Here is the thing, the United States sits on a hegemonic throne, it has done so since the end of the second World War. And while the Cold War supposedly and superficially threatened this hegemonic throne in the form of a usurping USSR, that opposition upon reflection never truly endangered the U.S position as ideological supreme. Since the fall of the Berlin wall the U.S position of dominance has only been cemented further in the absence of even a superficial threat from another global power. But that dominance comes at a price.
Liberalism echoes loudly through the very theoretical core of America’s foreign policy justifications. The intrinsic nature of an international system, viewed through this liberalist lens, is the centrality of international institutions in governing the otherwise lawless void of international relations. In promoting this world view through its foreign policy justifications since the end of WWII, the U.S has correlatively given itself a large price to pay in order to maintain its hegemonic global dominance. That price to pay is the role of chief financier to the international institutions it trusts and expects to uphold the status quo. The NATO, the OECD, the UN, the WHO and so on. The United States holds the role of top contributor because to let anyone else do so, would be to majorly upset the balance of power, and not in the favour of the U.S.
So where, one may ask, does number 45’s core principle of “America first” fit into this? Well the news that the U.S has ceased funding to the WHO this morning confirmed Trump’s ignorance and goes somewhat towards answering that question, and simply put, America first doesn’t fit into the liberalist theoretical framework so often deployed in the core principles of U.S foreign policy. That is to say, if Trump continues to so blatantly put America first and disregard the institutions which hold the hegemonic throne of his office, then said throne will fall, fast and hard. Years of cold war diplomatic sweat and proliferating nuclear tears all for naught if the U.S pulls the carpet out from the very institutions it fought to establish and assert.
The WHO has been a target of Trump as late, because they are presenting him, through the medium of a global pandemic, to be the lying and vying for a scapegoat president that he so often is. He has tried to rewrite history in his favour to save the face of his presidency. He has claimed the WHO covered up and underplayed the significance of COVID-19, yet when the WHO proclaimed a global health emergency at the end of January, Trump was in the midst of still referring to the virus as a hoax. Furthermore, yesterday he argued that his administration responded faster and more efficiently than any other government in the world. The U.S and S. Korea recorded their first case on the same day. Scaled for population, if the U.S and S. Korea responded the same the U.S death toll would be six times that of S. Korea, but rather it is 113 times. This figure displays the dearth of sensibility within the Trump administration, S. Korea followed the WHO advice of vigorous and ramped up testing programs, the U.S did not. Rather than admit incompetence, inability or responsibility in any manner, Trump has chosen to rewrite history. A history he does not want the WHO to be a part of. Which is probably good for the WHO anyway, who would want to be associated with the most lacklustre response to the deadliest pandemic in a century? All the same, I really question the integrity and intelligence of a man who drops out of the World Health Organisation, during the biggest threat to world health of our generation, the timing is phenomenal.
The WHO is not the most significant international institution in establishing and reaffirming power dynamics, and so while this is all very irresponsible of Trump given timing, I am not suggesting that the withdrawal of U.S funding is going to drastically reset the international order and we will all wake up tomorrow to a new international deity. Rather this is merely reflective of a stern headed and unrelenting approach by the Trump administration contrary to previous U.S foreign policy and an approach which will majorly weaken its international standing. It is in essence, another component in the mechanics of America’s fall from international grace, engineered à la Trump. It falls into line behind the withdrawal of the Paris climate accord in 2017, TPP in 2017, UNESCO in 2017, United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018, Iranian Nuclear deal in 2018 and his discussion of withdrawing from NATO in 2019. Trump has his blinkers on, by pursuing a literal policy of America first and disregarding international institutions and agreements he may please a few U.S isolationist “deplorables” back home, but he will truly scathe the pillars upon which U.S 21st Century dominance is built. Up front, the saddle America sits on is slipping, the reigns are beginning to slacken, I predict those loitering at the rear may have their crack at the whip if there is to be another four years of Trump’s bumbling foreign policy ignorance.