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Young Politics May 2015

Putin is #1 and Obama is #3 on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful People 2015 list. Is the U.S. losing ground on influence in the world, and if so, what are the implications for the America people and economy?


WVM Photo Columnist Josh Lim Young Poltiics 1x1 headshotJosh Lim – PA, University of Warsaw 2012 Graduate, Ateneo de Manila University 2014 Graduate, Bio Forbes recently released its World’s Most Powerful People list for this year, and it’s not a surprise really that Vladimir Putin would rank first on this list, as compared to Barack Obama, who is ranked third. While it is true the two leaders are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, it begs the question, “Is our influence waning?”

We should be careful not to read too much into rankings of people though. While it is true Vladimir Putin is ranked number one in an objective list compiled by Forbes, we should understand it from the specific context in which it is derived. Remember, Putin commands almost unlimited political power, and he has been able to project that into activities like the annexation of Crimea and the civil war in Ukraine.

On the other hand, Barack Obama can’t possibly command that amount of political influence, and the American political system is designed in such a way that power can’t possibly be concentrated in a single person. Facing those limitations, the President’s power will naturally pale in comparison to that of his Russian counterpart.

That said, I’d like to explore the idea of ‘influence’ from another angle. The Forbes ranking is often a result of states manifesting their hard power – how much they’re able to physically change the reality on the ground as a result of their influence. Russia taking the lead on ISIS in Syria, for example, could justify why Putin deserved such a high ranking.

But one field where Russia couldn’t possibly beat the United States, even if they wanted to, is in the realm of soft power. The United States retains an extraordinary amount of socio-cultural capital, more than any other country in the world, and it commands influence in fields where we normally don’t expect it to be influential.

For example, everyone speaking or learning English, especially in countries not colonized by the United States or the United Kingdom. That’s American soft power.

The preeminence of American brands in the world is another of our soft power.

And, believe it or not, another example of American soft power is the popularity of Hollywood.

Unlike the United States, Russia has significantly less soft capital at its disposal except in areas close to it such as parts of the world that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, where Russia was the dominant state and where it was able to exercise that kind of power. Russian as a language is not as widespread as English.

Russian brands barely make a dent in world markets. Russian cinema, while great (films like the Night Watch trilogy and Leviathan come to mind), is nowhere near as popular as a Hollywood blockbuster.

These trends are not necessarily picked up by the Forbes ranking. While it is true the United States has expended a lot of political capital on adventures like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it still commands respect and influence in most circles.

Despite our own economic woes, our economy is still doing well, and we continue to keep the current economic order afloat. In comparison, Russia’s economy is sinking due to overdependence on oil and the economic instability caused by the imposition of sanctions.

When looking holistically at influence, Russia can’t possibly compete with the United States. But, we must always be vigilant, and we should continue investing in ourselves in order to maintain our competitive edge. Otherwise, we might well be blindsided by Russia or China, or some other country entirely.

The United States remains influential, but if we don’t invest in maintaining our influence, we’ll definitely stand to lose a lot. We shouldn’t let that happen.

Arianna Mendez Profile Phot cropo

Arianna Mendez – FL, Florida International University 2014 Masters Degree, Bio –  In October 2015, Foreign Policy magazine asked its readers “Who Is a Better Strategist: Obama or Putin?” And, in Forbes World’s Most Power People 2015 listed Putin as #1 and Obama as #3. Obama, the leader of the free world, is ranked below Putin, the supposedly ‘disgraced’ Russian criticized for his anti-democratic policies and strong arm politics on the international stage.

Has the United States lost influence in the world under Obama? Is Putin a better strategist than Obama? The comparisons are being made on a world stage, and Obama’s failure of ‘leading from behind’ leadership has been noticed. Back in September 2015, both men addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and a comparison between the two statesmen was immediate.

On the surface, it almost seems foolish to compare the ‘mighty and powerful’ United States to Russia, but we do. To put the superiority of the United States over Russia in economic terms, the United States has nine times the GNP of Russia.

Putin’s speech to the UN General Assembly was at best cliché, but it was seen and critiqued by political observers around the world. During the time of the Bush administration, the United States was seen as an intrusive and imposing force. But, countries wanted American aid, weapons, and good graces.

Today, Russia is flexing its muscle in the Middle East, Syria, and Crimea. Although criticized for their annexation of Crimea, Russia is enjoying support and good will from the international community for its actions in Syria and the Middle East.

Following the Paris terrorist attacks, France is seeking Russian help to fight ISIS. The United States, tone deaf to the security crisis in Europe, has publicly discouraged decisive military action against ISIS. France won’t be relying on the United States for support in their war against ISIS.

Russia is now the influencer. The Russia parliament has unanimously approved Putin’s use of military activity in Syria. Russia has not only invested billions in a seaport in Tarisis, Syria, they have also rebuilt many of Syria’s military airports.

Not only has Russia put troops on the ground, in the air, and on the water, Russia has formed an A-Team of commandos in Iran and Syria to slay ISIS. If you were French President Hollande would you go to the United States or Russia for help? Easy answer: Russia.

The United States is plagued by the virtue of its inaction. Obama’s lack of strong leadership is creating a power vacuum internationally Russia is all too willing to fill. The former KGB agent has the aptitude to continue to outsmart and outmaneuver the Harvard educated community organizer.

The real loser is the American people and the international community, because Russia’s interests are not in-line with the principles and goals of the western world. Let’s hope the next United States president can undo this before it is too late for American interests. American hegemony is in jeopardy.

 

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