Global leader?

Wrong turns for U.S. on climate change and war

Jul 3, 2017 by

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Nations that flout international norms get a “rogue state” label. Now the United States is going rogue. By dropping out of the Paris climate-change accord, the U.S. joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to spurn a global pledge to reduce carbon emissions. (Nicaragua felt it didn’t go far enough.)

Beyond a retreat from environmental care, President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris agreement represents a failure to accept a vital responsibility of global citizenship. A nation that prides itself on its international leadership now becomes not even a participant, much less a standard-bearer, in a matter of central concern to humanity’s future.

What happens when a leader refuses to lead? Other nations might wonder why they should clean up their acts while the world’s second-largest carbon emitter keeps heating the global greenhouse. Or — can we hope? — opposition to the U.S. president’s action could galvanize a counter­move­ment. There were signs of this in the promises of U.S. governors, mayors and business leaders to continue to work toward meeting the climate accord’s targets. China, India and Brazil did the same.

For Christians who put kingdom-of-God citizenship before national loyalty, pulling out of the Paris agreement raises concerns about the U.S. role in the world. Trump’s idea of “America first” — implying that the U.S. should worry only about itself — is dangerous when it undermines efforts to protect the health of the planet. But it would have a positive side if it meant pulling back from military intervention around the world. Peace-minded Christians would welcome an American retreat from warmaking leadership.

Trump’s words have sent mixed signals, but his actions indicate an intent to continue America’s wars. As a private citizen, Trump opposed U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. “It is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he wrote in 2012. “It is not in our national interests.” But as a candidate and now as president, he has been virtually silent about the 16-year war. In mid-June the Pentagon announced it would send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to Afghan­istan, in addition to the 9,000 already there. Trump himself said nothing about the expanding U.S. involvement. Nor did he try to explain how the U.S. could still hope to achieve success in Afghan­istan, after billions of dollars and thousands of lives have already been lost under previous administrations.

Even in cases where Trump leans toward isolationism, he does not lean toward peace. On his recent European trip, much was made of his “failure” to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to defend fellow NATO members if attacked. But far from asking NATO to stand down, the president urged the other nations to spend more on their militaries. He is seeking the same at home, proposing a U.S. military budget increase of $54 billion. He also has stepped up the pace of air­strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, with a corresponding increase in the civilian death toll.

Despite the talk of Trump radically changing U.S. foreign policy by putting “America first,” militarily he is no isolationist. At the same time, by walking away from the international community on climate change, his isolation is all too real, diminishing American leadership where the world actually needs it. Trump’s America leads where it shouldn’t and fails to lead where it should.

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