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History has its eyes on US

History has its eyes on US
Ari Winkelman

In the run-up to the 2020 election, Europe was preoccupied with the future of the transatlantic relationship. In London, almost every conversation among think tanks, civil society, and diplomatic circles eventually came around to the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, just then wrestling with its Brexit bet.

There was plenty of hand-wringing about whether Donald Trump would be reelected in 2020. The frequently heard view across the pond was that Europeans could forgive Americans for electing Trump for the first time in 2016 – for they knew not what they did. But to return him to office, without the guise of plausible deniability, would mean something else entirely.

Europe would have been put on notice that US voters had accepted the “America First” embrace. The US was going home, and Europe might need to go it alone.

As we find ourselves in the (re)run-up to another Trump-Biden election season, all eyes are again on US voters and the choice they have set before themselves in November. Tariffs and trade policy are up for grabs, the energy and regulatory environment face “sliding doors,” and diplomatic and multilateral engagement find themselves on differential courses – on display last week at the annual G7 Summit where Biden sought in his final pre-election summit to keep the wartime band together with new US measures to intensify pressure on Russia and a transatlantic pledge to leverage Russia’s immobilized assets for Ukraine funding.

It is all too clear that geopolitics is at stake this fall.

What if the 2020 election vantage point from abroad got it wrong?

What if, despite the US rethinking its global role, we are still in the age of US primacy after all? Over the past four years, the US may have unwittingly made this case.

During the pandemic, US pharmaceutical firms – in concert with global researchers – delivered groundbreaking vaccines to save lives. Across the security sphere, the US has led its European partners on a renaissance of NATO, charting the course on both the sanctions to constrain Russia and the military expenditures to bolster Ukraine. Earlier this spring, when further US funding came into doubt, Ukraine and Europe faced a protracted scare. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the US has demonstrated that without any boots on the ground and with untiring diplomatic efforts bearing only partial fruit, it remains a pivotal player in any room. Iran’s attack on Israel on April 13, which saw nearly all of its 300-plus missiles shot down by a US-led coalition supporting Israel, is prime evidence.

And despite years of hard- versus soft-landing debates, the United States remains the world’s largest economy. In recent years, the Biden administration has been busy trying a new industrial policy on for size, a model now being replicated elsewhere. Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve has set the global template and pace on fiscal policy.

The US dollar remains dominant, even as Russia and others that face a widening web of US-led sanctions and tools of economic security have continued to study currency alternatives. According to the Fed’s latest available data (2022), the US dollar represents 58% of global official foreign exchange reserves compared with the next best Euro at 21%. The dollar was involved in roughly 88% of global foreign exchange transactions in April 2022, a figure that has been stable for 20 years.

According to polling conducted across Europe, Canada, and the United States in 2023 by the German Marshall Fund in its Transatlantic Trends series, 64% of respondents viewed the US as the most influential actor in global affairs (including 62% of Europeans). Lest we overlook it, the same polling found that only 14% viewed China as the most influential global actor.

Looking across the ocean, the view from Europe looks significantly less lonesome than it did on the cusp of 2020. This might be because Trump did not win in 2020, or it might be that the US is more structurally entrenched in the global system than domestic partisan politics suggests. Will a Biden 2.0 mean the status quo on transatlantic support for Ukraine? Would a Trump 2.0 see the administration drive Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table and pursue a deal that leaves Europe out in the cold? Will Trump’s transactional foreign policy present a sharp test for Europe with more bilateral relationships than multilateral engagement?

Either way, November’s election and its aftermath will begin to answer these questions.

Lindsay Newman is the practice head of Global Macro, Geopolitics for Eurasia Group and is based in London. She writes the Views on America column for GZERO.


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