This past week was not a good one for the United States.
Putting aside the astonishing events of the Israeli election, in which that country’s prime minister, without a blush, betrayed his quote most-important quote and most quote “dependable” ally, i.e. the United States. We have an even more troubling example of where the United States stands in the minds of its allies and how it is viewed as a future and dependable financial ally, outlined on page 4 of a recent NYTimes.
This from a group of US allies whose bacon was saved during World War II by the United States, whose social, economic, and educative structures were rebuilt courtesy of the United States. Not to mention who have thrived under the nuclear umbrella of the US vis a vis the Soviets until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
China, now officially the second greatest economic power in the world, has just picked off an entire series of our own best friends who have agreed to join a Chinese organization dedicated to competing with the importance and heft of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both organizations working primarily for the benefit of the Western European world.
This despite the US’ imploring its allies to resist Chinese overtures until the Chinese agreed to a number of conditions about transparency and governing of the new entity, tentatively identified as the A.I.I.B, The Asian Infrastructure Investment bank.
Since their inceptions, both the IMF and the World bank have been headed by European and/or American white men or women. Clearly China’s purview from its position on the international board is grander than Western nations might have supposed. Further, they’re proving infinitely more successful at persuasion, at picking off allies one by one because Germany, France, and Italy have just announced they will join Great Britain – Great Britain! – because they cannot afford to stay on the sidelines of China’s enormous export and investment market.
This stinging rebuke to the United States for its past good efforts, and continuing ones, also called into question the economic pecking order that lasted 70 years, since a meeting at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944.
“This has been a power struggle,” said one senior European official, “and we have moved from the world of 1945.”
An example of how this could have happened is easy to spot. During the past fifteen years, as the US has been busily containing revolutions and counter-revolutions in the MidEast, China has been sending its ambassadors from one African nation to the equally needy ones in South America and North Africa making industrial, agricultural, and infrastructure deals with long-chaffing nations eager, indeed desperate, for new ideas and new sources of income and funds.
We’ve known about these activities, and these instances of romance. But we’re been too busy to pay much attention to them, insofar as our loot and materiel and personnel are withering in the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan. Also, Americans may simply not have had the imagination to realize they were being outflanked for the future.
What then can the US do?
Join the A.I.I.B. and hope, over the years, to persuade its members that the more dependable arrangement is in fact the older one, the one over which the Americans have had super-sway.
That sounds, doesn’t it, as though we are shrugging, giving up, and walking away.
We’re not. But as we’ve seen in these past few years, what the US is not good at doing is planning for the future, in developing strategies for action, or defense, or growth. We have become reactive, rather than brave and forward-looking.
In ordinary parlance, we’ve lost our mo-jo, and it’s going to take some time to get it back.