That American global leadership has faded is clear. When Donald Trump took over, the United States began to view its allies as mere freeloaders and began to withdraw from various fields, even in the United Nations. It wanted to “charge” Japan and South Korea higher rates for keeping its troops in their countries. The US presence was no longer there to keep the Pax Americana, it was now a business deal.
I have always said that whoever was to take the Presidency of the US after Trump will have a hard time. Indeed, it became much worse because of the Covid-19 pandemic but just on leadership alone, trying to bring back the US into some leadership position has proven difficult to say the least. Joe Biden is proving to be a bit of a Trump that caused one of the biggest failures in international cooperation: Afghanistan. The speed in which the country collapsed could not just be blamed on Biden. I believe it started the day the US under Bush Junior stepped into Afghanistan chasing Osama Bin Laden, and with no other objective but to serve “justice.” Having failed to do so within a year, the US had to justify its continued presence in country and changed its mission objectives but since they weren’t into it, they never got the whole nation building thing going. A clear recipe for disaster. Something they never got to fix until Trump then Biden led the troops, and everyone else including dogs and cats, out. There was no stopping the collapse of the Afghan government.
When the US retreated into itself, the EU, in a way, stepped up. With Angela Merkel of Germany as informal leader, it weathered the worst but Brexit happened and Merkel is now retired. The original triad of the United Kingdom, Germany and France is lost, and without Merkel, France appears feeling a bit more independent.
Now, China is getting aggressive in the South China Sea, and Russia in Ukraine. Will Biden be up to the challenge? Is the US up to it? China has certainly taken huge technological steps (thanks to some stolen secrets from the slumbering US) upgrading its weapons including a hypersonic missile. It knows what it needs and it is building its capabilities. The leadership may not be up there yet if the scrimmage with India is anything to go by but give it a few years and things will definitely change. Xi Jinping is all about power and may be painting himself into a corner with it with nationalist youth who cannot bear the idea of China losing more face not after their Hundred Years of Humiliation. There will be no stepping back for him.
Vladimir Putin of Russia too is all about power. He has no plans of relinquishing it and is making himself a modern Tsar. He already annexed the Crimea, and aligning himself with autocrats the world over. Two centuries back, one might think they were the old monarchs lording it over their serfs. The idea is outdated but the idea is addictive. It may be too addictive that some would not mind spilling blood to preserve it.
Which brings us back to the old US of A. Pax Americana was never perfect. Nothing ever is. Certainly the US used it to its advantage most of the time at the expense of another state but it was what we had, and for a time, it worked. Weakened and isolated by Trump, the road back for Biden has not been easy. In fact, Biden may not be the man to do it. For all his talk, we have not seen the resolve necessary to meet the current situation. Is the pandemic too much of a distraction? Is his age a factor? Whatever it is, Pax Americana, peace under the protection of the US, is no longer viable. We all need to find our own way in this world. Being friends with the US alone is no longer an assurance. The world must now rely on collective action rather than the overwatch of some other nation.
Today, I am in Rome, Italy, and seeing its monuments, reading about its history, and experiencing its culture, I am reminded that it was once the most powerful empire in the world but even Rome fell. In fact, none of the former empires from Akkadia to the British have survived but we have, and we shall all carry on. The challenge has always been how to do it together.