The increasing isolation of the United States on the world stage was made blatantly obvious at the United Nations on Thursday, when a special session of the General Assembly dealt an overwhelming rebuke to the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Only seven countries voted with the U.S. against the resolution, with 128 voting in favour. 35 countries chose to abstain, perhaps due in no small part to the arrogant hubris of U.S. envoy Nikki Haley, who proclaimed that Washington “expects to be respected” and that “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.” Trump also threatened to withdraw funding from countries that voted against the United States, a hideous indication of not only his feeling of personal superiority, but characteristic of a long line of Presidents who have echoed sentiments of American exceptionalism.
If the matter at hand wasn’t so deadly serious, Haley and Trump’s comments would be laughable, the material of comedic masterpieces. The UN infringing on the “rights” of the U.S. as a “sovereign nation” is seldom an expression one would think of to characterize the world’s dominant superpower which has engaged in a list of decimation of the sovereignty of countries so lengthy we would need several volumes to even begin an account of its crimes.
Trump’s Move Isolates the U.S.
Despite the abstentions, the UN vote’s overwhelming tally against Trump’s extreme right-wing position that essentially threw the prospect of a two-state solution to the wind is further evidence of the diminishing stature of the United States on the world stage.
It seems a matter of fact that in light of the administration’s Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. will have to forfeit any possible role as a broker in the peace process. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bluntly declared as much the day of the announcement, saying flatly ”We reject the American decision over Jerusalem. With this position the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process.”
Twenty-four years of Washington acting as a mediator in the so-called Israel-Palestine peace process since the signing of the Oslo accords has been brought to an aggressive and perhaps decisive halt. Perhaps the key word to describe the U.S. role in this process has been that it was acting as a mediator, as every U.S. administration since Bill Clinton’s has stood in staunch defence of Israel, most notably as its chief military sponsor. Yet, it at least continued to maintain its official position as the primary facilitator of the peace process until the coming of the Trump era, including delaying the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Caps a Year of Trump Alienating Washington
It isn’t only the Jerusalem decision that has pushed forward the decline of the U.S. vis-à-vis much of the world.
Trump’s economic nationalism espoused in his ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan has alienated Washington from many of its chief partners over the course of his first year in office.
His decision in the first days of his presidency to scrap the long-negotiated Trans-Atlantic Partnership (TPP) that would have been the world’s largest free-trade deal irked many of the United States’ Asia Pacific allies.
His confrontational approach toward European countries in NATO which has led him to demand that they increase their funding of the alliance has also driven a wedge in the Atlantic. This was perhaps most forcibly confirmed by Germany’s chief diplomat Sigmar Gabriel, who earlier this month proclaimed "The US no longer sees the world as a global community, but as a fighting arena where everyone has to seek their own advantage. Germany can no longer simply react to US policy but must establish its own position… even after Trump leaves the White House, relations with the US will never be the same.”
Despite the shift in international dynamics that Trump’s economic isolationism and foreign policy positions have ushered in, it remains clear that the declining empire still believes it can act with impunity on the world stage. The UN resolution, despite being passed by a huge margin, means nothing to the likes of Trump and Haley who continue to operate in a state of delusion and condescension toward anybody who dares to question their diktat. Empires in decline are naturally extremely dangerous, and can take drastic and what may often appear to be ill-conceived positions. The boldness and aggressiveness of Trump is the posture of a man who believes the U.S. is a victim of a global conspiracy – but under his bravado is a concern that Washington is losing its dominance in what was until recently a unipolar world. Ironically, his positions only work to accelerate Washington’s inevitable decline.
The United Nations as Fundamentally Undemocratic
The United Nations, far from being a body in which countries participate as equals, remains a fundamentally undemocratic organization.
Although the General Assembly’s vote has important symbolism for the Palestinian cause, and underscores that most countries still believe at least in some variant of peace between Israel and Palestine, the existence of the UN Security Council continues to stifle any potential of the UN being a viable vehicle for the democratic decision making of truly equal nations.
This was revealed just days before the special session of the General Assembly when the United States was able to use its veto power within the Security Council to strike down an Egyptian resolution that called for Trump to withdraw his Jerusalem decision. Despite being the only country out of fifteen to vote against the resolution, the role of the U.S. as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power meant it was able to snub the will of the majority.
The Collapse of the Global Equilibrium
In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world had lost its equilibrium that was characteristic of the Cold War era. The concept of mutually assured destruction due to the nuclear arms race had meant that the rival superpowers trod cautiously in many global matters, and the role of both countries within the Security Council helped to facilitate this equilibrium. However, the rise of a hegemonic world order in the 1990s and 2000s not only led to an unhinged United States that rushed into countries from Yugoslavia to Iraq (wars that never would have thinkable during the existence of the USSR), but to an ever-more undemocratic functioning of the United Nations.
In March of 2011, a UNSC vote on Resolution 1973 cleared the way for NATO’s military intervention in Libya. A simple vote against the resolution from Russia or China would have vetoed it, and made any subsequent intervention on behalf of NATO illegal. Of course, the U.S. had previously shown its disdain for all legal considerations in launching the catastrophic war on Iraq. Nonetheless, staunch opposition from Moscow or Beijing would have sent a strong message that there was a growing bulwark against the U.S. grip on global affairs that wouldn’t sit by idly.
The catastrophic result of the Libya intervention – a war still without end and a country now gripped with the turmoil that has rival governments vying for legitimacy – caused U.S. President Barack Obama to call it the greatest mistake of his eight years in office. More importantly, it was a lesson to China and Russia to take a much firmer stance within international bodies such as the UN to prevent further destabilization of countries targeted by the U.S. for ‘regime change’.
Syria Changes the Geo-Political Map
It was the war in Syria which has brought about nothing short of a political earthquake within the halls of the United Nations and, in particular, the Security Council. The strategic importance of Syria for regional and global affairs and the fear of another country being destroyed and fragmented to the benefit of the west, led Russia and China to affirm their support for Damascus in the Security Council chamber on numerous occasions.
As of October, the Russian Federation had used its veto power in regards to Syria nine times. China, which had previously often voted either with the United States on key global issues or chose to abstain under the policy of ‘Hide Your Strength, Bide Your Time’ coined by Deng Xiaoping, now found the necessity of challenging Washington openly by using its veto power as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. This has provoked major frustration on behalf of the United States, with Nikki Haley saying after both countries vetoed a U.S. resolution to sanction Syria in February that "The world is definitely a more dangerous place. Today, the international community can look no further than the Security Council for contributing to that." How ironic her words are in light of the history of the U.S. vetoing resolutions being responsible for precisely that.
Filling the Vacuum Left by the United States
The ‘Project for a New American Century’ that was the cornerstone of George W. Bush’s ambitious imperial dreams seems like an increasingly distant fairy tale that will never come to fruition.
As far as the so-called Middle East peace process is concerned, Trump’s previous declaration that he would help craft the ‘ultimate deal’ is dead beyond the point of any possible revival.
It seems clear that any conceivable revival of this process can only be spearheaded by a power actually committed the concept of 1967 borders and a two-state solution. This would probably entail the European Union stepping up to the plate. Sweden became the first EU country to recognize the State of Palestine in 2014, clearing the way for eight other countries within the bloc to do the same.
Although the two-state solution still seems increasingly unrealistic given the extent of Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank, as well as the continued existence of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government, a move by the European Union to fill the vacuum left by the Trump would contribute further to the world’s pivot away from the eroding dominance of the United States.