An irritating drama is currently being played out in front of the eyes of the world: the less the world listens to Washington, the louder new leadership claims in the US election race become. There are still ten months to go before America decides on Barack Obama's successor and they could very well be ten months packed full of cognitive dissonance: while America's influence on world politics continues to dwindle, promises to "make America great again" are becoming even louder. First of all, it is much more important in this situation to acknowledge, without schadenfreude or panic, that we're witnessing America's loss of power and equally the emergence of a "multi-polar" world which is in fact far different to that which America's critics had always hoped for.
This is one way of reading what's happening between Saudi Arabia and Iran for example. America's "strategic partner" in Riyadh is currently enraging its rivals in Tehran in order to torpedo the recent conciliation with the West resulting from the nuclear deal – a deal which represents Obama's most important foreign policy success. But even he can only stand by and watch. Washington didn't utter a single word about the mass executions because America needs the Saudis for her anti-IS alliance in Syria.
Where America's power should be exerted (and where better not), how power and influence is built up at all in today's world (and corroded) and what leadership truly means are all questions to which we need to rethink our answers.
When examining exactly how fundamental this change has been, America needs to look no further than her most important partner in Europe – Germany. What is probably the most US-friendly German government for decades has more issues with the American administration than it can openly admit.
When faced with three existential crises in recent times Germany has, in each case, done the exact opposite of what experts in the US administration advised. And given Germany's de facto role as Europe's leading power, this has far-reaching consequences which go much further than previous transatlantic differences of opinion.
During the Euro crisis the same few pieces of advice could constantly be heard coming out of Washington ("form a United States of Europe!", "Forget the debt!" and "print money!"). The supposed German "austerity policy" was considered the source of all evil. And because the calls to print money, astonishingly, came from those who had actually caused the crisis - which had in fact started as a loan and debt disaster in the US - the Finance Ministry and Chancellery decided at some point to stop listening. Berlin, annoyed by the arrogant conduct of US emissaries, stuck to its guns and continued to offer aid packages in exchange for reforms.
The second German-American discord emerged during the argument between the EU and Russia over the Ukraine. American foreign policymakers pushed for lethal arms to be delivered to Kiev or at the very least threatened to be delivered. The danger of starting a proxy war with Russia was clearly seen by many of the top foreign policymakers in Washington as an acceptable risk. Obama took a back seat, instead leaving his Vice-President Biden to gain support for their plan. Angela Merkel, who took the lead in negotiations with Moscow, had to stand her ground in the face of calls for escalation from Washington. Delivering arms would have, as Merkel saw it, made the Second Minsk Agreement impossible and ruined the united front presented by Europe in the form of economic sanctions imposed on Russia.