Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



A noted British historian, Andrew Roberts, recently wrote this startling commentary on America's declining world influence: "There's a competition in the world between state corporatism and democracy, and the American political system needs to shape up or lose." (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29).

Roberts' argues that American politics has become so dysfunctional that the rest of the world questions whether this form of democracy is worth emulating. Many leaders question, he says, whether the United States can continue to champion U.S. democracy in an expanding anti-democratic world. The point was underscored by a front page Washington Post story titled "For the world, election is giving U.S. democracy a big black eye."(Nov. 6)

Let's look at three areas where America's role will continue to erode, unless the new president reverses a current trend toward authoritarianism abroad.

East Asia. The most important vehicle for improving U.S. influence in this crucial area, which accounts for more U.S. trade and commerce than any other area including Europe, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This major trade package was agreed to by twelve Pacific Rim countries earlier this year, but Congress has not given approval. If congressional support fails, China will be the beneficiary and Asian countries will turn to Beijing for increased trade and political cover, as they shift their policies away from Washington. The Philippines, and Malaysia, two strategic players in the contest between China and the United States, are now shifting toward Beijing.

When Donald Trump becomes president in January, the United States will probably reject TPP and begin a reassessment of relations in East Asia, including with our major ally, Japan. South Korea could then turn to China for both trade and political ties. Trump may decide to call for modifications in TPP in order to protect jobs of U.S. workers. But if the U.S. withdraws from TPP next year, it will be viewed by many Asians as abandoning its leadership in Asia.

Europe. Russia's Vladimir Putin expects that regardless of the election's outcome, he will benefit. He calculates that Europeans have serious doubts whether the U.S., with its politics in disarray, will remain the strong ally they have admired. The North Atlantic Pact, the cornerstone of U.S. policy in Europe for over six decades, is under scrutiny by many Americans who think we pay too much to defend too many countries around the globe, including Europe.

Donald Trump as president will likely cut U.S. troop strength in Europe, which currently stands at 40,000 and is scheduled to increase in 2017. He will insist that NATO members pay more of the bills and provide more troops for the common defense. Had Hillary Clinton been elected, she would have warned Vladimir Putin not to undermine the governments of Estonia and Latvia and chip away further at territory of Ukraine. Trump says he can work with Putin, but what will the Russian leader want from him in terms of his long-term designs in Eastern Europe?

Middle East. This region is less important to U.S. strategic interests than it was during the Cold War and after, when we were a net importer of Persian Gulf oil. Today, U.S. interests lie in preventing Russia and Iran from dominating the Arab countries and turning the region against the United States and Europe. During eight years in office, Barrack Obama avoided actions that might involve U.S. troops in defense of those countries. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, had favored limited military action in Syria, to provide a safe haven for refugees from the murderous Assad regime. This would be risky today because Russia has introduced troops and air force into Syria in order to protect its Syrian ally.

Donald Trump suggested during the campaign that he would disengage from the Middle East, and he would work to cut a deal with Putin to prevent a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Turkey and Egypt have already decided to make their peace with Moscow. Others will follow suit if a president Trump withdraws U.S. political and military forces from the Middle East.

America is now entering a new era in relations with the world. It remains to be seen, however, just how much change Donald Trump will be able to institute in his first year or two in office.

File last modified on Monday, 14-NOV-2016 10:42 AM EST

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