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Why 'America First' Makes America Second

China's Xi Jinping proclaimed that “this era will see China move closer to the centre of the world and make more contributions to humankind.” With Donald Trump as president, there is very little to stop this...

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

Beginning with his inauguration speech, Donald Trump’s global message could not have been any clearer. He was not concerned with forging a truly global agenda for the United States, opting instead for a much more insular one.

‘America First’ is making America second; this is something that precedes Trump, but has been accelerating quickly since his presidency.

Political Scientist Ian Bremmer coined the term ‘G-Zero world’ around seven years ago, and it is clear that Trump’s presidency has pushed us into this landscape.

A G-Zero world is one wherein we lack a superpower with the economic or political ability, or will, to forge a truly global agenda.

America still has the economic ability to forge a global agenda. What it lacks under Trump is the will to do so. Take Pakistan as an example. In Trump’s first year in office, he has used foreign aid to Pakistan as a political bargaining chip, and has been very forthcoming in denying aid to the region. Trump claimed, via Twitter of course, that Pakistan “have given us nothing but lies and deceit.” The Pakistan Foreign Minister reminded Trump that “this is not how allies behave.”

The total direct investment in Pakistan last year from the United States was $42 million. In the same time frame, China invested $837 million in Pakistan. Expect this to increasingly be China’s role in the future, to plug the gaps that the United States leave open, in an attempt to show the Western World that the future lies with them.

The issue with this is, whilst economically the future undoubtedly lies with China, they lack the political ability to become a truly global superpower. For Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, “there is no substitute for the United States as a broker for a peace deal.”

Palestine don’t share this outlook, especially since Trump's announcement to claim Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And, much like his tactics with Pakistan, Trump is using foreign aid as a bargaining chip in Palestine, warning that he is about to cease the funding.

Palestine would much rather France step in to broker peace deals, though it is extremely unlikely that Emmanuel Macron would wish to make himself the middle man in the Middle East.

And herein lies the problem; it is now “America First.” America are no longer going to act as the world’s policeman, and this leaves a vacuum since no other country has the will or the ability to step into this role. Where is the true superpower who will take China to task for torturing their Nobel Peace Prize Laureate? Where is the superpower who will lend credible support to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar?

On the political stage, under Trump, America certainly does not have the want or the will to forge this global agenda. Worryingly for America though, is that they now also lack the political ability to so do.

The Office of President of the United States risks becoming irredeemably soiled by a Trump Presidency. The bar is now so low, that for Trump’s State of the Union address to be a success, all he needs to do is refrain from labelling another country a “shithole” or from threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea with his “much bigger” nuclear button.

Take Trump’s announcement that he was moving America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In times gone by, many countries would have fallen in line behind the United States. This time around, an embarrassingly small number of countries backed Trump’s proposal.

George W. Bush famously labelled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the ‘axis of evil’. Perhaps we could label the countries who voted with Trump as regards the relocation of the Israeli embassy the ‘axis of where’s that?’

Only Togo, Micronesia, Guatemala, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Honduras voted alongside America and Israel. US Secretary to the UN Nikki Haley said that she would be “taking names” on countries who “disrespected” the United States in voting against them, and that the US would “remember the day it was singled out for attack.” It would be incredibly more efficient for her to take the names of the countries who voted with her, rather than those who voted against her. Haley went onto invite these seven countries to a “Friends of the United States” party, to thank them for doing what over 160 other countries wouldn’t.

Prior to America’s humiliation on the floor of the UN over their proposal to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump made the inexcusable decision to pull America out of the Paris Climate Accord. Following Syria’s decision to join the other 190 countries signed up to the Paris Climate Accord, America now stands alone as the sole country outside of the Accord.

China has long been incredibly reluctant to embrace any type of climate change initiatives, and the fear was that America’s resignation could prompt a wave of other countries to do the same. But not a single country has followed America out of the Climate Accord. If anything, it has bolstered the resolve of the other countries.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon with America, China has taken the lead in this realm. In the wake of America pulling out of the Accord, China committed to accelerating measures taken to reduce carbon emissions. In doing so, they are attempting to send a clear message to the Western World; where America fails you, we will not only step in the fill the void, but we will fill it twice over.

When Trump spoke at Davos in January, the first sitting US president to do so in 18 years, he didn’t mention any geopolitical issues, nor did he mention climate change. He is a leader who claims climate change is “a hoax created by, and for, the Chinese.”

When speaking at an event where the tagline was, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” Trump rejected a shared future and opted for insular, nationalist rhetoric, saying that he “will always put America First.”

He is the one who is creating the “Fractured World” that the World Economic Forum in Davos warn about, and is doing nothing to mend it. Instead of using his Davos speech to talk of a “Shared Future”, he reaffirmed his commitment to massively curbing immigration on the grounds of national and economic security.

If only he realised that his “America First” immigration policies are making America second. His national security claims carry no merit whatsoever, given the fact that his travel ban, if implemented, would not have saved a single American in the past 20 years. His economic security claims carry even less weight, given that 51 percent of US-based startups valued at $1 billion or more were started by immigrants.

While Trump was busy alienating the rest of the world with his “America First” outlook, China was busy making deals with South American countries for their “One Belt One Road Initiative”—a modern day Silk Road that will span 68 countries, and which will further their economic and political might.

In his speech to Chinese Communist Party late last year, wherein China’s leader Xi Jinping had his political thought enshrined in the Party’s manifesto, he used the term “new era” 36 times in his speech. “No country can retreat to their own island, we live in a shared world and face a shared destiny”, said Jinping, a thinly veiled jab at Trump.

Jinping outlined his plans to make China more open to the world, proclaiming that, “This is an era that will see China move closer to the centre of the world and make more contributions to humankind.”

In our G-Zero world, with Donald Trump as president, there is very little to stop this.

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