U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in April in Belfast, Northern Ireland. File Photo by Simon Walker/No. 10 Downing Street | License Photo
LONDON, June 7 (UPI) -- Because of COVID-19, this was my first trip out of the United States since the pandemic ended. Seeing many old friends and colleagues, as well as associates, again, is an elixir for expanding one's horizons.
The good news follows.
The not-so-good news was the diminished and even sour views sadly held by many of these highly experienced and intelligent people here I have known, in some cases for many decades, about the state of America today. Beyond the obvious repeat of the 2020 presidential race next year and the legitimate fears about both candidates, the overall opinion was that America has not only lost its credibility and influence, it has lost its punch as the primus inter pares of the international constellation of powers.
More cheering news were three big ideas provoked by these discussions. If instituted -- and that is an "if" on super steroids -- these could reverse this pessimism.
The first concerns the United Kingdom. Aside from a few hard-liners, Brexit -- the decision to leave the common market made by Boris Johnson's administration -- has become a disaster.
GDP has shrunk. British standards of living have declined. What influence Britain once had on the continent and within NATO has been greatly degraded and even lost. One tiny piece of evidence will be NATO's selection of a new secretary-general. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made an impassioned plea to choose his Defense Minister Ben Wallace. In part because of Brexit, despite Britain's three prior secretaries-general, who were among the alliance's best, Wallace has little chance.
The first tectonic change will be for Britain to re-enter the common market/European Union, provided the EU agrees. However, with Russian aggression in Ukraine; the need for a strong, economically and more closely aligned Europe; and regaining economic prosperity, it is in the interest of all for Britain to rejoin.
Sunak and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer could make the same case. Sunak would argue that Brexit was tried and failed. One political reason forcing his case is that despite the blowback from the Johnson wing, Labor will use re-entering Brexit against the Conservatives. To win and retain power after the next general election, Sunak must pre-empt Labor and embrace this idea.
Next, U.S. President Joe Biden has declared the struggle of our time is "democracy versus autocracy." But despite being superficial and lacking substance, that assertion is readily believable. Compared with China, Russia and other autocracies (Saudi Arabia possibly) democracies look weak. Ergo, the conclusion is self-evident. Autocracy is on the move.
Nonsense. The issue has nothing to do with autocracies. Each has its own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Ignoring those is highly inadvisable.
The fundamental problem democracies face is governing and the question of whether they can. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and other democracies are struggling. None is providing the government that the public wants or needs.
In response, democracies must focus on the top priority of providing good governance. That, of course, is far from easy. Yet that is essential. And diluting focus on waging an entirely unnecessary ideological fight with autocracies is akin to demanding the tides stop or the Earth reverse its rotation.
The last dramatic change is for the United States to demilitarize its attitudes, policy and strategy toward China in what it says. Teddy Roosevelt was correct. Speak softly but carry a big stick. That the U.S. and Chinese defense secretaries could be on the same platform and still refuse to meet privately is the theater of the absurd. Shame on both countries.
From the U.S. side, Taiwan and the fear of a Chinese invasion is real and possible. I have challenged that proposition. And in any case, by adopting a porcupine defense, Taiwan would make an invasion too expensive to mount. China has other, less forceful means for assimilation.
In this regard, the United States declares it is providing a porcupine defense to Taiwan that will make any invasion suicidal. Then drop the subject. Whether Taiwan fully follows up or not, any objective analysis will show that for the foreseeable future, China will lack what is needed for an amphibious invasion to control and occupy Taiwan.
Further, if the United States believes it has the most powerful military in the world, the recent Chinese provocative actions against a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and Navy destroyer should be put in the context of incompetence similar to the dreadful performance of the Russian military in Ukraine. Demean. Do not protest
But will we consider these ideas? You know the answer.
Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.