It was winter 1989, when people of East Berlin gathered before the Berlin Wall shouted a slogan “Tor auf” (open the gate!). A time when world wake up to a fact of weak Soviet stranglehold over the Eastern bloc. Meanwhile, a young Sovietologist in the West named Francis Fukyama wrote a remarkable essay “end of history” and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy in the conservative quarterly the National Interest. His essay provoked a storm of debate in the US and through out the world. The burden of his essay weighs on the argument as.
“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such…. That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
He implies the triumph of liberal democracy, outlasting it competitor, because of its superiority as a viable political and economic system. This essay unexpectedly gave Western liberals an immense feeling of relief. However, such relief was short-lived as the 21st century brought a grim picture of new challenges.
US led global war on terror & liberal international order
When Bush administration announced a crusade against Islamic terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, perhaps no one could have foreseen that the following decades would see unintended fallouts across the world. The scale of interventions either militarily or politically causing concomitantly high levels of civilian deaths are more evident today. USA framing itself as the guardian and preserver of democracy and liberal values waged an unprecedented war against Al-Qaeda and its allies. However, it was achieved through unexpected deeply illiberal policies and practices that encouraged to question the very essence of liberal values that US purports to uphold itself. By eroding the established international norms governing the laws of war and violating the human rights via policies of rendition, incarceration, abuse, and torture. US itself engendered a deeper questioning of the relevance of liberalism in 21st century.
Global Financial Crisis 2008 (GFC) and rise of populism
The GFC was the worst financial crisis ensued since 1929. The longstanding debt, which had been the linchpin of the 2008 financial crisis, continued to grow mainly by government borrowing across the globe. The irresponsible lending financed through exotic liberal financial instruments fueled the US economy for years and when music stopped as property prices fell, and loan &securities linked to real estate became worthless bringing major economic debacle across the global financial markets. Liberal economy with its basic market-oriented approach was hit hard by GFC. It also deepened the inequality between rich and poor. It exacerbated existing issues and discontent. The trust and public confidence on democratic institutions gradually eroded Thus, increasing the pace of authoritative leaders to take hold of states. Whereas financial crisis led by weak government response to crisis not only eroded the confidence of common people who championed the liberal values but also created space for populist movement in the west. Over the decade, populists across the globe are making headlines. What was once seen as the past is now back with much power and vengeance. The phenomenon as described by “People vs Elite” is a center of debate among the policymakers, pundits, and scholars. The election of Donald Trump in the United States is one of the biggest successes of populist sentiments among the public. The countries once championing the triumph of liberal values are now in grip of strong populist movements challenging the established elite. With president trump having days left in White House, populist leaders are still believed to be a strong factor in opposing the liberal leaders and their polices. Although, President elect Joe Biden is a strong institutionalist, but to some the dream of going back to pre-trump era is still a naïve idea. The harm done to global US leadership and its liberal values by President Trump cannot be reversed.
Covid-19 a last nail in coffin?
Covid-19 jeopardizes all dimensions of human activity. It has already been qualified as the worst global crisis of the postwar era. It not only harmed society in every fashion but also familiarized the world to its loopholes in the system. Human have reached at such height of advancement that many of us considered the fantasy of having solution to every major problem world can encounter. But here we are, trying to grip the reality of ongoing Pandemic. From so called first world to lesser third world, every country has come across the heavy tides of Covid-19. Although, there is difference which keeps lurking on the minds of many. Does this Covid-19 help weak and grappling countries of third world, or it managed to take back every developed nation back to their place? It is right that countries saw major rise in virus cases but the grim picture in United States is telling some different story. With cases on rise every day and health system under tremendous pressure to provide better care to its sick citizens, US is confronting another daunting task. The task to uphold its power status among the parity of nations. The hard-handed task to keep its already virus-stricken economy afloat. History has shown that whenever, there came a crisis of global nature, United States jumped in a savior of this world, but things have now changed for sometimes. Trump administration even did the opposite. Instead of jumping in a savior it not only backtracked even abandoned the ship tasked with dealing such public bad. WHO, while under pressure because of criticism leveled against it and some earlier negligence to assess the true nature of virus? The seat emptied by US has not only damaged its credibility but also had adverse impact on its responsibilities to deal Covid-19 effectively. The only area it helped the world was its dollar hegemony. All efforts were made by US not because of global good but as an effort to keep its hand on global currency rule. However, it remains evident that other places where US left during pandemic was filled by its emerging competitor, China. Such meek response by US administration at this junction of history will prove as a sheer mistake on the behalf of American administration. It had not only left space for other country to fill in but also taught right lesson to other nations that US is no more confident to lead. Once confidence belittles, many will prevail. The right time has come, and disparaging confidence US has set its journey down the line.
Author: Syed Ali Abbas
About Author: Syed Ali Abbas has graduated in International Relations from NUML, Islamabad, and studies Chinese Politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Previously, Syed worked with Global Village Space magazine and as research internee at Center for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Pakistan Strategic Forum.