America’s Undoing

The date of 7th October 2023 will go down in history as a turning point for the global role of the United States. The country’s promise both to defend and model democracy on the world stage has taken a huge hit, from which it is doubtful that it can recover. When the Ukraine War began in 2022, and the US responded with enormous military aid, the credibility of that promise had been briefly revived after the nightmare of Donald Trump’s presidency. Now it is smashed once again, joining the rubble of Gaza’s streets.

The horrible day of hostage-taking and mass slaughter of 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, by Hamas has provoked a nasty war in Gaza, with all eyes focused on the unprecedented human costs of the violence. But the day’s biggest ramifications go beyond the pitiable fate of a small and densely populated patch of land, and its 2.2m residents. The brutal incursion quickly put an end to the nostalgic revivalism about the US’s thoroughly quixotic pursuit of democracy globally, with incalculable consequences for the coming of a new world order.

It was only a year ago that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reanimated hopes for a restoration of an American-led globe. Transatlantic politicians and publicists spoke of a standoff between “democracy” and its enemies that demanded nothing less. America’s leadership, familiar from the Cold War and after, would need to take on a new form, transcending the glaring mistakes that had made it unpopular. But Ukraine’s plight vindicated the need for this leadership and implied the possibility that America could reform. A corrected US leadership was not just desirable; it was necessary. According to liberal journalist George Packer, it was nothing short of “the last best hope”.

Last false hope is more like it. Today, it is clearer than ever that the war in Ukraine is deadlocked. Bogged down by criticisms of mainstream foreign policy and wracked by its record of military quagmires, the US is no longer credible as the lynchpin of freedom and justice worldwide. Gaza has reinforced this conclusion without the carnage-filled wait that Ukraine involved; after Hamas acted, illusory yearnings for restored credibility for US leadership were shattered within days, not months or years. And worse will be to come, if America has put its own democracy on the line even as it has invested in another endless war.

Read the full piece in Prospect Magazine.