Yesterday, the United Nations general assembly had a vote around the United States’ decision to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by relocating its embassy there. It was a landslide victory for those countries who voted against America’s decision, with 128 countries voting to support the longstanding international consensus that who gets to own Jerusalem can only be settled by a final peace deal between Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
The result was always going to be thus. The UN has a longstanding desire to not rock the boat on this particular issue, and Trump hitting it with a sledgehammer was never going to change hearts and minds. Nevertheless, the Trump administration leaned in hard on this one. It threatened to pull aid from any country that voted for the amendment. Several countries that have received a reasonable amount of money from the US in recent years decided to vote for it anyhow. Several key allies, such as Canada, abstained.
Given Trump’s rhetoric (Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, said “The US will be taking names”), this has to count as a major blow for America’s soft power. In fact, I worry that it is the beginning of the end of the American Empire for real.
For a long time after the Cold War ended, for the better part of two decades at least, America was the supreme power in the world. Now, that is in serious doubt. The worry with Trump was always that despite his “Let’s Make America Great Again” sloganeering he is destined to destroy the country’s soft power. The Jerusalem vote in the UN is a perfect case in point. Not just for the obvious reason – it shows how out of step with the rest of the world America is at present, how it is no longer setting the tone – but because it demonstrates something even more meaningful: the US is no longer economically necessary to large parts of the developing world in the same way it was even ten years ago. Countries feel like they can scupper America’s plans, or at least offer full throated disapproval of them, because there is always China waiting around the corner. Or Russia, even thought it can’t actually afford it. Or several emerging economies, come to think of it.
Yesterday’s vote demonstrated that America is no longer the dominant force in the world. It’s a tragic combination of Bush’s overreach, followed by Obama’s retreat, followed then by Trump’s belligerent arrogance. I don’t think any of this should be cause for celebration by anyone, left or right, in the West. America’s demotion means a corresponding demotion for liberal democracy at the expense of oligarchic autocracy. The US, for all its faults, represents an ideal that even many Corbynistas, though they would never admit it, uphold. The stupidity of the Trump administration is uniting the world against America. That is bad for anyone who cares about liberal democracy.