other countries' unhappiness with the Iraq war and the conduct of the Bush administration's "global war on terror," means that the "American brand is less legitimate and its persuasive powers are compromised," said Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 25 Dec 2008 03:21:56 -0800 (PST)
Bush a catalyst in America's declining influence
The president oversaw a period of eroding economic and political
power, in which the rise of China, India and others was a major
factor, but assisted by an aversion to him and his policies.
By Paul Richter
December 25, 2008
Reporting from Washington -- First in a series of occasional reports
on President Bush's legacy.
As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the
world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global
influence is in decline.
The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower
whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its
will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances -- and
often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along.
In the 1990s, America exerted leadership in all the remote corners of
the globe, from the southern cone of South America to Central Asia.
Now, the United States has largely left the field in many regions,
leaving others to step forward.
Bush has been blamed widely for the erosion of American prestige. And
the decline in U.S. influence is partly the result of the reaction to
his invasion of Iraq, his campaign against Islamic militants and his
early disdain for treaties and international bodies.
But the shift is also a result of independent forces, though hastened
by an aversion to Bush. These include the steady ascent of China,
India and other developing countries that throughout the last decade
have seen their economies grow, amassing wealth and quietly extending
As smaller countries have built economic and political ties to these
rising powers, they have worked to free themselves from exclusive
dependence on the United States.
"There is no return to the time when the United States was the
'indispensable power,' " said Stewart M. Patrick, a former State
Department official at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The world
has moved on."
Now there are multiple power centers. The institutions that buttressed
Western power, such as the United Nations, the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund, are under pressure to allow rising powers
A vivid illustration of the power shift came Nov. 15, when Bush
convened world leaders in Washington to develop plans for dealing with
the global economic crisis. In the old days, experts said, he would
have limited the meeting to a few industrial powers. But Bush realized
that the world economy now has a larger cast of influential players,
and invited all members of the so-called Group of 20 developed and
developing nations, which includes countries such as Argentina,
Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.
A decade ago, the U.S. might have been able to bring enough economic
pressure on its own to force an end to Iran's disputed nuclear
program, said Nikolas K. Gvosdev, professor of national security
studies at the Naval War College.
But Iran has built economic ties to China and India, among others, so
the United States has to assemble a much larger group if it hopes to
force Tehran's hand.
"Ten years ago, the U.S. was generally the only game in town, and it
had the power to close or crack open the door to Iran," Gvosdev said.
"Now other countries have more options. . . . This doesn't mean the
United States is weak, but it can't unilaterally impose what it
The U.S. National Intelligence Council issued a report this year,
"Global Trends 2025," that notes a shift of economic power from the
West to the East that is "without precedent." In 2025, the United
States will "remain the single most powerful country, but will be less
dominant," it predicts.
Since World War II, the United States has led by its power of
persuasion, as well as its economic might. But other countries'
unhappiness with the Iraq war and the conduct of the Bush
administration's "global war on terror," means that the "American
brand is less legitimate and its persuasive powers are compromised,"
said Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University and the Council on
There also has been a dwindling of U.S. influence as the
administration has focused most of its energy and resources on the
Middle East and Southwest Asia, leaving much less for Central and
Southeast Asia, Latin America and other regions. Many are going their
own way, developing new ties among neighbors.
Latin American countries, for example, are building an organization
called the Union of South American Nations and a NATO-like defense
alliance called the South American Defense Council. The United States,
long dominant in the hemisphere, is pointedly excluded from both.
An 8-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with
Russia, China, and four Central Asian states, has been slowly
developing, in part because some members want a bulwark against U.S.
involvement in the region.
Other countries are leading diplomatic initiatives that once would
have been the province of the United States.
Qatar has taken the lead in brokering a deal between Syria and
Lebanon, and Turkey has been acting as an intermediary between Israel
As the United States' political standing has eroded, its economy has
remained powerful. Its gross domestic product of $14 trillion a year
dwarfs China's $7 trillion, adjusted for purchasing power.
Yet American influence on world economic policy is declining, too. One
sign: the failure of the United States and its allies to sell a new
agreement to the World Trade Organization in the face of opposition
from China, India and other nations.
"The influence of the U.S. private sector is as strong as ever," said
Gary C. Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International
Economics. "But the United States is much less able to shape world
policy these days."
Many analysts expect that the economic crisis, for which the U.S. is
blamed by much of the world, will convince many countries that they
shouldn't emulate the loosely regulated American economic model.
Another development is the weakening of U.S. ties with Europe. Once,
when they formed a common front on an issue, they had enormous
The rift over the Iraq war has largely healed, but Europe continued to
differ with the Bush administration on important issues, including
climate change and Russia's resurgence.
Many analysts predict growing frictions over the joint effort in
"There's a rebalancing of power away from the West," Kupchan said,
"but also within the West."
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