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MIDDLE-FINGER SALUTE: Challenges mount to US leadership Comment on this post ↓
May 17th, 2015 by Warren Swil

America’s global influence

evaporates along with

its moral authority

Jeb Bush was tongue-tied when asked about brother George’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.

As if we need a reminder that George W. Bush irreparably damaged US moral authority, we discovered this week that not even Jeb Bush wants to own his brother’s legacy.
More than a dozen years on from the disastrous invasion of Iraq on false pretenses, the week began with a presidential snub by the king of Saudi Arabia and ended with a repudiation of the 40-year US war on drugs in South America.
These international setbacks come after more than six months of racially charged police violence which has laid bare a corrupt criminal justice system; a continuing debate in Congress over illegal government spying on Americans; and the unseemly money race now fully engaged by 2016 presidential hopefuls.
Its no wonder the US ability to influence global events is at its lowest ebb in generations. It is setting an example few should want to emulate.

The no-show of King Salman at Thursday’s summit of Arab leaders with President Obama at Camp David is just the latest in a series of unsuccessful attempts by the US to influence events around the globe – from the Middle East to South America and Eastern Europe.
Beginning with the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, the collapse of any semblance of government in Libya and now the proxy war in former US ally Yemen, the list of failed US interventions is long and growing.

President Barack Obama with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at the conclusion of a summit meeting at Camp David, Md., on May 14. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the Middle East, Obama is placing all his bets on negotiating a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions, but this is one of the proximate causes of angst among longtime allies like Sunni Saudi Arabia and Jewish Israel.
“Saudi Arabia is so angry at the emerging nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers that it is threatening to develop its own nuclear capability,” The New York Times said in an editorial on Friday.
King Salman was not the only Arab leader to miss the summit; Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, was also a no-show.
The Israeli opposition to the Iran negotiations was center stage in March during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress when he warned that a proposed agreement between world powers and Iran was “a bad deal” that would not stop Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, two reports on Saturday underlined the waning US influence abroad in two disparate spheres.
In the story Latin American Allies Resist U.S. Strategy in Drug Fight The New York Times reports that countries across the Americas are tired of the 40-year-old “war” on drugs which has in many cases ripped apart their societies without accomplishing so much as even a decrease in the drug trade.
“Across the Americas, governments are increasingly resisting the tenets of the United States-led approach to fighting drugs, often challenging traditional strategies like prohibition, the eradication of crops, and a militarized stance to battling growers in a fundamental shift in the region.”
The latest to resist is Columbia, where aerial spraying of coca crops was halted this week. As its justice minister so astutely pointed out, if nothing has been accomplished after 50 years, it’s time to try a new approach.

Across the globe, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Thursday, the first such high level meeting since the annexation of Crimea more than a year ago and the continuing low-grade war in eastern Ukraine.
The New York Times headlined its analysis A Diplomatic Victory, and Affirmation, for Putin and left no doubt about public perceptions of the capitulation.
“[The meeting] was widely interpreted here as a signal of surrender by the Americans,” wrote David M. Herszenhorn from Moscow.
These recent pokes at the world’s only superpower come long after it has proved powerless to stop the carnage in Syria; its intervention in Libya led to another failed state; and its multi-trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left both countries in ruins.
But they cannot be isolated from domestic events like the dozens of widely reported incidents of police abuse, the racism exposed in the criminal justice system or the debate over illegal government surveillance playing out in Congress.
The world has had a ringside seat to the underbelly of US domestic woes with recent violent outbursts in Baltimore, South Carolina and Ferguson. It has not been a pretty picture, but it has done much to tarnish the image of the American brand as the “land of the free.”
Domestically and internationally, it is becoming ever more clear to growing numbers of people that the US has lost the moral authority to claim leadership of the free world.
We should not be surprised that America’s interests are playing second fiddle to those of dictator-wannabees like Putin and religious zealots like King Salman.

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3 Responses  
  • Jack van Dijk writes:
    May 17th, 2015

    A more important item is that in 1973 the maternity mortality of black women was four time that of white women. (I learned that in a lecture, it made a deep impression on me). Today, in 2015 the maternity mortality of black women is still four times the that of white women. A society that is not willing to protect and save the most vulnerable among them, is damned.

  • James Asher writes:
    May 18th, 2015

    Your piece inspired me to explore the concept of moral authority a bit. So… I find that “moral authority” can be defined as the power to influence public opinion not through the use of force but rather through the use of high repute grounded in truth and goodness. And morality itself, in a very pragmatic sense, can be defined as conduct which advances the well-being of the group of which you are a part. As such, it is a relative concept, for what advances the well-being of one person or group may, in fact, be detrimental to the well-being of another person of group to which you don’t belong. You referenced concrete cases as evidence of a loss of “moral authority”–and that all makes sense to me. I just think our use of moral authority is way too presumptuous. Why are we so concerned that we can influence the public opinion of other countries? And why do we assume they need to share our public opinion? I think we should find ways other than exercising our moral authority on the global stage to positively impact the world and build political partnerships. For if our vision is truly one of integrity, then other countries are sure to see this and gravitate toward us.

    • Warren writes:
      May 19th, 2015

      Thank you for your most thoughtful comment. Your point about US moral authority being “way too presumptuous” is right on, but it has its roots in early US history.
      The idea first became common in the mid-1800s with the notion of
      Manifest Destiny
      http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/362216/Manifest-Destiny
      which was used to justify the expansion of the original 13 states westward to the Pacific. We were supposed to bring “civilization” to the great unwashed masses who had been inhabiting the continent long before Europeans arrived. It became an excuse for a century of American imperialism.
      In the modern era the same concept became known as
      American exceptionalism
      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism
      but today this notion has largely been co-opted by conservative thinkers.
      In the sense that I was using it, I hope it is interpreted as the US setting an example of how a liberal democracy should function for the rest of the world to follow. This idea was the basis for claims of US victory in the Cold War; our system proved superior to the other major organizing philosophy of the era, communism. The rest of the world was supposed to recognize and follow the superior model.
      Your optimism about other countries being “sure to see this and gravitate towards us” is what it USED to be about. My point in this post is that we have squandered the high ground through both foreign and domestic policies, and the rest of the world is catching on to how bankrupt our moral authority has become.


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