President Barack Obama was mercilessly ridiculed by Republicans for his supposed strategy of “leading from behind.” There is a lot of legitimate criticism with which one can debate President Obama’s tenure in office, particularly his foreign policy. There are strong arguments to be made for and against his efforts and ultimately history will have to help us sort it out.
But as I watched President Trump stumble his way through his recent trip through Europe, I couldn’t help but think how hypocritical and hollow those criticisms were. Leading from behind? Tell that to the climate which President Trump and his GOP allies seem determined to pollute when almost every other nation on Earth is leading in the opposite direction. (Recent news shows how India is turning from coal to renewables, and China as well) Leading from behind? As Mr. Trump cozies up to Vladimir Putin it is up to France’s new president Emmanuel Macron to lay out the case for democracy and human rights, you know the kind of speeches that President Reagan used to make. Leading from behind? Our friends in Europe used to respect the United States and join us in strengthening a world order. Now Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany can’t trust us. And why should she? Most of Europe agrees with her.
Mr. Trump is praising murderous despots like Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, and literally pushing his way past the leaders of Europe as he preens on the world stage. Our enemies and allies are taking the mark of a man for whom they have little respect. So far, most of Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress seem to fiddle as our foreign policy burns.
Whatever you thought of the president of the United States in previous administrations, there was no doubt that he was the leader of the free world. But today there is a serious vacuum coming out of Washington – on both the leadership and the free world part. The world is rushing to figure out what this means. I think new leaders will rise in response to the challenge, both here and overseas. In the meantime we spin the wheel of fate without a moral or strategic compass guiding our ship of state.