Trump, Paris Accords and the End of the American Century

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As Trump seems likely to pull out of the Paris Climate accord, he will be creating several kinds of leadership vacuum. One is a vacuum of global political leadership. Another is a vacuum of corporate and technological leadership. In short, renouncing American commitments on Climate is likely the death knell of the long American century stretching from the US entry into WW I in 1917 to its centenary today. It was a good run, but maybe electing Trump created a reverse snowball effect.

The European Union and China are preparing a joint communique declaring climate change “an imperative more than ever.” This is the first time the two have made a joint public policy commitment together.

The German ambassador to the US, Peter Wittig, is clearly alarmed by Trump’s direction.

He said in an interview yesterday,

“When it comes to the international order, there should be no vacuum. If we lose American leadership, others will step in. The recent “belt and road” conference in Beijing was a reminder that China is ready to step into a possible vacuum that the U.S. might be leaving.”

Germany is already China’s biggest trading partner in Europe.

Far right Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi of India has also pledged support for the Paris accord even if the US pulls out. There are possibilities for an extensive expansion of European trade with India, assuming it can reassure investors there won’t be ex post facto taxes or problems with repatriating profits. India was actually once taken over by a Western corporation so its lawmakers do not have libertarian tendencies.

On the issue of economic leadership, if governments set emissions reduction goals they encourage their engineers and scientists to make breakthroughs in things like solar power. Trump is about to deprive the US of an impetus to excel.

Related video:

The Young Turks: ” Trump Pulls Out Of Paris Climate Deal”

16 Responses

  1. Vacuum after potus’ exit can only be good for the world; usa is a killing machine.
    You give potus too much power – usa/the state has NO “impetus to excel” other than at killing weaker peoples.
    Your invisible flag waving will fuel further humanitarian distress.

  2. What is here called the American Century has been been slipping from the eye for some time. There has been a lot written about it. It may have accelerated under Obama but that wasn’t really his fault, the international effort required to reach the Iran agreement and the Paris accords show how the US unipolar dream is no longer realisable. The US has been continuing at the board when checkmate was inevitable within a number of moves whatever happens. Many were not able to see it, others refused to believe it, some still do. A number thought one last untried gamble might succeed and that’s probably where Trump came in but his walk away from Paris drops the final veil.

  3. I’m in China right now. Beijing has over a dozen subway lines with trains running every two to three minutes. A station for another line is going in just down the street. The railroad map in my guidebook from two years ago is out of date. The high-speed rail lines are expanding by the year. One can go the equivalent of New York to Chicago in under six hours in a train that is quieter than a car on an expressway and whose ride is so smooth that your tea does not slosh. China just finished building a railroad in Kenya to replace the one the British built before World War I. We are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. They are now shipping cargo by rail to Europe and are planning high-speed rail lines connecting Asian countries to Europe. They are building–railroads, clean energy, international connections. We’re using our best talent figuring out ways to move money around.

  4. Naomi Klein has an interesting piece piece up at The Intercept, which might be seen as trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Or, maybe not. Going with the flow often yields new and better opportunities, whether or not they are forced.

    Aside from his vulgarity, incompetence, and lack of human values, Trump’s disruption may yet provide a service. If the effect of repudiating Paris is to brush US obstructionism, masking as leadership, away, it could be for the best. HRC would have stood by Paris, whereas with the US out of the way, a more aggressive agenda might be pursued.

    And maybe, just maybe, this drama is all just a head feign, and Trump will stick with the agreement: that would be the way for him to inflict the most damage.

  5. There never was an “American Century” except in the minds of Americans. The rest of us got over the US being the exceptional state before it began.

  6. Trump has just withdrawn America from the Paris agreement. He spoke about American leadership, but he does not realize that to be a leader you need to have a number of followers or friends and allies. Sadly, because of his narrow vision of what American interests are he is pushing other countries, even close American allies, away from America. In his speech, he insulted China, India, the EU and practically the entire international community. He will soon find that he is standing alone in a room when everybody else has deserted him. That is not leadership. It is shortsightedness. It is schoolyard bully tactics and, judging by the comments that various world leaders have already made about his speech, it is clear that they are not buying it.

    • In all of those things, Trump reflects the ignorance, hostility and racism of a large segment of ordinary Americans who seem, over the last 40 years, to have organized themselves to bully the rest of us into impotence and silence.

      It’s hard to even part out which of their views are evil (we must dominate the inferior peoples) and which are bullshit (them foreigners is cheatin’ us).

      Now most of us support a vague sort of internationalism that is only strong where it is in agreement with the bullies: the sacrosanct US military must dominate the globe just to be on the safe side.

      This is not just evil speaking; it’s laziness speaking. The history of America is that we have NEVER had a consensus for sharing power with the outside world. When we were weak we acted all morally superior because we didn’t get involved in the corrupt and decadent global affairs of kings and diplomats. Then the two world wars wrenched America into an opportunity to leap straight from isolation into global domination, and we brought our self-righteousness along with revisions.

      Now that means our grandfathers were able to suddenly establish hegemony over a hundred countries without actually knowing a damn thing about any of them or having any previous diplomatic history with most of them or having leaders or citizens who had an opinion about them. That is unprecedented, perhaps with the exception of Alexander suddenly supplanting Persia or the Mongols overrunning Eurasia. It was never, and is not now, worth the hassle to learn about the outside world because we’ve never had to build relations with any country in the “normal” way that neighboring countries in Europe and Asia have had to slowly learn (I hope) to evolve from hostile border interactions (land theft and war) to working together in large complex economic endeavors, and then build those up into networks with more distant lands. That’s how it works with lots of weak little countries or even a half dozen strong countries that hoover up the weak and then confront each other.

      Americans didn’t know about any of that stuff under Isolationism, but they also haven’t had to learn any better under the with-us-or-against-us absolutism of the Cold War.
      And it seems, hegemony provides the only terms for foreign affairs that our bullies embrace and our normals obey. The discontents of decline have not created a constituency for power sharing.

      Thus, the switch flips back from hegemony to isolationism again, and the ignorance and bigotry flowers again – for it is no coincidence that isolationist America was full of racists and anti-Semites. Leftist anti-imperialists refused to prepare for that possibility, so enamored were they of a world deprived of American capitalist power. Well, it’s here now, and each day is uglier than the last.

  7. I’ve considered moving abroad, especially to China orTaiwan, for some years now. I’ve chosen not to become an expatriate as long as our democratic institutions remain intact. However, if all our efforts to resist the radical right in America fail, I will reconsider my decision.

  8. Further evidence that our fake president is motivated primarily by an attitude of stark juvenile defiance. What a dark stain on humanity he is.

  9. I’m almost tempted to say that this is a good thing. For years the Republican party has been blaming foreigners, multilateralism and big government for the stagnation in living standards that has affected ordinary Americans’ lives since the 1970s. Finally under Trump this reactionary minority is getting full reign to go out there and test their theories. And as with healthcare ordinary Americans are finding themselves marched to the edge of the abyss and not liking what they see. Now if the Democrats can just field a semi-decent left-wing candidate in 2020 instead of the corporate-owned Hilarybot 2000 (2.0 model), they might be able to reclaim the White House. Their slogan could be “Its the government, stupid”.

    • You would think people would have learned from Bush #43 that the Republicans bring only failure and disaster, but memories are short. Even as Trump flames out, don’t expect a rush of enlightenment to the approximately 40% who support him.

    • The history of the apartheid cult in South Africa shows that there is always another scapegoat for hard times. To say nothing of the history of fascism.

      What if the Republican voters, all along, have sensed that the pie will never start growing again, and have only wanted someone to do the dirty work of restoring White monopoly over that pie at the expense of 100,000,000 others? And thus the discontent of Republicans was with demagogues who pointed out scapegoats, but once in power refused to prove their purity and carry out a final solution?

      What does a left-wing candidate have, anyway, that the left-wing alternatives to Hitler in 1933 clearly lacked? Are we really morally better people than the Germans of 1933? Because obviously we’re far more politically ignorant.

  10. While Donald Trump may claim his theme is “Make America Great Again” in practice it is “Retreat”. He retreats from NATO and the European Union, he retreats from scientific research, he retreats from technological leadership, he retreats from China…,..his inclination to cut and run in the face of challenge is striking. Given he lives in a bubble perhaps this is not so surprising. And given that his encounters with the natural world consist of whacking an inert ball with a stick on a manicured lawn it does not surprise me that he has little understanding and less interest in the complexities of climate change or threats to the survival of civilization. We should not expect Donald Trump to display leadership or courage at any moment as his first inclination is to look for the nearest exit, closing the door on our toes.

Comments are closed.