WASHINGTON — China has now assumed the mantle of fighting climate change, a global crusade that the United States once led. Russia has taken over Syrian peace talks, also once the purview of the American administration, whose officials Moscow recently deigned to invite to negotiations only as observers.
France and Germany are often now the countries that fellow members of NATO look to, after President Donald Trump wavered on how supportive his administration would be toward the North Atlantic alliance.
And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S., once the only mediator all sides would accept, has found itself isolated after Trump’s decision to declare that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In his wide-ranging speech on national security last week, Trump highlighted what he called the broadening of U.S. influence throughout the world.
But one year into his presidency, many international leaders, diplomats and foreign policy experts argue he has reduced U.S. influence or altered it in ways that are less constructive. On a range of policy issues, Trump has taken positions that disqualified the United States from the debate or rendered it irrelevant, these critics say.
Even in countries that have earned Trump’s praise, such as India, there is concern about Trump’s unpredictability and what many overseas view as his isolationism.
“The president can and does turn things inside out,” said Manoj Joshi, a scholar at a New Delhi think tank, the Observer Research Foundation. “So the chances that the U.S. works along a coherent and credible national security strategy are not very high.”
As the U.S. recedes, other powers including China, Russia and Iran are eagerly stepping into the void.
Nicholas Burns, who served as a senior American diplomat under Republican and Democratic administrations, said the administration’s strategy was riddled with contradictions that have left the U.S. ineffective.
Trump “needs a strong State Department to implement” its strategy, he said. “Instead, State and the foreign service are being weakened and often sidelined.”
Trump’s “policy of the last 12 months is a radical departure from every president since WWII,” Burns said in an interview. “Trump is weak on NATO, Russia, trade, climate, diplomacy. The U.S. is declining as a global leader.”
The most recent example of U.S. isolation came with Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, delighting many Israelis, but angering Palestinians and reversing decades of international consensus.
On Thursday, an overwhelming majority of the U.N. General Assembly, including many U.S. allies, voted to demand the U.S. rescind the decision.
For the last quarter-century, successive U.S. governments have held themselves up as an “honest broker” in mediating peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Trump insisted he is not giving up on a peace deal, but most parties involved interpreted his announcement as clearly siding with Israel.
Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said that if a peace deal is to be made now, “it won’t be from American policy.”
Regional leaders and analysts also say that for all of Trump’s tough rhetoric, they see few concrete steps by the U.S. to counter Iran’s steady expansion of its military, economic and political influence, a perception that Iranian leaders are happy to exploit.
“The reality on the ground in the Middle East is that the American administration has failed to form an efficient coalition against its self-proclaimed enemies,” said Nader Karimi Juni, an independent Iranian analyst who writes for reformist dailies and magazines.
“Now Russia is celebrating its victory in Syria, and America is watching as an onlooker,” Juni said.
In Syria and Iraq, the U.S. under Trump has succeeded in helping its allies drive Islamic State militants out of their strongholds. But Washington has opted to take a back seat in the other conflicts roiling the two countries.
Even some longtime opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad quietly acknowledge that Sochi, the Black Sea resort where Russia aims to convene a “Syrian people’s congress” next year, and not Geneva, will be the focus of efforts to bring an end to the war.
Trump has won praise in parts of South Asia, a region his team has re-dubbed the “Indo-Pacific” and, where it is favoring India and Afghanistan over Pakistan. The administration has asked Congress for $350 million in aid to Pakistan for 2018, not quite one-tenth the amount Washington provided five years ago.
Afghan officials say they are encouraged by Trump’s renewed pressure on neighboring Pakistan to take “decisive action” to stop militant groups operating from its soil.
“Our partnership, which reflects a renewed U.S. commitment, will set the conditions to end the war and finally bringing peace to Afghanistan,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said in a statement.
But even there,
Officials also say they worry that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric will strengthen China’s status as a power broker.
China has also benefited from Trump’s refusal to join other nations to work against climate change. Even as Trump removed climate change from the list of threats menacing the United States, China announced it would begin phasing in an ambitious program to curb carbon emissions by establishing the world’s largest market for trading emissions permits.