A Success Lost in the Chaos: The World Reacts

I recently wrote about volunteering on Democrat phone banks calling Spanish-speaking voters, first in advance of the presidential election and, then, in advance of the runoff election of two US Senate seats in Georgia. It was energizing to connect with enthusiastic volunteers and decent Americans committed to our country’s betterment. It gave me faith that, despite the dismal rhetoric being spouted by the Republicans and their candidate, America remained the country my parents represented abroad.

Well, there is power in people. Through #llamandocontigo, an effort of 2020 Victory, I helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, a result whose affirmation by the Congress finally came yesterday amid the tear gas fumes left behind by Trump’s seditious followers.

AP Photo, Julio Cortez

UDH Pasadena, Mijente, and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight And, on January 5, we helped elect the Reverend Raphael Warnock — the first Black elected senator from Georgia — and Jon Ossoff — the state’s first Jewish senator and, at 33, the youngest member of the Senate. These two wins return the Senate to the Democrats, thus giving Biden congressional support in the challenging four years that begin January 20.

President Biden now has the political support to help him address a killer virus running rampant and an economy torn asunder by the pandemic, but America remains a dangerously polarized country. Laid low by the past four years’ “America first” actions, our image abroad is no longer that of the world’s leading democracy. World leaders’ reactions to the storming of the US Capitol yesterday reveal the shock of our allies …

Insurgent words turn into violent acts – on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol . The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas 

Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

… and the smugness of our enemies. The Chinese government points at the five deaths in yesterday’s violence and none in last year’s Hong Kong violence. The words in the reaction of Venezuela — where my family began its Foreign Service journey amidst a revolution — could have been cut and pasted from a US Embassy missive to repressive governments:

Venezuela expresses its concern over the acts of violence that are taking place in the city of Washington, USA; condemns political polarization and aspires that the American people can blaze a new path toward stability and social justice.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza

My heart and faith are echoed in the words of the government of Spain, where I spent my final years as an Embassy kid.

I have trust in the strength of US democracy. The new presidency of Joe Biden will overcome this tense stage, uniting the American people.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

America Pitied By Allies, Trump Embraced By Far-Right

The world has loved, hated, and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it.

Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times

The United States’ response to the Coronavirus has been marked by leadership failure, science denial, and political manipulation, such that, seven months into the pandemic, our country has had 6.5 million cases of the virus, and we are closing on 200,000 American deaths. According to the Republican National Convention, all of this is in the rear view mirror. According to reality, the virus continues to spread. As students go back to school this month — with the courts reviewing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order to open brick-and-mortar schools — health directors and epidemiologists forecast renewed ignition.

The journal Foreign Policy released a report gauging the performance of 36 nations in responding to COVID-19. The United States ranked 31st, ahead only of Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Iran, and China.

Senegal, a country of 60 million people ranking near the top of Foreign Policy’s list, has had only 14,000 cases and 284 deaths to date in this pandemic. The state of Florida, with about twice as many people, has nearly 50 times the number of cases. An American living in Senegal says that her Senegalese friends are flabbergasted that Americans are arguing over whether to wear masks and questioning the severity of the virus.

There hasn’t been a moment where my family was thinking that we should have evacuated. We always felt being here was the better choice.

Shannon Underwood, American living in Senegal, quoted by Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today

America, for the first time in its history, is pitied and viewed with disdainful condescension. And the person at the helm — who the conservative commentator George Will calls “the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office” — has his hands off the wheel while our nation is on a downward spiral.

No, that’s putting it too passively. The nation’s floundering government is now administered by a gangster regime, and that’s not just America’s problem. Trump is emerging as a far-right cult figure in other countries, writes Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times’ Germany correspondent.

His message of disruption — his unvarnished nationalism and tolerance of white supremacists coupled with his skepticism of the pandemic dangers — is spilling well beyond American shores.

Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times

This really sticks in my craw. An “America first” tin-pot dictator modeling fascist behavior for a far-right German audience is the antithesis of the role of American president. It begs the contrast with another American president who spoke to a German audience. In his 1963 rock-star tour of Europe, President John F. Kennedy affirmed America’s solidarity with West Germany in resisting the Russians. “I am a Berliner.” Pro-democracy. Pro-NATO. Pro-allies.

My father represented our country in the US Foreign Service. In 1963, he was posted at the American Embassy in Rome, Italy, where he handled the press when President Kennedy visited a few weeks after being in Germany.

The plans went off without a hitch. Kennedy emerged alone from Air Force One, glamorous and handsome, waving to the small knot of observers. His open-air limousine was escorted by the handsome Carabinieri on horseback. He made his protocol visit to the Quirinale Palace, the seat of the national government. Kennedy’s call on Pope Paul VI came just days after his installation upon the death of John XXIII. The media noted this historic meeting between the first Catholic American president and the head of the Catholic Church.

From When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, not yet published, Jane Kelly Amerson López

Like diplomats before and after him, my father’s loyalty was to the United States and its elected leader, regardless of policies or political party. It was not always easy — Dad came to disagree with the Vietnam War, which very much colored America’s overseas relationships — but being a diplomat today comes with unprecedented challenges. A July Democratic staff report to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations — Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the Department of State — concluded:

The President has undermined the United States’ role as a global leader, withdrawing from international organizations, agreements, and commitments, seeking to walk back our responsibilities to allies and partners, and retreating from leading the response to global crises.

Democratic Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate.\

The facts speak for themselves. Or, to quote Trump, “It is what it is.” We will vote in November.

Has America lost the trust of its allies?

In the view of European officials, the United States has gone from being an indispensable ally to an undependable one. All in less than four years under the Trump administration.

The case in point is Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw troops from Germany as a result of Angela Merkel’s not agreeing to attend a Group of 7 meeting Trump wants to host in July.

Merkel represents everything Trump loathes: globalism, multilateralism, international law.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the German Marshall Fund

She is also a powerful woman and a quantum physicist —a female powerhouse who won’t quietly take his bad behavior, and, worse yet, a scientist. In fact, she may actually be a stable genius.

Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw troops plays right into Russia’s goal of destabilizing the West. With Britain’s exit from the European Union, a less robust military presence in the EU’s most influential country represents a critical injury to the trans-Atlantic alliance that has defined the post-WWII era.

Furthermore, the presence of American troops in Germany is not to defend that country, but part of an overall collective stability and security for Europe as a whole and a critical part of America’s global military footprint.

The threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened US commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.

Congressman Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee, R-Texas

Indeed, the revelation this week that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban for attacking American troops in Afghanistan is but the latest evidence that Russia continues to be our enemy.

During his Foreign Service career during the Cold War, my father, Robert C. Amerson, studied NATO. It was part of his 1960-61 year at the Bologna Center, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His class cohort included both American graduate students and career government professionals. A handful were American foreign service officers; the rest were an international mix. Crucial information and relationships were cemented during the year.

My parents, my sister and I in Bologna, 1960

My father’s year at the Bologna Center expanded across Europe that spring when the class traveled to Paris to visit the recently re-located headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. 

Barely a dozen years old, NATO had grown out of post-war economic and security needs among the nations of Western Europe. Washington viewed an economically strong and rearmed Europe as a key Cold War bulwark against communist expansion. The Soviet control of East Germany and the Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia gave rise to real concerns that Western Europe would be similarly co-opted. 

The Marshall Plan addressed economic development with a massive influx of aid and the NATO agreement addressed the region’s collective security —  members were sworn to consider an attack upon one as an attack upon all. NATO put the United States on the side of Western Europe, while the Soviets held the East under the Warsaw Treaty. 

Italy’s significant communist party gave its membership in NATO strategic importance. The United States became concerned that a winning leftist coalition would pull Italy into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. It was rumored that the new Central Intelligence Agency had intervened to support the pro-American Christian Democrats against the pro-Moscow Socialist Democrats. A monumental anti-Communist letter-writing campaign promoted from the pulpit of Italian-American Catholic Churches and the American-backed coalition took the election. 

Imagine the conversations in Dad’s course on Soviet History as the Bolognese professor laid out these issues. How freeing it was for him to be a student and not a spokesperson for a year.

WHEN THE DICTATOR FLEW OVER OUR HOUSE & OTHER TRUE STORIES, Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez (work in progress)

Ah, well, back to the present.

Last week, President Trump reiterated that he is moving troops out of Germany and into Poland. In terms that he himself has stated, maybe the Poles love him more.

The Poles have even offered to name the facility Fort Trump.

Marc Thiessen, The Washington Post

Meanwhile, the European Union is keeping its doors closed to Americans. It’s less about troops and more about the raging coronavirus pandemic in the United State, but, either way, this is all about Trump’s lack of leadership.