[I. H. Daalder & James M. Lindsay, The Empty Throne. America's Abdication of Global Leadership. Public Affairs. New York, 2018. 256 p.]


review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia

The Empty Throne. America's Abdication of Global Leadership

The arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States in January 2017 has unleashed a significant flow of publishing house that continues to this day, and in which numerous pens question, in substance and form, the new occupant of the White House from different angles.

In this case, two authors from the field of American think tanks , close to Barack Obama – one of them served during his presidency as US ambassador to NATO – offer us a very critical view of President Trump and his management at the head of the U.S. executive branch. With the solid support of numerous quotes, statements and testimonies collected from the media, and in an agile and attractive language, they compose the portrait of an erratic, ignorant president – in one passage his "ignorance on many issues, his unwillingness to accept the advice of others, his impulsiveness, and his lack of critical thinking capacity" are unmitigated. arrogant and irresponsible.

The authors of The Empty Throne argue that President Trump's actions and words show how he has broken with the traditional line of U.S. foreign policy since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, based on the exercise of leadership oriented to collective security, the opening of global markets and the promotion of democracy. of human rights and the rule of law, and that it has result very beneficial for the United States. Trump, they argue, would have abdicated that leadership, embracing instead another purely transactional policy, made out of a simple calculation of self-interest.

This new way of conceiving international politics, based on the logic of competition and domination, would be justified by the Trump administration with the argument that the old one has been highly pernicious for the United States, since it has led to friends and allies obtaining significant profits at the expense of American prosperity.

Paraphrasing Trump's campaign slogan America First, the authors argue that this new policy will result in an America Alone, and that it will benefit China instead, assuming that it will be China that nations look to for a new leader.

To support your thesis , the authors take a look at the management of Donald Trump in the year and a half between his inauguration in early 2017 and the book's publication date in 2018. In their arguments, they review the management of the presidents the nation has had since the end of World War II, and compare it to the internship by the Trump administration.

An important part of the criticism is directed at the controversial presidential style deployed by Donald Trump, exhibited even before the elections, and which is evident in events such as the withdrawal of the label accustomed in the world of international relations, especially hurtful in its relations with friends and allies; the lack of interest shown in coordinating with the Obama administration an orderly transition, or the making of certain decisions against its national security team or even without consulting its members.

Not acknowledging these facts would be to deny the evidence and call into question the inescapable reality of the uneasiness that this new way of treating nations with which North America shares so many interests and values, such as those of the European Union, or others such as Japan, Canada or Australia, firm allies of the United States for decades, produces for many. There is, however, some criticism of the arguments.

First of all, and leaving aside the lack of time perspective to make a evaluation final of Trump's presidency, the authors make a comparison between the first year and a half of the current president's term and those of all his predecessors since the end of World War II to demonstrate Trump's return to the America First policy that prevailed until Roosevelt. This contrast requires certain nuances because, based on the common denominator of the international leadership strategy that all of Trump's predecessors practiced, the country experienced during this time moments of greater unilateralism such as that of George W. Bush's first term, along with others of less global presence of the country such as, perhaps, those of the Eisenhower presidencies. Ford, Carter, and even Obama.

In the case of Obama, moreover, the fundamental differences with Trump are not as many as they seem. Both presidents are trying to manage, in order to mitigate it, the loss of relative American power caused by the long years of military presence in the Middle East and the rise of China. It's not that Trump believes the U.S. should abandon ideas of global leadership and multinational interaction; in fact, while he is accused of leaving traditional allies to their fate, he is reproached for his rapprochement, almost complicity, with others such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Rather, what he intends is to exercise leadership, but, yes, dictating his conditions so that they are favorable to the United States. From inspirational leadership to leadership by imposition.

The question would be: is it possible to maintain leadership under these conditions? According to the authors, no. In fact, as a consequence of this U.S. "abdication of leadership," they offer two scenarios: a return to a world in which no nation leads, or the irruption of another nation – China, of course – that will fill the vacuum created by that abdication.

The authors do not consider a third option: that of traditional allies adapting to the new style of leadership, even if it is reluctantly, out of necessity, and in the confidence that one day, Trump's presidency will be history. This idea would be consistent with the premise set forth in the book, and with which we agree, that American leadership continues to be essential, and with the very acknowledgment made at the end of it, that there is some basis in the grievances that Trump presents and that the president's attitude is leading many of America's friends and allies to reconsider their defense spending. to rethink the rules of international trade to make them more palatable to North America, and to take a more active role in solving the most important global challenges.

Time will tell which of the three options will prevail. Even considering the challenges involved in the attention With the current head of the White House, the United States continues to be united with its traditional partners and allies by a dense network of common interests and, above all, shared values that transcend people and that will endure beyond them.

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