MADRID – December always provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on what was and what will be. This year, one of the conclusions that such reflection yields is that the United States remains firmly at the center of the liberal world order. Another is that the US needs to do more to lead in the way that its international standing demands.
Doubts about America’s continued global leadership have been proliferating for years. But, though the much-discussed multi-polar world order may well be in the cards, the reality is that, for now, efforts to address global challenges – from climate change to conflict in the Middle East – demand US engagement.
Unfortunately, the narrative of American decline has gained so much traction in recent years that even US officials seem to have started to believe it, pursuing weak and piecemeal policies (or, in some cases, doing nothing at all). President Barack Obama’s restrained foreign-policy approach appears to be fueling, not reducing, global instability.
The reasons for this lack of strong action are disputed. Some blame Obama’s own fears about repeating his predecessors’ mistakes; others blame a hostile Congress for tying his hands.