The Decline of Western Influence — and Values

The rise of China. The power of Russia. The spread of ISIS. Are Western values (i.e. democracy, human rights, and popular sovereignty) losing their influence in the world?

The rise of China. The power of Russia. The spread of ISIS. Are Western values (i.e. democracy, human rights, and popular sovereignty) losing their influence in the world?


There is a cultural hubris, for sure, that Americans have long been known and resented for (even by European nations) but, with the Syrian refugee crisis now affecting countries from France to Romania, all Western countries are now having to face their ineffectiveness in addressing the problems in this region. If anything, Russia has been more successful in influencing Assad’s regime, and wealthy Gulf states’ “angel investors” have consistently supported ISIS in its rapid expansion throughout Iraq and Syria. The reality is that America started two wars--which also were supported by several powerful European nations--and the result has been a decline in Western influence around the world.

This moment is a crucial one for the United States, says Ian Bremmer.

This Syrian refugee crisis could proverbially be understood as our war hawks coming home to roost. And the West’s loss as to how to deal with the crisis begs the question--have we been in denial about our diminished power in the world this whole time? For one, Europeans have long avoided the topic of the global decline of their cultural and economic influence. Moreover, most Europeans believe that the even the EU doesn’t represent their own values. America fares even worse in public opinion: According to this map, most of the world has a pretty dismal opinion of the United States, and now even Americans have an historically low opinion of their country’s sway around the rest of the world.

This Syrian refugee crisis could proverbially be understood as our war hawks coming home to roost.

Should the West have anxieties about its diminished global economic and political roles? Yes and no. If America and Europe can think beyond some of their short-sighted policy decisions and think of themselves as global partners, then Western influence might shift but not necessarily decline. However, if Western nations keep pushing their self-interested political and economic agendas down the throats of developing countries, they might become less and less willing to value our opinions, which leaves the door open for both Russia and China to exact their influence without considering ours. 

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Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.

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