A little more than three years ago, Donald Trump entered the White House with a promise to make America “Great Again”. Through the last three years when the US economy blossomed compared to the rest of the world and Trump’s transactional foreign policy unsettled all of America’s allies and most of America’s, real or imagined, adversaries, it appeared that America would become “Great Again”, as of course, defined or understood by President Donald Trump.
He made NATO members, Japan and South Korea pay more for collective defense, punished Iran by disregarding the Iran nuclear deal and imposing severe sanctions, attempted to negotiate a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula by holding dialogues with North Korea, and challenged China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea by sailing US naval ships. He halted Beijing’s growing economic footprints around the world by unleashing a trade war against China. He claimed victory over ISIS, refrained from directly intervening in Syrian and Yemeni Civil Wars, and even struck a deal with the dreaded Taliban to seek harmless withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Donald Trump also walked out of the Paris climate agreement and permitted unchecked coal mining at home. He made full use of the energy independence achieved by the US in global energy politics. He also rejected NAFTA and managed a new agreement with Canada and Mexico. He simply walked out of Trans Pacific-Partnership (TPP) initiative and announced a new Indo-Pacific strategy. He criticized China’s Belt and Road Initiative and proposed a “Blue Dot Economy”. He was intolerant of the notion of “ASEAN” centrality, delayed the appointment of an Ambassador to ASEAN, and did not attend summit meetings with ASEAN leaders and sent his cabinet members to represent him twice. He withdrew from the INF nuclear arms control treaty and continues to threaten to do the same in case of the New START Treaty.
All those actions were considered by President Trump to be examples of the “Great America” that he perhaps envisioned. And then, came the Corona virus! President Trump did display his bravado and undermined the danger this virus can pose. But soon, he began to pay a heavy price. The United States has become the worst victim of Corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic. He called it a Chinese virus, but under pressure, he backed out. He wanted to restore normal economic activities by Easter, and then he backed out. He blamed China for the global outbreak of this pandemic and then accepted Chinese kits, ventilators, and masks. He had no other option but to receive Russian assistance to fight this pandemic. The two most potential rivals of the US-China and Russia– offered help, and the Trump Administration had to accept the assistance of the strategic competitors given the sheer intensity of the Covid-19 spread in the United States.
The American stock market has dwindled, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, hundreds of industries today confront bankruptcy on the face, manufacturing is down, the health system is on the verge of collapse and the $2.3 trillion of rescue package is seen by some experts as insufficient to deal with the task. Someone has proposed a new “Marshal Plan”—reminiscent of the US Marshall Plan aid for European economic recovery after World War II.
China seems to be back on the rails after fighting this virus at Wuhan first and rest of the country later. Malls are open in Wuhan. Death tolls are minimal. The Italians, Spaniards, and the Americans have lost more lives than the Chinese in the war against Covid-19. As China is inching towards normalcy, the US is galloping towards more disastrous consequences. The number of people in New York City alone killed by the Corona virus is now more than the ones killed by the 9/11 terrorist attack. The number of American deaths in the US due to Covid-19 is now more than the number of military personnel killed in the Afghan War from 2001 to date.
Corona virus pandemic in the US is as abrupt and unanticipated as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Moreover, the Trump Administration has not given a call for a global war against Corona Virus, because it is overwhelmed with the scale of the deaths at home and is overwhelmingly under-prepared to confront this hazard. Significantly, China has been giving a call for a global war against Covid-19 and even offering assistance to myriad countries.
Let it be emphasized that this war against the non-humans has turned out to be more devastating and hurtful than any war fought by any country in the history of humanity. The penetration of the virus is so deep into the society that ordinary citizens across the nations are hiding in their homes, and the health system of any country is yet to develop a credible counter. The economy, education, mobility, entertainment, politics, and social relations are all severely facing near paralysis.
Like all wars, this would come to an end. However, will the US remain as the world leader? Will the US-led liberal order survive? After the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama believed in the “end of history”. His prognostication did not prove long-lasting. Will the end of history analogy befit the aftermath of the current crisis- “End of the American empire”?
Will, then there be a Chinese-dominated novel world order? Very implausible. The global reach of the United States—the so-called American empire– has been so titanic, profound, and spread-out that China probably cannot even dream of becoming an influential world leader any closer to the United States.
Will the American empire strike back? Not in the foreseeable future. The damage and destruction caused by this war are so Himalayan that “making America great again” project cannot handle the reparations and rejuvenation in a short time. It is going to be a long haul, and in the meantime, other scenarios, some predictable and some not, will overwhelm the American leadership for generations to come. There will be no second America, but the America we all now know will be most likely a thing of the past.