounds other than mere exploitation of the resources identified as suitable for that purpose in the conquered and colonised lands.
However, the ruthless exploitation of non-European lands by the European powers was always covered and legitimized in a specific way, as a historical mission of white men to civilize non-whites and include the latter into the world of the European civilization. In this respect, exploitation was practically equated with ‘civilization’. This is where the roots of the concept of “white supremacy“ are to be located: within this narrative, only the European capitalist system was presented as ‘civilization’, while all other civilizations were presented as a state of barbarity that had to be ‘civilized’ by the European exploiters. Moreover, in the Anglo-Saxon colonialist folklore, exploitation of the lands inhabited by non-white populations was presented as the “the white man’s burden“, a phrase taken from the poem under the same title written by an ideologue of both Anglo-Saxon colonialism and “white supremacy“, Rudyard Kipling. So, within this narrative, it was not only a God-given right of white men to exploit other people’s lands under the guise of the latter’s ‘civilizing’; moreover, it became a moral obligation, a moral burden to exploit and thereby ‘civilize’ those who were proclaimed ‘uncivilized’ for not having been part of the capitalist system. Thus the right to exploit non-white peoples and their lands and resources became translated into a moral obligation of white people to manage the affairs of non-white peoples, so as to bring the latter closer to the former’s level of economic, social and cultural development, that is, to make them part of the former’s capitalist system. In this respect, the concept of “white supremacy” is directly linked to one specific economic system, that of capitalism.
There were systems, such as feudalism, in which conquest and exploitation of foreign lands were very important parts of the economy, no less than they have been in capitalism. Although the only resource to be exploited in the pre-capitalist epochs was land itself, its conquest and inclusion into hierarchical structures was an unavoidable part of the feudal economy: more conquered land always meant more wealth for the conqueror. Legitimization of such conquests was derived from the same principle upon which the legitimacy of rulers themselves relied in those times: while the legitimacy and sovereignty of rulers was based on the principle of “divine right”, as interpreted and supported by corresponding religious institutions, their conquests were also legitimized by these religious institutions: if the conquered belonged to the same religion as the conquerors, conquests were legitimized by the former’s proclaimed deflection from the official religious course; if the conquered belonged to a different religion, conquests were legitimized by proclaimed superiority of the conqueror’s religion over the religion of the conquered; in both cases, the conquerors were legitimized as executors of the “divine will”.
In the context of European conquests in this epoch, the Crusades come up as a paradigm: the proclaimed supremacy of Christianity over Islam served as an ideal legitimization of a pan-European military enterprise with clear economic goals. However, once the concept of “divine right” was abolished as the founding principle of legitimacy and sovereignty, with the rise of capitalism and its introduction of another principle of legitimacy, that of “popular sovereignty”, foreign conquests and expansion of the capitalist system could no longer be legitimized by spiritual causes: superiority as a legitimizing principle for expansion and colonialization had to be founded on something tangible and material. In this sense, it was only in this relatively short period that racial differences served as the most obvious material cause for legitimization of the European capitalist expansion and consequent exploitation of non-European lands, under the slogan of “white supremacy”.
After the decline of colonialism, the relevance of the concept of “white supremacy” has certainly decreased. The question is, then, to what extent is the current European type of economic expansion and political domination rooted in any genuine belief-system, as it once was based on the concepts of religious and racial supremacy? There is a vague image of European supremacy, despite the fact that it cannot be supported by economic success anymore. Also, this supremacy cannot be defined as racial or religious, since capitalism and colonialism have also produced an enormous amount of immigrants from other continents and consequent mixing of races and religions on the European soil. Then, what is this feeling of supremacy actually based on? Similarly to Kipling’s concept of “white man’s burden”, according to which white men defined their identity on the basis of their ‘burden’ to civilize others, Europeans tend to define their identity on the basis of supremacy that is supposed to serve as a guiding light to other ‘inferior’ civilizations, regardless of the fact that such a supremacy is now very much void of content.
Yet, where does this concept of European supremacy come from? Although some prefer to say that it comes from the Ancient Greek concept of Greek supremacy over ‘barbarians’, it is not plausible to claim any actual continuity between the Ancient Greek civilization and the current European one. It is much more plausible to say that the current concept of European supremacy has been derived from the first truly pan-European enterprise, that of the Crusades, which gave birth to the European civilization. The Crusaders’ concept of supremacy over their Muslim counterparts was, of course, religiously based and militarily projected. Although the European civilization has eventually adopted secular values, economic means, and particular national identities on the internal level, its concept of identity directed towards the outside world has remained rooted in the Crusaders’ concept of religious supremacy, remaining primarily counterposed to the civilizations based on Islam, but also projected against civilizations based on other non-Christian religions. However, it does not lead towards any authentic “clash of civilizations” (as Huntington labelled big world’s religions and their hypothetical conflict). It rather leads towards a Crusader-like type of unilateral ravages, still legitimized in terms of religious/civilizational supremacy.
Afghanistan and Beginning of the Decline of American Power
Has America’s disgraceful withdrawal from Afghanistan spoiled its global standing? The pictures of retreating American soldiers at Kabul International Airport have certainly reinforced the notion that the United States had lost control of the situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban takeover of the capital has also led many around the world to question America’s basic competence as a great military power.
At the end of the WW2 victory, the US became the dominant power in the international system. The new era was heralded as the harbinger of the ‘American Century’. The fall of communism in eastern Europe and the rest of the world allowed the West— and particularly its leaders, the United States, to go in any direction that it wanted.
After twenty years of war, the image, clout and confidence of the sole superpower go down in history, buried in the debris of destruction of Afghan war, which has lived up to its reputation as the ‘graveyard of empires’, Britain and Soviet Union were earlier in the 19th and 20th century.
The cost of Afghan war brings nothing for its future. Brown University’s cost of war report says that, “since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has spent $ 2.313 trillion on the war, executing expenditure on life time care for American veterans of the war and future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war”. CNBC writes, “yet it takes just nine days for the Taliban to seize every provincial capital, dissolve the army and overthrow the US backed government”.
Since the beginning of the 21th century, American’s contributions to global GDP have been decreased from 30% to 15% in 2020. A new power has emerged on the world stage to challenge American supremacy—China— with a weapon the Soviet Union never possessed. The Formal Bilateral Influence Capacity (FBIC) index, a quantitative measure of multidimensional influence between pairs of states. Its report shows the erosion of US influence relative to Chinese influence across nearly every global region. Chinese influence outweighs US influence across much of Africa and Southeast Asia and has increased in former Soviet states. Chinese influence has also eroded the US advantages in South America, West Europe and East Asia.
US has also become more inward-looking country. Biden has made clear that US foreign policy should serve only US interests. Even its military involvement will be scaled down even more.
The last two decade have brought significant shifts in global geopolitical dynamics. As Indian-American political commentator Fareed Zakariya argued in his 2008 book The Post-American World, “the fact that new powers are more strongly asserting their interests in the reality of the post-American world”.
As the US came to dominate the globe, the order it was morally underpinned by its belief in Manifested Destiny and economically underpinned by the US dollar as the reserve currency. The global order has unraveled mostly at the hands of the US itself. Its moral dimension started to come apart, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, not only disregarding the UN but also propagating lies about Saddam Hussain regime possessing weapons of mass destruction. The credibility of the economic order was damaged by the great recession of 2008, when major US financial institutions collapsed one after the other.
All of this coincides with the resurgence of Asia and emergence of China as the global economic power house. The rise of Trump, the glowing racial injustice the triggered the Black Lives Matter Movement and the near collapse of the health system amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
America’s competitors like Russia and China now hold the space in Afghanistan. Another bar for the American influence in the region. The lost military credibility in Afghanistan has global ramifications for the U.S.
American intelligence agencies even could not assess the capability of Afghan National Army. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 2016 report noted massive corruption and ‘ghost soldiers’ in Afghan army.
Back to the question: Does the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan represent the end of the American era? It can certainly be said that the international image of the United States has been damaged. The U.S. retreat from Afghanistan represents part of a larger inward turn, or the U.S. may soon reassert itself somewhere else to show the world that it still has muscle. Right now, it feels as if the American era isn’t quite over, but it isn’t what it once was, either.
Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?
On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.
At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.
The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.
The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.
Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.
Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.
Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.
The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.
One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.
As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.
The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.
Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.
Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.
Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.
The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.
From our partner RIAC
Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow
It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.
It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.
Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.
The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.
America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.
That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.
Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.
Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.
In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
From our partner RIAC
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