America Alone

You may have noticed that the nations of the world are segregated in a pair of distinct groups. One is committed to fighting climate change, and the other is not.

How many nations are in each bloc? Until last week, 196 countries had signed onto the Paris Accord. And two, the United States and Syria, had not done so.

But last week, Syria announced that it is joining the Accord. The count then shifted to 197-to-1.

So what does this mean to the United States? How worrisome is its isolation from the other nations on earth?

It may be comforting to recall that America has taken lonely diplomatic stands in the past. After the First World War, for instance, it declined to join the League of Nations even though President Woodrow Wilson won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create it. The League mediated several territorial disputes before shutting down and transferring its assets to the United Nations after the Second World War.

But is this example truly relevant to our present day circumstances? At the conclusion of the First World War, none of the European (or Asian) nations was in any position to challenge the United States. Britain, France, and the other Allies were focused on rebuilding their decimated economies. Indeed, there was no global competitor with the relative strength of modern China to challenge the American nation.

And it is perhaps more worrisome that the League did not fulfill its mission to keep the world at peace. Without the United States, it was powerless to stop the rise of fascism and the onset of the Second World War.

So as America bids farewell to Syria and assumes its lonely stance, it may be reasonable to feel a bit worried about the future. After all, even without a global rival like China, the self-imposed isolation of the United States from the global diplomatic community a century ago preceded the rise of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Emperor Hirohito, and Benito Mussolini.