The world moves on

Don­ald Trump is let­ting Amer­i­can lead­er­ship lapse

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Perspectives - Dan Simp­son Dan Simp­son, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador, is a PostGazette as­so­ciate ed­i­tor (dsimp­son@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1976).

If you think Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism is not that Amer­ica is a world leader but that it ba­si­cally is out of the game, then your view was con­firmed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump’s just-con­cluded trip to Asia, which was a clear man­i­fes­ta­tion of this new sta­tus quo. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion worked long years to build the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship into a multi­na­tional trade or­ga­ni­za­tion de­signed in part as a counter to China’s grow­ing hege­mony in Asia. Mr. Trump, upon com­ing to of­fice, promptly pulled the United States out of the TPP — which now is or­ga­nized and func­tion­ing, with 21 mem­ber coun­tries cut­ting deals as the United States sits on the side­lines. Mean­while, as their col­lec­tive clout grows, Mr. Trump’s ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate “bet­ter” bi­lat­eral trade re­la­tion­ships with in­di­vid­ual TPP mem­bers are go­ing pretty much nowhere. An even more glar­ing ex­am­ple of Amer­i­can self-ex­clu­sion has to do with cli­mate change. With Nicaragua and even dec­i­mated Syria sign­ing on to the 2015 Paris agree­ment over the past few weeks, the United States now is the only coun­try still out of the game, thanks to Mr. Trump and his merry band. Be­cause the United States won’t for­mally exit the Paris agree­ment un­til 2020, it now is dis­cussing cli­mate change with the other na­tions of the world in Bonn, Ger­many. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sent a team to pitch, brace your­self, coal. Its pre­sen­ta­tion pre­dictably was met by a half-full house and demon­stra­tions. An un­of­fi­cial U.S. del­e­ga­tion in Bonn was led by for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore and for­mer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (who fi­nanced a U.S. pav­il­ion to the tune of $1 mil­lion) and in­cluded Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown. They pledged that the United States will meet its cli­mat­e­change com­mit­ments no mat­ter what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion does. In the mean­time, car­bon emis­sions have ac­cel­er­ated after sev­eral years of de­cline. This ap­par­ently is not due to Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion-di­rected burn­ing of coal or doc­u­ments, but rather to the wide­spread burn­ing of coal in China and In­dia. For the most part, even in­tel­li­gent skep­tics who ques­tion whether global warm­ing is caused by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties have yielded to the con­cept that we had bet­ter do what we can about it, even as we con­tinue to study the phe­nom­e­non. The in­creas­ing num­ber of se­vere storms hit­ting the United States it­self is catch­ing the at­ten­tion of the Amer­i­can public. Other ev­i­dence of the rest of world adopt­ing a “we got along be­fore we met you” at­ti­tude in the Trump era in­cludes the Euro­pean Union busily de­vel­op­ing its own mil­i­tary force along­side NATO, and, per­haps down the road, in place of NATO. Mr. Trump has taken some cracks at the al­liance, in­di­cat­ing that he and his ad­min­is­tra­tion might not fight in de­fense of fel­low NATO mem­bers if they are at­tacked, par­tic­u­larly if they haven’t paid their “fair share” of NATO ex­penses. There al­ways has been a de­cent ar­gu­ment that NATO mem­bers should as­sume more re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own de­fense. But the idea that they might be do­ing so now be­cause they no longer trust the United States, un­der the lead­er­ship of Mr. Trump, is not a happy de­vel­op­ment. It isn’t even good for the United States in terms of a mat­ter near and dear to Mr. Trump’s heart, U.S. arms sales, which he pro­moted shame­lessly dur­ing his Asian trip. Fi­nally, there is the ques­tion of how Amer­ica’s in­creas­ingly be­ing dis­re­garded in the world plays at home. From one point of view, it would not be a bad thing for our coun­try if it meant that we now will em­ploy our re­sources to fix some of our do­mes­tic prob­lems. We are told that we face a $300 bil­lion bill to fix our wa­ter and sewer pipes over the next decade — that is, un­less we all would like to ex­pe­ri­ence the types of wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion that re­cently have af­flicted Pitts­burgh and Flint, Mich — not to men­tion the prob­lems of Toledo, Ohio, with its al­gae clogged Lake Erie wa­ters. Three-hun­dred bil­lion dol­lars sounds like a lot un­less one notes that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, now trail­ing into their teenage years, have cost Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers tril­lions. The ar­gu­ment re­mains valid that Amer­ica is strong­est over­seas when it is strong­est at home. But there is noth­ing nec­es­sary about Amer­ica back­ing off from its lead­er­ship role in col­lab­o­ra­tive trade, mu­tual de­fense or cli­mate change to con­cen­trate on prob­lems at home. We can do both. What this re­quires is in­tel­li­gent lead­er­ship, at home and in the in­ter­na­tional realm, with­out ex­ces­sive reliance on mil­i­tary sales and strength. I don’t think that is too much to ex­pect from our na­tion’s lead­ers. We can hope that Mr. Trump re­views the bid­ding at this point and ad­justs his poli­cies ac­cord­ingly. But we might have to just wait him out.

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