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US is losing supporters in the world

As I was following Turkey’s recent general election, I was stunned to hear one of the country’s top officials, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, speaking to a crowd from a balcony. Jubilant, he promised that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would “wipe away whoever causes trouble” for Turkey “and that includes the American military.”

Earlier, Soylu declared that those who “pursue a pro-American approach will be considered traitors.” Keep in mind that Turkey has been a member of NATO (with U.S. bases in the country) for about 70 years.

Erdogan often uses stridently anti-Western rhetoric himself. About a week before the election’s first round, he tweeted that his opponent “won’t say what he promised to the baby-killing terrorists or to the Western countries.”

Erdogan might be one of the most extreme representatives of this attitude, but he is not alone. As many commentators have noted, most of the world’s population is not aligned with the West in its struggle against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And the war itself has only highlighted a broader phenomenon: Many of the largest and most powerful countries in the developing world are growing increasingly anti-Western and anti-American.

When Brazil elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency last October, many heaved a sigh of relief that the mercurial populist Jair Bolsonaro had been replaced by a traditional and familiar left-of-center figure. Yet in his few months in office, Lula has chosen to pointedly criticize the West, rage against the hegemony of the dollar, and claim that Russia and Ukraine are equally to blame for the war. This week, he hosted Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose brutal reign has led millions to flee his country. Lula lavished praise on the dictator and criticized Washington for denying Maduro’s legitimacy and imposing sanctions on his regime.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had a reputation as a practical, business-friendly moderate who had strong ties with the West. But South Africa under him has veered closer to the Russian and Chinese orbit. The country has refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has hosted the Russian and Chinese navies for joint exercises, and now stands accused by the United States of supplying arms to Russia, allegations that South Africa has denied.

And then there is India, which has made clear from the start of the Ukraine war that it had no intention of siding against Russia, which remains the chief supplier of advanced weaponry for the Indian military. India’s statements about its desire to maintain a balance in its relations between the West and Russia (and even China) have been so numerous that Ashley J. Tellis, one of the most respected scholars on U.S.-India relations, wrote an essay warning Washington not to assume that New Delhi would side with it in any future crisis with Beijing.

What is going on? Why is the United States having so much trouble with so many of the world’s largest developing nations? These attitudes are rooted in a phenomenon that I described in 2008 as the “rise of the rest.” Over the past two decades, a huge shift in the international system has taken place. Countries that were once populous but poor have moved from the margins to center stage. Once representing a negligible share of the global economy, the “emerging markets” now make up fully half of it. It would be fair to say they have emerged.

As these countries have become economically strong, politically stable and culturally proud, they have also become more nationalist, and their nationalism is often defined in opposition to the countries that dominate the international system — meaning the West. Many of these nations were once colonized by Western nations, and so they retain an instinctive aversion to Western efforts to corral them into an alliance or grouping.

Reflecting on this phenomenon in the context of the Ukraine war, Russia expert Fiona Hill notes that the other factor in this distrust is that these countries don’t believe the United States when they hear it speak in favor of a rules-based international order. They see Washington, says Hill, as full of “hubris and hypocrisy.” America applies rules to others but breaks them itself in its many military interventions and unilateral sanctions. It urges countries to open up to trade and commerce yet violates those principles when it chooses.

This is the new world. It is not characterized by the decline of America “but rather the rise of everyone else” (as I wrote in 2008). Vast parts of the globe that were once pawns on the chessboard are now players and intend to choose their own, often proudly self-interested, moves. They will not be easily cowed or cajoled. They have to be persuaded — with policies that are practiced at home and not just preached abroad. Navigating this international arena is the great challenge of U.S. diplomacy. Is Washington up to the task?

Fareed Zakaria