The loss of US competence in soft power -can the US political system be reformed?
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University and has written an excellent article about the loss of US soft power (Nye) due to the Coronavirus and beyond. He claims that the US hegemony after the Second World War was base on three pillars. The economic and military power and ist reputation for competence as the USA had the most innovative and best products, firms, universities, research institutes, weapons, etc. But while the other two factors are also on the decline especially the third pillar the reputation of the USA for competence and problem solution would vanish due to the Corona crisis and a long list of symptoms he attributes to hubris and greed. A Marxist would question if it was greed and neoliberalism but would perceive them as the logical results of capitalism in its pursuit of profit happiness and not that much a moral or cultural question of selfishness. On the other side Walt even would accept a libertarian alternative if the government was competent, even as everybody knows that libertarianism is the last extreme of neoliberalism and Ayn Rand and the CATO Institute or the Ryans only propagate selfishness per excellence far beyond Adam Smith. However, even if you call it greed or selfishness Walt´s article is an appeal for a total renewal of the political, educational and economic system of the USA.
„The Death of American Competence
Washington’s reputation for expertise has been one of the greatest sources of its power. The coronavirus pandemic may end it for good.
(…) Looking forward, the possibility of fundamental political change is the only silver lining I can see right now. America hasn’t faced a crisis like this since the 1930s and 1940s, and it was in a better position to meet those challenges then than it is today. But a previous generation of Americans eventually rose to the occasion, and showed themselves and the world what their country could do. It is upon Americans now to remember that experience, put the past few decades of hubris, division, and indulgence aside, and prove that their country is still competent enough to figure out what it needs to do. And then they need to do it.
Well, an excellent article by Walt. But one will ask if the USA will regain its reputation for competence, should a US firm discover a vaccine first. However, even in this case, there are too many other factors that cost the USA its reputation for competence. And that Walt speaks of the presidential candidate as these three old guys is an indicator that he hopes that a new generation of political leaders could revitalize this reputation for competence. But are the Millenials and I Gen more or less competent if the education system promotes incompetence and is so rotten? And he thinks of a total renewal of the political system-from education to the election system. Are there potential majorities to fundamentally reform the US system?
The Walt article leads to further questions. Is such a reform possible by a new generation of competent and selfless political leaders or a movement like the Tea Party or something similar, a US-En Marche like Macron instead of Trump, on the Democratic side or the Republicans which brings a new spirit in the existing parties or is such a reform only possible if the old two-party system of the USA is abolished to.a multiparty system or at least a three-party system or are even these measures only a fight against the symptoms and not the cause which have their roots in neoliberalism and hubris and morale and cultural degradation? Or are we in a phase where a neofeudalism is already controlling the USA and will silence reformers like Walt?
The basic question is not only whether you only need more educated and competent politicians or not only personal questions but also new content. A return to the Wilsonianistic Washington Consensus as an alternative to Jacksonitistic America First cannot be the solution either. The competence of new leaders is proving that they are rethinking and formulating an essential new political content definition of US politics and its previous hubris towards realpolitik.
A former NATO general wrote to me about my article:
… everything may be correct, however, it was always American strength to get back on stage. The Europeans, I’m afraid, can’t do it.
Only the Asians would not be desirable either. Or?
One can also worry about the USA as the most important world power. So what? Swallowing and dignifying everything in a Nibelung-faithful transatlanticism is not the way. In my opinion, the West can only regain strength if the USA formulates a new policy beyond the Wilsonian Washington Consensus and the Jacksonian America First towards new realpolitik. As long as this is not the case, the West remains in free fall. And Germany also has to free itself from its Wilsionianism and pacifism and think again. There is no further way if you don’t want to decline. So what?
You always assume that I have sympathy for the „Asians“ and the Chinese. In fact, Asia will be the new center, the United States will remain an important power, beyond all signs of deterioration, but whether the West and the United States revitalize depends on the fact that one takes a critical analysis of one’s own mistakes and does not hide them and ignores them in the belief that everything will revitalize automatically.. This requires active political reformers and that is exactly what I advocate for. As I said, a new US leader who is reviving the United States and the West will be characterized by accepting the shift in power relations towards the multipolar world with an Asian pivot and develop a new realpolitik beyond the Wilsonian Washington Consensus and Jacksionaina America First. Or the old way? So what?