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In America we distrust: Foreign friends question U.S. reliability

By Harlan Ullman
People abroad are asking how the 2024 presidential election could be be a repeat of the 2020 matchup between Joe Biden, shown here campaigning on Monday, and Donald Trump. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI
1 of 2 | People abroad are asking how the 2024 presidential election could be be a repeat of the 2020 matchup between Joe Biden, shown here campaigning on Monday, and Donald Trump. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

GSTAAD, Switzerland, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- In this Swiss wintry wonderland, the first major snows are still expected. Not quite Davos in attracting the politically elite once a year for its renown World Economic Forum. Still, plenty of the rich, and not always famous, have residences or holiday in Gstaad.

Over dinners, lunches and extended conversations during the past week, with few Americans present, the portrait of America they painted was not a good one.

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Analysis by anecdote has its limitations. Yet the opinions and criticisms of the United States were remarkable in their similarity and tone of sadness and even despair, as if mourning for a deceased friend. The theme was how far America has descended from its once dominant position of global leader.

Of course, Europeans have always been accused by America of holding a double standard toward us, even though the United States has twice come to Europe's rescue in war, then to prevent Soviet encroachment.

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One leading European banker reminded me of the reaction of France's President Charles de Gaulle to proof of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba during those "Thirteen Days" of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. "Please tell the president, I do not need to see the intelligence. I take his word."

The banker then politely asked: "Why would anyone take the word of your president today, or trust the United States to honor its commitments if you were Ukraine or Israel and your Congress scurried off like scared mice for the holidays?"

Another student of history wistfully compared Abraham Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower with George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden to make his point about the state of American leadership. And then, unable to control himself, he launched a tirade against Trump, who is facing nearly 100 indictments and four major criminal trials.

Biden did not escape equally harsh evaluation, with one exception. Among this admittedly small group, all were incredulous as to how Trump was elected in the first place, let alone currently leading in the polls. None dissented that Trump should never be allowed to hold public office again.

A repeated and depressing question asked was how the U.S. presidential elections could likely be a rerun of 2020. Was it true, several inquired, that a majority of Americans did not support this choice? And were both political parties as broken as it appeared from afar?

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Although one or two were older than Biden, and seemed more youthful and physically fit than the president, in his case, this seemed disqualifying. One non-American lady who created an NGO 25 years ago to protect women's rights and prevent sexual abuse asked why the vice president was such a failure in completing any assignment. Perhaps, she speculated, Kamala Harris' inability to speak proper English was the cause of her problems. And, then, she deftly slipped her metaphorical stiletto into the conversation, observing, "But possibly Kamala was the best you had to offer."

Questions about Congress centered on why so many of its members' behavior could be so bizarre. Marjorie Taylor Green became the magnifying glass for examining Congress. And none could understand why it took so long to expel George Santos from the House after he lied about virtually all aspects of his life.

Foreign policy was problematic. That America could ignore or tolerate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's de facto policy of "ethnic cleansing" in Gaza seemed a violation of all of the basic rights and values the United States once advanced. How could the United States accept the killing of so many Palestinian non-combatants and the use of indiscriminate bombing that might constitute war crimes? Except for a few Muslim members of Congress, did anyone support the Palestinians on Capitol Hill? And for those pro-Palestinians, did any understand the differences between the role and power of Hamas and Gazans'?

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On this list of complaints and critiques was a broader concern bordering on genuine fear. With the wars in Ukraine and Gaza ongoing, the demonization of China and the growing animosity toward Iran, was possible escalation from a localized to global conflict now a major danger? After all, who in America was rational or capable enough to prevent such a catastrophe, or to stop all the domestic forces in America from acting rashly?

That is the detritus from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and from the vicissitudes a future Trump administration threatens. And THE recurring question posed by many of America's friends, and not only in Europe, is this: Is America anymore a trustworthy and reliable leader? And that should distress us greatly.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a 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.

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