It seems that the United States has started a new cold war with China and Russia at the same time.
And the US government presents it as a confrontation between democracy and authoritarianism, which is suspicious, especially when those same leaders are actively courting a systematic human rights violator like Saudi Arabia.
This hypocrisy suggests that, at least in part, what is at stake here is global hegemony rather than a question of values.
After the fall of the iron curtain, the United States was for two decades the undoubted number one.
Then came the disastrous wars in the Middle East, the financial crash of 2008, rising inequality, the opioid epidemic, and other crises that seemed to cast doubt on the superiority of the American economic model.
Plus, add in Donald Trump's election victory, the attempted coup on Capitol Hill, numerous shooting sprees, attempts at voter suppression by the GOP, and the rise of conspiracy cults like QAnon, and there's more than enough evidence to to think that some aspects of the political and social life of the United States have become profoundly pathological.
Of course the United States does not want to be dethroned.
But China's overtaking it economically is simply inevitable, whatever official indicator is used.
Not only is its population four times that of the United States, but its economy has also tripled for many years (in fact, it already overtook the United States by purchasing power parity in 2015).
Although China has not launched a direct strategic challenge to the United States, the signs are clear.
There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington that China may pose a strategic threat, and that the least the United States should do to mitigate the risk is to stop helping the Chinese economy grow.
According to this vision, it is justified to take preventive measures, even if that implies violating the norms of the World Trade Organization, in whose drafting and promotion the United States had an important participation.
This front of the new cold war was already open long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Indeed, top US officials have urged that the war not divert attention from the real long-term threat: China.
But a country at war needs a strategy, and the United States cannot win a new great-power race alone;
you need friends.
Its natural allies are Europe and the other developed democracies around the world.
But Trump did his best to ward them off, and Republicans (who are still completely tied to him) have given ample reason to doubt that the United States is a reliable partner.
Furthermore, Washington also has to win the goodwill of billions of people in developing and emerging countries;
not only to have the numbers on your side, but also to ensure access to critical resources.
To ingratiate itself with the world, the United States will have to make up a lot of lost ground.
His long history of exploiting other countries doesn't help, and neither does his deep-seated racism (a force that Trump channels expertly and cynically).
The latest example is the US authorities' contribution to global “vaccine apartheid”, whereby rich countries got all the doses they needed, while people in poor countries were left to fend for themselves.
Meanwhile, adversaries in America's new cold war made their vaccines available to other countries at or below cost and helped them develop the capacity to produce them themselves.
The lack of credibility is magnified when it comes to climate change, which disproportionately affects countries in the South, which are the least prepared to deal with it.
Although the major emerging markets today are the main source of greenhouse gases, the United States' cumulative emission remains by far the largest.
The developed world continues to add emissions, and what is worse, it has not even kept its meager promises to help poor countries deal with the effects of a climate crisis caused by rich nations.
Instead, US banks contribute to the risk of debt crises in many countries, often displaying a perverse indifference to the resulting suffering.
Europe and the United States are very good at lecturing others about what is morally right and economically reasonable.
But the message ends up being “do what I say and not what I do” (something that the persistence of agricultural subsidies in the United States and Europe makes clear).
Moreover, after Trump, the United States no longer has any claim to moral superiority, or credibility to give advice.
Neoliberalism and trickle-down economics never enjoyed much acceptance in the countries of the South, and now they are losing it everywhere.
At the same time, China has been noted for its ability to provide physical infrastructure to poor countries rather than teach lessons.
It is true that these countries often end up heavily indebted, but seeing how Western banks have behaved as creditors in the developing world, the United States and others are not in a position to launch accusations.
I could go on, but I think my point is already clear: If the United States is going to embark on a new cold war, it has to understand what it needs to win it.
Cold wars are ultimately won by the soft power of attraction and persuasion.
To succeed, we have to convince the rest of the world to buy from us not only our products, but also the social, political, and economic system that we sell.
The United States will know how to make the best bombers and missile systems in the world, but in this fight they will be of no use to us.
On the contrary, we have to offer developing and emerging countries concrete help;
starting with the suspension of intellectual property rights on everything related to covid-19, so that those countries can manufacture vaccines and treatments for themselves.
Just as important, the West must make its economic, social, and political system once again the envy of the world.
In the United States, the first step is to reduce gun violence, improve environmental regulation, combat inequality and racism, and protect women's reproductive rights.
Until we have shown that we deserve to lead, we cannot expect others to follow.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics, is Distinguished Professor at Columbia University and a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation.
© Project Syndicate 1995-2022.
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