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Trump’s America First presidency all but ended US global leadership. The world

But the global instruments Trump deserted haven’t crumbled, nor is the world crashing and burning with its long-time leader in the back seat. Strongman leaders may be emboldened, but they aren’t going entirely unchallenged. And old US allies have not fallen straight into the arms of China, as many analysts fear.

Instead, the world is adapting these agreements, it’s reshaping its institutions and, as for China, most countries are finding ways to balance their relations with Beijing as both a friend and foe.

This shift has been a long time coming. While US grand strategists who believe American world leadership is exceptional argue it could go on in its role indefinitely, most international relations experts agree that all unipolar models must come to an eventual end, as other powers rise and challenge its primacy.

After assuming the role of leader following World War II, the US proved its dominance with its victory in the Cold War, a consolidation of power that experts described as a “unipolar moment.” That moment has lasted 30 years. 

There have been clear signs over the past two decades, however, that Americans are tiring of taking on this role, while much of the world, equally, is cooling on the US as its hegemon, and is eager to step into its shoes.
Germany, for example, is pitching itself as a global health leader. Even before the pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had put global health on the agenda at G20 meetings for the first time as the Trump administration showed signs of retreat from international cooperation. Germany has boosted funding for health research and development, and was even able to treat patients from neighboring countries for Covid-19 early in the European outbreak, so well-resourced were its hospitals at a time of crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, deliberating with US President Donald Trump, right, at the G7 summit on June 9, 2018 in Charlevoix, Canada.
As the US attempted to lead reforms of the World Health Organization — despite its decision to abandon it — Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed their own an alternative plan, after rejecting Washington’s, as Reuters reported.
Germany has pledged an extra 200 million euros ($234.1 million) to the WHO this year, making for a total of 500 million euros, to help plug the gap left by the US, traditionally the organization’s biggest donor. It’s not the only one. The UK announced last month it would boost its WHO funding by 30% over the next four years, which would make it the biggest donor, should the US follow through with its withdrawal.
China, under international pressure to resource the global response, has also pledged additional funding, as has France, Finland and Ireland, among others. It’s unclear whether they will be able to make up for the US’ shortfall in the years to come, but it’s at least a good start.
Merkel — often described as the world’s “anti-Trump” — said in May she wanted the European Union to take on more global responsibility for the pandemic and for the bloc to harness a more powerful voice overall on the values of “democracy, freedom and the protection of human dignity,” describing cooperation with the US as “more difficult that we’d like.”
Making comments in a speech ahead of Germany assuming the six-month presidency of the European Union, Merkel said she saw her country’s presidency as an opportunity to be an “anchor of stability” in the world that could shape change and assume responsibility for global peace and security.

“Itself a project between individual states, the European Union is inherently a supporter of rules‑based multilateral cooperation. This is truer than ever in the crisis,” Merkel said.

Macron too tried to pitch himself as the next leader of the free world in the earlier days of Trump’s presidency. His campaign lost steam, but he still often plays the democratic defender in the room where the US is missing, having confronted Russia’s Vladimir Putin on his country’s role in the Syrian conflict and on the deterioration of gay rights in Russia, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the murder of his critic, Jamal Khashoggi, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

While EU leaders’ will to replace American leadership is strong, the lack of progress in the areas Macron has tried to address are a sobering reminder of the limited power the world has to uphold democratic values without the United States at the helm. 

Rescuers search for victims after an air strike in the Syrian city of Idlib on March 15, 2017. Russia has propped up President Bashar al-Assad's with air power.

Putin had his wrist slapped, but the abuse of gay Russians continues, and Russia and its firepower has all but won the war for Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Bin Salman has been forced to keep a lower profile, but Macron’s confrontation has done little to threaten his position of power.

The European Union is also losing its battle with the rise of autocracy in some of its eastern states, like Hungary and Poland, or countering Russian influence in that part of their bloc.

But they…

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