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.

Yau Abdul Karim lives and works in Garin Mai Jalah, located in the Yobe State of northeastern Nigeria. Essential to his work raising cattle is reliable access to water, yet environmental degradation has led to fewer water sources, severely impacting communities like his that depend on livestock. In 2019, with the help of FAO, Eni installed a special solar-powered well in Yau's town that provides water during the day as well as light at night.

Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

More Show less

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

More Show less

Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

More Show less

According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

More Show less

When asked about where a US-China war may start, US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) doesn't hesitate: Taiwan. He suggests that China may believe the US is distracted by internal politics: "I think it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Chinese, but they may calculate that now is the moment." How would a move against Taiwan play out? Stavridis speculates how the Chinese military may plan to invade the island on the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which begins airing on US public television Friday, May 14. Check local listings.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal