Skip to main content

World worries: Can it count on U.S.?

By Xenia Dormandy, Special to CNN
October 9, 2013 -- Updated 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Xenia Dormandy: Shutdown, default threat have global implications and world is worried
  • She says perception that America is broken makes allies doubt support, hurts deterrence
  • She says world may disagree with U.S. on some issues but wants it to remain strong
  • Dormandy: U.S. capabilities far superior to most other nations -- only question is America's will

Editor's note: Xenia Dormandy is acting dean of the Academy at Chatham House, where she is project director of the U.S. Programme, which explores and analyzes America's changing role in the world. She formerly worked in the U.S. State Department, on the National Security Council and in the office of the vice president.

(CNN) -- The government shutdown is in its second week, and the public debate in the United States is centered around how the crisis will be resolved and who is to blame. What do the polls say? What are the implications for the Republican Party, for House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama?

Not many are talking about the international implications. But they could be significant.

Xenia Dormandy
Xenia Dormandy

Many in the international community have argued the U.S. government is dysfunctional or even broken. Friends are questioning whether America can be relied on or whether partisan politics will prevent it from acting when called upon. And with this comes some fear. America's adversaries may come to believe that they can act without consequence -- that America will, in the end, trip over itself.

These perceptions are extremely dangerous, both for the United States and the rest of the world. They will limit American deterrence and weaken America's partnerships as friends and allies start to wonder whether the United States has their back.

America has long been critiqued internationally both for doing too much and too little. In a study Chatham House is conducting on elite perceptions of the United States, many in Europe cast aspersions on the United States for its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan (wars into which the U.S. pulled others) or its use of drones. They also condemn America's perceived lack of leadership in Syria. They want Washington to act but cannot agree how. It is a no-win situation for America.

One thing they are clear on: Europeans (and others, particularly in Asia) want a strong United States. One that provides moral leadership and enforces global norms. One that can be called upon to act, particularly in tough situations. Instead, events in recent weeks have only reinforced the international perception that America is in decline.

No funds for families of fallen soldiers
Lawmakers play politics, country suffers
Any common ground on the shutdown?

The "declinist" debate has been raging for years, driven in large part by America's diminishing percentage of global gross domestic product (as against China's rise in particular). However, with the recent economic recovery, such views were wavering, and the strength of U.S. innovation, entrepreneurship and technology, coming on top of the energy revolution, were persuading some that the United States was once again on the rise.

In recent weeks however, these arguments have been overcome by the pictures of gridlock and weakness in Washington. First it was the story that Obama was "saved" by Russian President Vladimir Putin from an embarrassing loss in a congressional vote to attack Syria over its suspected use of chemical weapons. Then came the shutdown. And, for those in the private sector in particular, a developing fear that, come October 17, when the United States needs to raise its debt ceiling, it will instead drive itself and the world's economy off a cliff.

The idea of America as a secure, stable, predictable state, where investment cannot fail to be reimbursed, would suffer a significant blow. Holders of Treasury bonds would no longer be assured of their returns. Chinese efforts to weaken the position of the dollar as the only reserve currency would get a boost. Investors would no longer have the gold-standard U.S. guarantee.

But while perceptions are extremely important, they are not reality. As Sunday's anti-terrorist operations in Somalia and Libya show, America will act when it wants to. While the U.S. Treasury bond may seem less secure, it is still far stronger and better guaranteed than that of any other large economy.

A nation moves when its interests, capabilities and will are engaged. America's interests have not changed. Its capabilities are still vastly superior to those of most other nations. The only question is America's will.

Many internationally will continue to question U.S. power and influence. Its adversaries will surely continue to test these. America's allies and friends will be made nervous over its perceived decline. But while the Washington gridlock and partisan politics make action tougher and more costly -- make it harder for America to rally friends and share burdens, and to deter and dissuade opponents -- it would nevertheless be dangerous to underestimate the United States.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Xenia Dormandy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT