From Sir Winston Churchill comes the proposition that one can rely on Americans to find the best solution, “after they've tried everything else.” After the poker game in Congress, I am no longer so sure — and the ratings agencies express doubt as well.
The president, when leadership was already lacking, complained about the situation. The American people, he said on TV, “may cast their votes for divided government but not a dysfunctional government.”
During the Cold War [the U.S. identified] an irreconcilable enemy. The benefit of that was that, in questions of national existence, politicians on both sides of the aisle stood under pressure to agree.
It may sound as if it was in another world that the United States, looking ahead, developed the post-war global financial system at Bretton Woods in the Fall of 1944. Those institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, still remain in substance today and wield beneficial effects.
It is almost a long time ago that America, though deeply in a postwar depression, delivered the Marshall Plan, the blueprint for a world of free trade and global solidarity. Unlike after World War I, the new world called the old world back among the living.
That was the idea of the Pax Americana. Today America suffers, self-inflicted, from the double deficit of the budget and the balance of payments and trade, in addition to the decline of the dollar, which, compared to the sliding euro looks relatively moderate; compared to gold or Swiss francs, however, it appears extreme.
America’s weakness, though, gives the global political turbulences their chance. The peacekeeping power of the only superpower has been squandered in two unwinnable wars. On the right, the tea party movement, anti-Washington, anti-big government and anti-save-the-world, unnerve the Republicans.
The president, weak in leadership, disappoints the Democrats. All that catches Europe and the Europeans off guard. A larger foreign affairs role is less likely than ever since the irresponsible Libya abstention of the Germans in the Security Council.
The government debt crisis reveals weaknesses in the euro system. The stock market crash will be stronger because of a lack of trust in the people in control. Time is out of joint. But the Europeans in crises must still learn that America can no longer rescue them from the consequences of their weakness.
The author is a historian and senior correspondent of the “Welt” group and writes in turns with Lord Weidenfeld.