US reputation as a world leader is fading, according to former US Secretary of Defense

WASHINGTON – The modern American political system – full of constant campaigning and political gridlock – is eroding the United States’ global reputation, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen said during a recent discussion on the future of U.S. defense.

He noted that it’s becoming more difficult to urge other countries to mobilize behind the United States because other powers no longer want to emulate it.

“They say, “Really? You can’t make a decision,’” Cohen said Wednesday morning. “’You want us to be like you? You can’t make a decision. You’re engaged in a dysfunctional system that’s filled with sclerotic Engelisms. What is going on with the United States where your Congress can’t even arrive at a budget?’”

The government’s inability to make decisions both domestically and internationally has created an aura of doubt in the minds of other countries – not just in the United States, but in democracy in general, according to Cohen.

“There’s a real issue whether democracies can govern today,” he said. “Given the role of social media, given the role of fracturing interest groups into multiple pieces, can any country in a democracy make decisions for the good of the whole?”

Cohen touched on a range of issues, focusing on the future of defense, during his discussion presented by the Center for American Progress.

On the Middle East and ISIS

Just two days after ISIS released another propaganda video, Cohen said the United States is in the midst of an information war with the militant Islamic organization.

“We’ve got to really up our game in terms of putting out information and contesting that, as well as trying to contain the spread of the violence,” he said. “But, it’s going to be an information war and a propaganda war, and we’re losing in that regard.”

The United States has chosen some of its Middle East battles poorly, according to Katherine Blakeley defense policy analyst for the Center for American Progress.

“We have a failed state in Libya following international action, we have a failed state in Syria following international inaction,” Blakeley said. “We have an air campaign that’s still ongoing in both Iraq and Syria related to ISIS, as well as real déjà vu efforts to strengthen the Iraqi government.”

On Russia

Focusing on Russia’s continued violence in Ukraine, Cohen emphasized the need to arm Ukrainians, despite acknowledging that doing so would not be able to stop the Russian attack.

“I would [arm Ukraine],” he said. “They’re fighting tanks with rifles. That’s not necessarily a fair fight.”

He stated that the continued Russian disregard for guidelines set out by the rest of Europe calls for more and harsher sanctions.

“There is an inadequate level of participation by our European friends,” Cohen said. “That has been most evident during the Libyan mission.”

Despite all of the challenges abroad, the United States, first and foremost, must be able to make decisions at home.

“If we intend to remain a role model for the rest of the world, we need to get our own house in order,” Cohen said.

If the current political gridlock does not change, it will become increasingly difficult to take meaningful steps forward both with domestic and foreign policy.

“We have to have a global vision,” Cohen said. “That doesn’t me we have to be putting our military all over the world and that’s the only solution, it means we have to have active diplomacy, active economic investment and a very strong, capable military to back that up.”


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