What if America Start will not come back? What will happen next? Is it time for China? Will Europe be the new leader of the free world? Or will it just be an old international mess?

If it looked like Saigon in 1975. The American humiliation in Vietnam in the wake of the Watergate scandal damaged America’s reputation in the world. But within a decade, the United States was back. Until 1995, it looked as if they were going to rule the world, and they were called a superpower.

The current problems of the United States, arising from its actions, are ten times deeper and more structural than the problems of the mid-1970s. In part, that’s because they’ve spent trillions of dollars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, following the pattern of history’s expanding empires, rather than building their own state.

Abroad, they should face not the Soviet Union, the declining superpower ruled by Leninists, but the growing superpower ruled by the Leninists: China. Currently, climate change can only be called super strong.


Timothy Garton Ash’s article was published in parallel with OKO.press in the British “The Guardian”, the German “Der Tagesspiegel”, and the Canadian “Toronto Globe and Mail”. The writer is a famous British thinker and historian, professor at Oxford University, witness and participant in democratic transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. Recently, his book “Spring of Citizens” was reissued in Polish, and the author of the book “The Polish Revolution: Solidarity and the Free World: Why the Crisis of the West is an Opportunity for Our Time.


The best you can realistically be is that the United States will “return” to the international stage as the leading power in the West, first among its peers in the global network of democracies. Resentment of bad American behavior in different parts of the world, including recent events, should not lead no democrat anywhere in the world to see it.

All possible alternative scenarios are worse. The Biden administration is our best chance of achieving this goal.

Imagine that the corrupt, pity-filled Afghan government funded by the United States and its so-called US-trained army of 300,000 soldiers, would hold out for a few weeks. That they were to withdraw in an orderly fashion, without the Chinook carriers hovering over the flat roof of the Embassy. This picture says more than a million words.

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We will surely experience a lot of unhappiness and some sense of failure. But we would have seen a seasoned US president quietly pursue a tough plan to bring America back into the international arena, in a strategic position more suited to meeting the 3C challenge his administration has set: Covid, Climate, China [Covid, Klimat, Chiny].

It is still possible that the United States They will return to this course. Events, like items, always look bigger up close. We won’t forget the sights at Kabul airport, but over time they will transform into a new perspective.

However, it is now time to consider an alternative: that the United States will not be able to “return” to the position of an international leader. so what?

Taiwan watch out

China is almost certain to become the dominant power in Asia, but not overwhelmingly. Japan, India and Australia, not to mention the United States still in the Indo-Pacific region, will try to prevent this from happening. In China itself, the contradictions between the growing Leninist political system, where power is concentrated not only in the hands of one party but in the hands of one man, and the complex and developed capitalist economy and society, will sooner or later lead to an internal crisis. The pursuit of enhanced national legitimacy with foreign adventures can lead to immediate action: beware Taiwan.

However this is not the formula for the “Chinese Era”, nor can it be spoken of as was said of the “American Era” – or at least the 20 American years between 1989 and 2009 – or the earlier “British Era”.

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China already exerts significant influence on some European countries, but it will not become the leading power in Europe. Likewise, Russia similarly, but to a much lesser degree, though both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, will undoubtedly rejoice at this latest American failure.

Is it time for Europe?

So this is a more optimistic scenario, one that will make French hearts sing. How about getting Europe to work? The European Union becomes the leader of the free world!

By reversing the aphorism of former British Foreign Secretary George Canning, we are calling on the old world to rebalance the new. It’s a great idea. As an English European, I would very much like something like this to happen. Together with friends from all over our continent, I have spent a lot of time working in a networked organization called the European Council on Foreign Affairs specifically to promote a more coherent and effective European foreign policy. But it doesn’t look good.

One of the European leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron, has a vision but no means. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s potential successors, after the September elections of this year, have the means but lack the vision. The UK has just left the club, only to now have senior British Conservatives now sobbing loudly that the US has left us to die over Afghanistan. This is not a recipe for global leadership.

International chaos?

So there remains a third global alternative: international chaos. Great powers, tribes and competing interests. The “G-Zero” world, as political scientist Ian Bremer called it. At worst, something like Afghanistan in a larger version.

Regardless of the misfortune it would bring to millions of people, it risks frying the planet. The horrific fires on the Greek islands and floods in Germany this summer, not to mention recent official warnings from climate scientists, show that we need global collective action on an unprecedented scale to tackle the climate crisis. However, the current geopolitical situation makes it difficult to achieve such a joint global action.

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I recently watched an American science fiction movie called Arrival [Nowy początek]Octopus-like aliens land in the United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other major world powers. It turns out that their goal is to get the warring human tribes to cooperate, because “we will need you in 3,500 years.” And because it’s an American movie, their mission is a success.

However, without the intervention of an intergalactic clairvoyant octopus, it is all up to us.

What is worse than American leadership?

When viewed from a longer perspective, this geopolitical moment requires the active participation of Europe, China, India, Japan, Australia, and many other countries. And it still requires the United States to return to its leadership role in this harmony of democracy, no longer as a dominant power, but first among equals. One development economist pointed out ferociously that for poor countries there is only one thing worse than exploitation, and that is lack of exploitation.

There is only one thing worse than American leadership: the lack of it.

Translated by Anna Halberszt

Timothy Garton Ash
Timothy Garton Ash

British historian and professor at Oxford University and lecturer at Stanford University. European. Watch and participate in democratic transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. Recently, a new version of his book “Spring of Citizens” was published in Polish.