Is America a friend you can trust?

Graphic by Annie Gugliotta

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.


In short, we wrote yesterday about what other countries want from America. Today, we look at what they should fear from the US… or at least from its polarized domestic politics. Solutions to many of today's global problems demand long-term commitments. As other governments plan, they want to know what to expect from the United States. They want to know what return they can expect on their own investments. They want to have confidence that Washington will prove a reliable partner.

Transfers of power in Washington aren't new, but deep fundamental disagreements over US leadership are. Democrats and Republicans have alternated presidential power in the US for 160 years, but Donald Trump challenged an eight-decade consensus on the basics of America's role in the world on a scale we haven't seen in living memory. Joe Biden is now president, and he's got the pen to prove it, but his need to resort to executive orders reminds us of how little cooperation he can expect from Congress, where his party holds the narrowest of majorities.

More to the point, remember that Trump won more than 74 million votes in the 2020 election. The best measure of the narrowness of defeat is not the popular vote margin of seven million but the 44,000 votes that separated Biden from Trump in three crucial states. Trump himself may not return to the White House, but the defiant go-it-alone foreign policy he branded as "America First" has inspired tens of millions of Americans and may well return. Perhaps in 2024.

So, if you lead another government, are you ready to bet on sustainable US commitments to protect Asian allies from dominance by China, contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, help manage humanitarian emergencies, take consequential action to defend human rights, honor the terms of trade agreements, reduce carbon emissions, lend to COVID-devastated economies, or invest in the future of NATO?

As former German ambassador to the US Wolfgang Ischinger recently told GZERO Media, Europeans leaders better be asking themselves this question: "Do we want to make our lives, our future, dependent on what … 50,000, or 60 or 80,000 voters in Georgia or Arizona may wish to do four years from now?"

Bottom line: How, world leaders rightly wonder, can they have confidence that today's US commitments are sound long-term bets? That's a big problem not only for the United States — but for its allies and potential partners.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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