As the nation celebrates its 245th birthday, despite all the turmoil hitting the headlines, all the good in the world today is worth remembering – in large part, at least in part, due to the accomplishments of ‘an American foreign policy that has often been badly flawed and yet, since at least World War II, has done far more good than harm. Systems strategic alliances and partnerships We have built with some 60 other countries, mostly like-minded democracies, as well as an international economic order that has produced more growth and wealth for a higher fraction of the world’s population than ever before in the history of mankind, have supported a great strategy which remains solid in its basic concept and basic vision.
Former President TrumpDonald Trump There is no ‘third way’ for Iranian diplomacy Republicans eyeing White House for tough line on immigration Watch live: Trump hosts rally in Florida MORE, for all its flaws, has not dismantled much of what a dozen predecessors (six Democrats and six Republicans) had built since 1945. The fundamentals of the rules-based order are intact. I mean this not as a compliment to Trump, but rather as an observation about the resilience of certain elements of the rules-based order – to this day, at least.
The âthird waveâ of democratic expansion began with Spain and Portugal in the mid-1970s, then took off in Latin America, East Asia and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. But it didn’t stop there or there. About a third of African countries, as well as many countries in South and Southeast Asia, have now also adopted democracy as a form of government. Even during the slippage of global democracy in recent years, there have been positive trends in several major countries to include Indonesia and Pakistan. Statistically, a higher percentage of humanity now lives in countries deemed free or partially free by Freedom House than ever before.
North America has remained a strategic stronghold for the United States, providing a strong economic community and a haven from any predatory neighbor. The hemisphere has serious problems, to be sure. But its main security and safety challenges have to do with transnational crime rather than geopolitics.
It is true that large parts of Asia and the wider Middle East do not converge on liberal Western values, including in the areas of democracy, as well as religious and political freedom. Nevertheless, there is broad agreement around the world on the virtues of a certain degree of trade, economic cooperation and interdependence. This consensus has not been strong enough to replace all the centrifugal forces tearing the seams of the world order, of course. And economically, we now collectively need a new consensus that places at least as much emphasis on ‘fair trade’ as on ‘free trade‘ and that ensures adequate domestic manufacturing capacity to maintain the market. country resilient in the face of various possible situations. threats. But areas of agreement nonetheless provide a strong centripetal force. Despite the gradual âreturn of historyâ and great power competition of the past decade, the world is far from the kind of truly dangerous place that characterized the pre-world wars of the last century.
Despite the quagmire of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and radicalization in progress many individuals in the wider Middle East, al-Qaeda and ISIS are much weaker than before – at least in terms of leadership structure and the ability to plan and carry out complex attacks. The American homeland has not been hit hard by terrorism since September 11. The world has now survived four years of Trump’s maverick and intentionally disruptive leadership and a year and a half of COVID-19 without any major tendencies towards increasing global lawlessness or violence.
By 2019, according to Homi Kharas, a Brookings scholar, half of the planet’s population has achieved socioeconomic status of at least âmiddle classâ in the respective countries of their citizenship. The coronavirus will likely drive that number down for some time, with a economic downturn of around 5 percent globally estimated for 2020, including severe deprivation for some populations, and spillover effects for years to come. But the anti-poverty achievement is still remarkable and will be restored.
In contrast, just after World War II, only 10% of the world’s citizens could claim relative prosperity. Infant mortality rates around the world have been reduced by five since 1960, which is a startling indicator of improving practices and outcomes in basic health care. Progress has also not slowed down in recent times. According to The Legatum Institute in London, considering 167 countries which together represent over 99% of the world’s population, social and economic indicators improved in 148 of them between 2009 and 2019.
Some are nostalgic for the Cold War, seeing it as a simpler geopolitical period. I am not of this school of thought. The Cold War was not easy or secure until perhaps the very end. It took strong American leadership, combined with effective deterrence, to prevent the fighting of the superpowers. The United States has often been wrong in the way it has exercised this leadership, sometimes with brutal and tragic results, especially for the people and places where the violence of the Cold War was most severe. We should have a mixed view of the Cold War. It was a volatile and dangerous time, much worse than the world today. Nonetheless, what Bob Kagan calls the âAmerica made by Americaâ after WWII – in terms of basic security alliances, economic structures, and free seas and trade – has finally held its own against it. Communist juggernaut which sought to undermine it.
There is a lot of work to be done to build a safer and more prosperous planet in the age of COVID-19, the return to strategic competition of the great powers, global warming and other major challenges for peace and future development. But there are also solid foundations on which to build. We should be grateful for these and seek to protect and preserve them, as we celebrate July 4th.
Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at Brookings and author of “The Art of War in the Age of Peace: Great American strategy and resolute restraint.