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America, A Return to the Throne?

Guest: Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and co-author of “The Empty Throne”

America abdicated from the ‘throne’ of global leadership during the Trump era. With a new administration, can it make a comeback?

On Altamar’s latest podcast episode, Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, discusses the Biden Administration’s shifts in priorities in America’s foreign policy with hosts Peter Schechter and Muni Jensen. The U.S.-Russia relationship is first on that list. According to Daalder, President Biden enters the Oval Office with a far more jaded view of today’s Russia than any other president since the Cold War. “Bill Clinton believed more economic assistance would help Russian President Boris Yeltsin transform the economy and strengthen democracy. George W. Bush famously looked into President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and ‘got a sense of his soul’. Barack Obama promised to press the “reset” button in his relations with President Dmitry Medvedev. And Donald Trump insisted that his good personal relationship with Putin was ‘a good thing’ for relations with Russia” Daalder explains in the episode.

The relationship with the Kremlin is just one of the many changes the Administration has announced. Over the past four years, the US abdicated its place on the global throne after the Trump Administration replaced the international order with a series of transactional, bilateral initiatives, largely leaving the US looking in from the outside of multilateral decision making.  President Biden campaigned on a return to multilateral foreign policy and re-joined many global initiatives on his first day in the Oval Office. But as the U.S. makes its long-awaited return to the global table, is it possible to “build back better”, to use Biden’s campaign’s tagline?

In a 2019 Altamar episode, Ivo Daalder joined Altamar to take a look at America’s inward turn and its change towards a unilateral foreign policy. Today, he’s back to talk about the Biden Administration’s clear intent on shifting back how America is perceived by its allies. Ivo Daalder is the President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and co-author of The Empty Throne, America’s Abdication of Global Leadership. Previously, Daalder was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, and director for European Affairs at the NSC under Bill Clinton.

Under Donald Trump’s leadership, the United States’ departure from the global table led to a significant power vacuum. “The book ‘The Empty Throne’ was written at a time that China was rising, economically, militarily, and increasingly, politically, becom[ing] a major global player,” explains Ivo Daalder.  As the world divides between China and the United States, every country now faces multiple challenges that require a global response. As Altamar’s Muni Jensen notes in the episode, “the throne that the US abdicated four years ago has changed. Not to overuse the analogy, but it is no longer captained by a king on a big chair. It looks more like a round table with new and diverse knights, where everyone has a voice and strengths are spread more widely.”

Ivo Daalder says that the US, weighed down by its own struggles, no longer has all the answers, nor all the money, and not even the same credibility. “Military might speaks loudly, but it is not sufficient. The rest of the world has seen an exemplary democracy almost fall to pieces and is cautiously waiting for reconstruction,” says Daalder.

Biden’s entrance into the Oval Office clearly signals a US desire to return to the global table. But it isn’t the same table anymore. Today, the world faces the seemingly unstoppable rise of Xi, the increasing repressive streak of Putin, the void left by Merkel, Macron’s grandiosity, Abe’s health and resignation, Modi’s internal struggles, Netanyahu’s indictment, and Bolsonaro’s inept bluster. “Biden’s foreign policy team, a seasoned group, will re-enter the global arena with strength, but without a bully pulpit,” says Altamar’s Peter Schechter, noting “it’s a different world, one that requires different conversations.” 

Find out more about the future of the United States’ place at the global table with a potential return to the throne, available wherever you get your podcasts. You can download it here.

Image Source: Evan Vucci/Associated Press Photo


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