Ukraine: The International Challenges of the United States

The crisis caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine poses fundamental questions for the future of the international leadership of the United States.

US President Joe Biden is making commendable efforts to help Ukraine resist the Russian invasion and to consolidate the Atlantic Alliance in the face of the threat hanging over the rest of the old continent.

On the military front, it is succeeding for the moment, thanks to the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people and the remarkable solidarity of the European allies. On the political front, it is more difficult and the long-term challenges are considerable.

Why is Ukraine resisting?

It is not difficult to understand why the Ukrainians are so fiercely resisting the Russian invasion. It is not because they wish to trade enslavement to Russian military domination for its Yankee equivalent.

It is not because they wish to become a branch of the American capitalist empire. It is because they wish to remain masters in their own house and establish their own democratic rule of law.

If the Ukrainians, like other Europeans (and Canada) are willing to follow the leadership of the all-powerful American giant, it is not only out of strategic or economic opportunism. Political motives have a lot to do with it.

The pillars of leadership

What is the international political leadership of the United States based on? Obviously, military force and economic power are essential, because there is no world government to enforce the rules of the system and you have to have the means to match your ambitions.

Since the end of World War II, the twin political pillars of US international leadership have been its support for multilateralism and the example shown by its own commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

In a country where one of the two major parties is still under the thumb of Trumpism, this is where the shoe pinches.

The real challenge

The difficulties experienced by the Americans and their allies in getting all the countries of the world to condemn Russian aggression are an indication of this lack of political leadership.

Can the world believe the calls to defend multilateralism from a country that retreated to unilateralism during the Trump years? Can we believe in calls to apply international criminal law from a country that refuses to submit to it itself?

Can the world believe in the democratic example of a country where one of the two major parties refuses to admit the legitimacy of the election of a president of the opposing party and strives to restrict access to vote of the groups which are not won over to him in advance?

For Ukrainians, the democratic ideal is linked to a vision of European identity, but the sustainability of democratic values ​​in Europe is not guaranteed. Just look at how the authoritarian populist far right is entrenching itself in power in Hungary and knocking on the door of the Élysée Palace in France…with Putin’s blessing.

Ukrainians are making the ultimate sacrifice for these ideals, because the alternative is the Russian boot hanging over their necks. As for the Americans, it is less clear.

In the 2022 and 2024 elections, they will be more concerned about the cost of a full tank of gas for their cars than about the survival of the international status and the democratic model bequeathed to them by previous generations. The real challenge to the international leadership of the United States is there.

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