After the Middle East, we now look at our third indicator. Back in January, this blog forecast the re-emergence of the United States of America as a world leader, a shift in its Middle East policy and a turn towards Africa and Asia. Were we right or wrong about it?
Indicator C: US, Return of the Mack
In economic terms, 2015 was kind to the US: Americans are more confident; and because of low gas prices, both consumer spending and the sales of homes have gone up. Another positive note is the job creation that has been on the rise too. Nevertheless, business spending and investment haven't returned to the levels of pre-financial crisis (due to inactive export, cheap oil and lower profits).
The U.S. has generated 12.1 million new jobs in the past five years, pushing the unemployment rate down to an eight-year low of 5% and giving Americans more money to spend – Jefry Bartash
Despite the hopeful data, some remain sceptical because even though the unemployment rates remain at 5% they don't see an economic boom, and the GDP shrunk in the third quarter (to 2%). Notwithstanding, in general terms, people seem confident about the US economy as it remains being the biggest economy. So, like Jack Lew said the US is "ending the year well positioned".
It has been interesting to watch the US dealings in the Middle East: the eagerness to sign a “historic” nuclear pact with Iran (that not only angered both Arab and Jewish allies alike) caused America to turn a blind eye to Oman's human rights transgressions (i.e. forced labour and human trafficking) due to the Sultanate's assistance in completing the deal. Could this be a sign that America is finally realising that concepts such as democracy, freedom, human rights etc only work in the West; and if so, will it extend the same courtesy to African countries (and stop imposing the Gay Rights issue on them)?
Oman, a trusted U.S. ally in a strategic location at the toe of the Arabian Peninsula, prides itself as a stable presence and mediator in a region beset by conflict. The country of 4 million people has a “good neighbor” policy with Iran and close relations with the West.- Reuters
The United States of America is now energy independent (one of the fulfilled promises made by President Obama, in 2008); however, it has been forced to assure its oil producing allies that little had changed in their relations – but this is not entirely true, particularly when we look at Syria (where the US let Russia assume a more prominent role in the fight against ISIS) and at the Arab-Israel conflict (where President Obama finally succumbed to reality on the ground). But however you look at the situation, it's obvious that American policy is gradually shifting – hopefully, in a better direction.
The US has been pivoting to Africa for a couple of years, to counter China's growing influence in the continent. This pivot was patiently done, through AFRICOM, in order to gain the trust of Africans (whom, for a long time, held anti-West socialist views but now begin to open up more) by training soldiers, police officers, and by participating in hundreds of security operations to help stabilise the continent, and eventually increase investment in a continent that is projected to become one of the largest markets by 2050.
While China seems to be taking a step back from its investments in Africa, and elsewhere, due to its economic issues; the US took advantage and penetrated the continent to benefit from its wealth. The only downside of American participation in Africa is, once again, the imposition of Western paradigms in the local political system – a couple of examples of this is the Gay Rights Issue (that have exposed African gays to danger) and the efforts to depose certain African leaders (e.g. Paul Kagame [Rwanda] and Yoweri Museveni [Uganda]) because they don't fit the US democratic model (NB: the people of Rwanda and of the Republic of Congo voted, in a referendum, to keep their leaders in power – should America go against the will of the people?). Nevertheless, overall speaking, we see America's involvement in Africa with positive eyes.
America's involvement in Asia has been quite interesting too: it has supported Japan's alteration of article 9; it has stood up to China regarding the South China Sea (avoiding thus a major confrontation between its allies and the Red Dragon) and it has maintained the balance of power in the region, in quite an effective way (better than in the Middle East). It can be said that in Asia: it has behaved like a world power and leader.
We got it wrong when we assumed that the US would re-emerge as a leader, on a global level, when it didn't quite do so concerning the Middle East; it failed its mediation of the Arab-Israeli Conflict; and it diplomatically shot itself on the foot in Africa (risking thus making the same mistakes as in other regions).
But at the same time, we got it right when we predicted the continuation of a stable economy – perhaps a reason why the Obama Administration preferred to focus on domestic policies (as an antithesis to the Bush Administration that focused more on wars abroad, neglecting thus the economy at home)? - and we also got it right when we said America would begin to shift away from the ME and to turn to Africa and Asia.