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Political Crisis Could Hurt US Image Abroad


As the U.S. political crisis and government shutdown move into a second week, there is growing concern about how the stalemate could damage the U.S. image around the world.

House Speaker John Boehner declares, “it’s time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences,” while Obama replies, "we can't make extortion routine in our democracy." The bickering over the government shutdown shows no signs of letting up.

Now, another dangerous deadline looms: October 17th, when Congress must raise the U.S. borrowing limit or put the country on a path to financial default.

Concern about the global economic impact is spreading, including in London’s financial center.

“I think it’s a massive fear that we go into recession again, especially since we are starting to recover from the previous one,” said Oliver Elliot, a student, sounding a common sentiment.

Other observers, such as Beverly Thomas, a financial analyst, feel the entire episode is little more than partisanship gone amok. “I think it is really about two-party politics and they are not thinking about the wider implications.”

Although the city has always had a certain amount of disagreement, the level of dysfunction in Washington today is so bad it is undermining the U.S. abroad, claims James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I think it raises real questions in the mind of many foreign publics, many foreign leaders about whether the United States is a country that can be counted on,” said Lindsay.

President Barack Obama cancelled his trip to the Asia-Pacific summit in Indonesia because of the U.S. government shutdown, and sent Secretary of State John Kerry in his place.

“I want you all to know that in 2004, obviously, I worked very, very hard to replace a president. This is not what I had in mind,” joked Kerry during his remarks, referencing his failed bid for the White House against George W. Bush.

The president’s decision to stay at home disappointed Asian leaders, noted Lindsay.

“I think it sends troubling signals in the region because Asian leaders look up and wonder is the United States going to be a stalwart ally. Is it really going to be here in Asia for the long term or is America going to be too withdrawn, too insular, too focused on its own particular problems to really play a major role in the region?” wondered Lindsay.

John Fortier at the Bipartisan Policy Center says the dysfunction on display in Washington shows no signs of easing anytime soon.

“It’s now part of our polarized world to the extent that we have divided government and our parties differ a lot. Some of this is likely to be the new normal,” claimed Fortier.

If that’s true, the rest of the world will simply make adjustments, according to Lindsay.

“We really run the risk of lurching from one fiscal crisis to another fiscal crisis. That ends up producing a country that can’t invest in its future but it also produces a country that hardly serves as a model that will inspire others,” pointed out Lindsay, making clear the potential implication to American soft power.

The political fight may be taking place in Washington, but unless it’s resolved soon, the impact could be felt worldwide.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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