Covid-19 and the geopolitics of American decline

Covid-19 and the geopolitics of American decline

The pandemic has accelerated global trends that will shape the world in decades to come.

By late July, most rich countries had brought their covid-19 infection rates down far below their initial peaks. In the US, however, the number of daily new cases was at record highs and still climbing. 

The crisis has badly damaged global opinion about American competence. A report in June from survey company Dalia Research revealed a broad consensus that China has handled covid-19 far better than the US. Of the 53 countries surveyed, ranging from Denmark to Iran, only two thought the US had responded better than China: Japan and the US itself. The Dalia survey also found that across the board, public perceptions of US global influence have markedly deteriorated. Nearly as many people believe that America’s impact on democracy has been negative as positive. People in stalwart democracies such as Canada, Germany, and the UK are particularly critical.

America’s abject failure to deal adequately with the biggest global health emergency in a century has prompted some experts to argue that the pandemic may serve as a geopolitical inflection point. Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi wrote in March in Foreign Affairs that just as a bungled intervention in the Suez crisis precipitated the end of the British empire, “the coronavirus pandemic could mark a ‘Suez moment’” for the US, as China “position[s] itself as the global leader in pandemic response.”

But even if the effects are not quite that drastic, they will be profound. The US’s declining stature in the wake of the pandemic is accelerating two global political trends that have emerged in the last five years.