04 November 2011

The UNESCO vote and the decline of American influence

Following the vote Monday to admit Palestine into UNESCO, Hamas official Ahmed Yousef said it "shows that Israel and America are not dictating politics to the world anymore." Hamas's view carries its own bias, nonetheless Mr. Yousef has a point. U.S. opposition to the vote does indeed serve as another example of the empire's declining influence in the world.

In the U.S.'s own backyard, once secured by the Monroe Doctrine, South American nations are increasingly drifting left and away from American political and economic policies. If they have an exemplar at the moment it is Brazil. Only Colombia remains a loyal ally.

In the far east, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is expanding both its membership and its agenda and seems intent on squeezing out the influence of both NATO and the United States in that part of the world. With China and Russia as members, and India and Pakistan likely to join, that seems a reasonable ambition. The United States applied for observer status in 2005 but was rejected.

In the Middle East, the Americans have almost become spectators to rapidly evolving events. They watched helplessly, and seemingly in confusion, as the Egyptian people overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Egypt is the most important country in the region and the U.S. had invested billions in the Mubarak regime, an investment now down the toilet. In Libya, the Americans participated only as followers and seemed content to be relegated to that unfamiliar role.

Even in Europe, American policies are often looked at askance. When the U.S. insists that the Europeans do more in this or that war effort, it often receives a Gallic shrug. And surveys show that majorities in most European nations believe China either will replace or already has replaced the United States as the world's leading superpower.

China steadily advances on American economic primacy and takes an increasingly assertive approach in international affairs as it does. The BRIC bloc—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—is also assuming a greater presence on the world stage. The financial and economic collapse of 2008, triggered by American malfeasance, did nothing to enhance the U.S.'s financial reputation.

The U.S. remains the world's largest economy and is the only country with global military reach. It possesses the world's reserve currency, superb universities, powerful corporations and an ability to bounce back from adversity. Yet its reputation is dragged down by a bellicose foreign policy, a widening gap between rich and poor, a massive debt and balance of payments deficit, excessive energy use and high levels of violent crime.

Its UNESCO vote against Palestine and its withdrawal of funding only made it look like a bully. Indeed, the 107-14 vote in itself illustrated the decline of its ability to influence other nations. Latin America, Africa and Asia strongly supported Palestinian membership. The BRIC bloc all voted for. As did France. So, interestingly, did Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Libya. Even America's most important friend and ally, Britain, abstained. The American empire seemed just a little less on Monday.

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