Many in the West Don’t Want a Post-American World

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Most Europeans – 54% — want to see strong American leadership, according to a new Transatlantic Trends poll out Sept. 14. And a whopping 85% of Americans want their country to lead the world. Certainly, if you listen to the GOP field of U.S. presidential wannabes, American exceptionalism has been on the decline and should be a priority. To their mind, America should always be No. 1.

But, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’s 2011 Review of World Affairs, out Tuesday, America’s interest in leading the world is at the lowest point since before Sept. 11. “The U.S. approach to international crises in the medium term will be shaped by the country’s war fatigue,” John Chipman, the institute’s director, told reporters in London at the report’s unveiling. “‘Abroad’ has become a synonym for ‘quagmire’ in the American political consciousness. ‘Home’ is the priority for which most political capital must be spent.” Traditionally, second-term presidents have focused more on foreign policy. Given the economic climate, President Obama has been forced to focus much of his attentions inward, and it remains to be seen whether he’s been successful enough to win a second term. A decade of two protracted and expensive wars have worn thin on the world’s only superpower.

On the other hands, they aren’t the only ones. More Chipman:

The U.S. will not want to rise to every occasion. Nor, in Europe, can France and the U.K.. In this context, there is a sense that the West is suffering from strategic arthritis and exhaustion, the rising powers of the East from strategic growth pains and indecision. The room for mavericks and rogues to manoeuvre for their own gain is thus expanded. Who will come to the rescue if these start doing real damage, and how effectively, is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the variety of possible strategic leaders will prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Many in the West are now looking east to the growing role of regional groups in the developing world such as Association of South East Asian Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of American States and the African Union could be empowered. Looming over all this is China. Beijing long ago established bilateral relations with Asean and the Arab League. But China is now building the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa and recently became an observer member to the OAS and the Inter American Development Bank. As it funnels billions of dollars in lucrative, politically-loaded investment projects across the world, Beijing seems keen also to burnish its symbolic place within the new geo-political architecture of the 21st century. But how many in Western Europe are prepared for this new Asian hegemon?