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15 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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American influence is at its lowest

Its reduced power comes from a question mark over the willingness and ability of its leader to actually lead
David Rothkopf

Exactly a century ago, the most brutal and costly war the world had ever seen came to an end. While World War I was not, as many had hoped, “the war to end all wars”, it did produce a reshuffling of the world’s great powers. The Austro-Hungarian empire was over. Germany was hobbled. Russia saw the end of the Romanovs and a revolution from within. And, perhaps most consequentially of all, the United States, central to the victory in the war, was ratified as a formidable and rising global force. In the century that followed, American power would touch every corner of the world and be seen, even at the height of the Cold War, as pre-eminent on the planet. Most of the great international issues of the past 100 years have had an American component in their resolution or exacerbation.

America was centre stage. It did not dictate terms to the world (although sometimes it tried). But it was always a force to be reckoned with.

That is why the headlines of the past week are so striking. They reveal an America that, while still the most powerful nation on the planet, is moving offstage in situations where its absence would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. In fact, in at least one instance, America’s reduced influence would have been impossible to imagine just months ago. One such example is the flare-up in the most dangerous relationship in the Middle East, that between Iran and Israel. In recent days, following the downing of an Israeli fighter, the Israelis struck Syria with a ferocity that has not been seen in many years. It amounts to a dangerous escalation, made all the more dangerous because of Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. It is not unthinkable that further exacerbation of this conflict could lead to a much broader war.

Indeed, the legal jeopardy in which Israel’s prime minister now finds himself only increases the precariousness of this situation. In the past, given the stakes and the important relationship between the US and Israel, the White House would have instantly responded to such a crisis and actively sought to defuse it. But that did not happen. Former high-level American diplomats responded critically. Dennis Ross, a former top US Middle East negotiator, wrote a tough critique in Foreign Policy entitled “Trump is all talk on Iran”. And another top negotiator and former US ambassador to Israel observed in a tweet: “The most notable development in an Israel-Iran conflict that has been a long time coming is the absence of the United States. White House has been silent. State inactive (as usual). Commentary in Israel…notes that Israel is on its own.” But the absence of an active, visible presence by the US on this issue is not the most surprising such development in recent days. In South Korea at the Winter Olympics, the US vice president Mike Pence was completely blindsided, utterly upstaged and seemingly dumbstruck by a bold, well-orchestrated initiative by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to at least create the appearance of a potential thaw in North-South relations on that peninsula. Kim sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Games, where she charmed crowds and mesmerised the media. Her visit was the first by an immediate member of the ruling Kim family to South Korea since the two countries were divided in the 1950s.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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