The Trump administration has taken a hard line against using telecommunications equipment from Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, and on this issue, there’s a compelling reason to believe administration officials are correct.
But a funny thing happened when Team Trump launched an aggressive diplomatic lobbying campaign, urging U.S. partners to follow our lead: they ignored us. The New York Times reported this week, “Over the past several months, American officials have tried to pressure, scold and, increasingly, threaten other nations that are considering using Huawei in building fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks.”
In response, a variety of countries – including some of our close European allies – effectively blew off American concerns.
In isolation, a story like that reinforces doubts about the efficacy of Trump administration diplomacy, but there’s also a larger context. Axios had a good piece this morning noting the degree to which the United States has lost its role as a global leader – a dynamic that’s “accelerated” since Donald Trump took office.
The United States is no longer driving the conversation on some of the biggest issues facing the world, both short- and long-term. Instead, foreign nations are making the decisions.
America is losing its position as the global arbiter for international norms — from airline safety to online privacy to the response to climate change.
The controversy over the Boeing 737 MAX helped drive the point home. Whereas the United States has long been the dominant world power in air-travel standards, it was the Trump administration that followed others’ lead earlier this month.
Axios’ report added, “So on some of most consequential issues that will shape the world this century, the U.S. is taking a back seat, like privacy, foreign investment, climate and finance.” It spoke to one international observer who noted that when countries took major actions, their first thought used to be, “What will Washington think?”
That’s no longer the case.
To hear the Republican president tell it, he’s ushered in a new era in which the United States is held in the highest regard around the globe. “This is a new age,” Trump said at a White House event last month. “This is a very exciting time. It’s very exciting time for our country. Our country is respected again all over the world, they are respecting like we haven’t been respected in many, many years, I’ll tell you.”
This is, to be sure, one of the president’s favorite arguments. As we discussed at the time, Trump has convinced himself that the United States was a global laughingstock before he took office, and now the country commands respect and admiration the world over. As the Republican sees it, the reversal is the direct result of his awesomeness.
In reality, American influence on the international stage has reached depths without modern precedent – a dynamic bolstered by extensive polling showing a significant drop in respect for and trust in the United States since Americans elected a television personality to the White House.
This is not to say that we’ve permanently forfeited our role as a global leader, but to reclaim the position, it’s going to take time and effort, and in all likelihood, it may also require a significant change in the White House.