The concept of the “free world” was one created in the aftermath of WWII in the face of an ever-growing Soviet Union. There is no definition of the “free world,” but it has more often than not been used to identify members of the N.A.T.O. alliance as well as Australia and Japan.
As such, “leader of the free world” has colloquially been a landed title granted to the president of the United States, the strongest nation of the bundle.
If the reason the president of the U.S. is dubbed leader of the free world is because he is in charge of the most powerful nation, this article should end here because, even combined, the other countries would have no hope of overwhelming its sheer military power. However, I believe it is fair to say that the leader of the free world must embody and uphold the qualities the United States embodied when the concept of the free world was created, and the crown was placed on President Harry Truman’s head.
The years following World War II were a period of mass globalism and American leadership. Ideas of American isolationism and economic protectionism were cast aside in favor of massive amounts of foreign aid and military intervention. It was determined that to properly lead the free world one must be willing to do what was best for the free world regardless of economic, political, or military cost.
In 1948 Truman gave the entirety of Western Europe the equivalent of $120 billion to repair the continent after the war.
Meanwhile, the current administration sees the spending of $43.1 billion for the entire globe as an issue. The president is forcing Europe to build the economic walls that lead to conflict instead of the free trade that has been instrumental in keeping peace for the past half century. Does it seem like President Donald Trump has the commitment to economically defend the free world?
Every U.S. president since Truman has recognized the specter of a Russian threat up until President Barack Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy and the current administration’s policy of appeasement.
Truman started his post-war world by crafting a North Atlantic Alliance with the political intention of curbing Russia. This alliance was called upon only once in its history, to defend the United States. Trump is currently threatening the existence of this alliance and fleecing its leaders for money.
He is threatening the alliances of the free world and pandering to the nation our free world was created to oppose. Do these seem like actions characteristic of the leader of the free world?
The political leader of the free world must also be its moral leader. In the years following World War II, the president was the unquestionable moral authority.
The United States was seen as the nation where the victims of war, communism and political oppression could expect unhesitating acceptance. We were the nation who sacrificed, who strived to do what was right for the world no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice.
After several millennia of global superpowers plundering and looting, with the emergence of the United States, the world finally received a leader who would sacrifice for the good of all.
Does anyone envision the current administration doing this? It can barely muster the moral strength to honor decade-old alliances at face value.
So, if Trump cannot hold the title of “leader of the free world,” who can?
Enter Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel is the current chancellor of Germany, arguably the most powerful ‘free world’ nation outside of the U.S. She was born in East Germany and spent most of her life under the yoke of the Soviet Union. As such she is renowned for her modest and competent manner and, of all the world leaders, has the most experience in dealing with Vladimir Putin.
Merkel is a champion of economic unity, free trade and interventionism. She believes that America has had the proper policies these past few decades for keeping peace and, as such, supports the economic, political and military union that has kept Europe peaceful and the world at ease. She does not support the economic and political isolationism that has seen Europe destroyed time after time, and she believes that action should be taken to avoid such dangers domestically and abroad.
The chancellor considers Putin both dangerous and intelligent, more so than her fellow leaders in Britain, France and the U.S. She understands, perhaps better than anyone, what life is like under Russian control and she has been willing to expend Germany’s resources to fight that.
Merkel has embarrassed the United States in her outstanding moral leadership. In the face of a free world that had been swept up in xenophobic nationalism, Merkel refused to repeat the mistake of Germany’s past and committed her nation to easing the refugee crisis instead of exasperating it.
History is an ironic tutor. 78 years ago America, Britain and France stood as a bulwark against nationalistic populism in the face of Germany. This earned the leader of the United States the title “leader of the free world.”
Now, less than a century later, it is Germany that is taking a stand against the rise of nationalistic populism and, as an American, I am ashamed our leadership has not risen to the challenge.