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Gallup Podcast
Ian Bremmer: America Needs to Stand for Something More
Gallup Podcast

Ian Bremmer: America Needs to Stand for Something More

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, joins the podcast to unpack the findings of Gallup's latest Rating World Leaders report. What is to come for Germany's global leadership approval rating now that Angela Merkel is leaving office? And how important is it for the U.S. to be viewed positively by the world? Bremmer opines about the relationship between Beijing and Washington, Big Tech's role in the future global order and Russia's struggles with COVID-19.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Mohamed Younis 00:07

I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. This week, we look at global leadership approval in 2021 and try to make sense of it all with the one and only Ian Bremmer. Ian is president and founder of Eurasia Group. Ian, thanks for coming back on the show.

Ian Bremmer 00:21
Sure, happy to be with you, man.

Mohamed Younis 00:22
Every year, we ask the world to rate leaders of the world's top powers. This year, the big winner was really Germany. In fact, Germany recorded a higher leadership approval rating than any country we've ever measured in the past 15 years. The reason I wanted to bring this up with you, Ian, is it comes at an interesting time for Germany, where politically, internally, things are really changing. So my question is, How much of Germany's positive brand globally and its rise has been about Merkel, and how much of that do you sort of expect to continue into Germany's future here?

Ian Bremmer 00:53
Well, I'm not sure how much it's changing. I mean, Merkel's leaving, of course, after 16 years, and she's been an extraordinary force -- both inside Germany and across the European Union -- in favor of rule of law and a strong social contract and, you know, common values and standards, and a lot of things that in the United States, we've, we've frankly slipped on over, over recent times. But, but the, the election that we just had in Germany, first of all, had reduced support for the far right and the far left -- the Alternatives for Deutschland, the Euroskeptic party, really underperformed. It is going to be a new coalition. It's true that the Christian Democrats on the right, Angela Merkel's own party, did not perform as well. But the reason for that is because the candidate that really was closest to Merkel as an individual is Merkel's own former deputy and the former finance minister and former mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, who is going to be now the next chancellor.

Ian Bremmer 02:15
And I mean, yes, there will be changes, in the sense that there will be a slightly harder line from Germany on, on Russia and on China, and the Green Party is in the "traffic light" coalition. And as a consequence of that, there will also be even a farther push on sustainability and transition. But I think for those of us around the world looking at what kind of a government Germany is, what policies they support, what they reflect, there's actually a lot of consistency in Germany. And I'll make a broader point. The United States is unusual in advanced industrial democracies today for just how dysfunctional our election process has become. We just had elections in Japan. They were very stable and they returned a government that looks just like the old government. We just had elections in Canada a few weeks ago. They were very stable and they reflected a government that is exactly the same as the old government. And we just talked about Germany. The United States here is the big problem.

Mohamed Younis 03:17
It's such a good point because a few years ago, we were all lamenting the collapse of democracy and everyone is in crisis, and populism is taking over. The picture you paint now is a really different one. It's one where the rest of the world is kind of moving along, making improvements, and we're kind of still spinning in place. It's probably a good segue to my next question, which is perceptions of U.S. leadership. Obviously it's come a ways from the Trump days. But, you know, Ian you've been really bold and talking about how it was never really great to begin with at any of the high points. Is it important for the U.S. to be liked globally, in terms of at least U.S. interests? And should we be trying?

Ian Bremmer 03:56
You know, that's a really tough question to answer, because of course you want to say "Yes". But, you know, coming out of this pandemic, the United States -- for all of our problems -- is an obvious winner. Massive economic stimulus, and we're not done, that ensured that absolute poverty levels have gone down, that have kept our business community intact and that have kept our financial community intact. The tech companies are doing extraordinarily well, and of course we're getting back to normal at a time when a lot of the world doesn't even have vaccines still yet.

Ian Bremmer 04:36
And so if you ask, you know, Is the United States a place you want to bet on, a country you want to bet on? As an investor, the answer is, Absolutely, yes. In the last 10, 20 years, the Europeans have lost a lot of market share; the Americans have not. We've got cheap resources in this country -- food, energy; not true in most of the rest of the world. We've got these dominant tech companies; so do the Chinese, but the Chinese are a closed economy. No other open economies that have the kind of entrepreneurship and innovation that the United States does. So, I mean, if that's the case, why do we care if other countries like us? Because we're just gonna do what we wanna do anyway.

Ian Bremmer 05:16
And I, I mean, I don't, I don't reject that completely. I do think that a lot of American power today comes from this dominant military, economic, financial and technological position that we happen to be in. But I also think that the reason that we won the Cold War was in large part because those behind the Iron Curtain were inspired by our political example. And that is not true anymore. That has gone away, and we aren't a political system that other countries would want to emulate anymore. We just aren't. And I do think that even if other, we can convince other countries to do what we compel them to do, it's a much more efficient process -- and it's ultimately a much more successful process -- if you're trusted. And we're not trusted the way we used to be; we're not consistent the way we used to be.

Ian Bremmer 06:23
I'll give you a couple of other examples. The most important multilateral trade agreement in the world, the United States isn't in; the Chinese aren't in: the CPTPP -- the former Trans-Pacific Partnership, 40% of Global GDP if the U.S. had gotten in, and then we said, "Nah, we're not gonna do it." That's a problem for us. We would do better, even better, if we were in. More of our companies would have access, higher-standard, lower-tariff trade deal. That's, that's a no-brainer. Now, another example: We pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal, by ourselves. The Iranians were in compliance. Every other country disagreed with us. We now want to go back into the Iranian nuclear deal; it's probably not going to happen. And as a consequence, the likelihood of military engagement, probably by Israel, into Iran has gone up. And that's gonna lead energy prices to go up, which is gonna affect other countries more than us, but affects us. I mean, do you really want to pay more for energy in the United States? I mean, certainly not if you're poor.

Ian Bremmer 07:27
So I mean, these things, they're not existential crises for the Americans. I mean, Afghanistan and our failure there, the long-term implications of that will matter more for the countries that have to deal with the migrants and the drug export and the radical Islamic terror that will not mostly come across American shores. But ultimately, as the largest economy in the world, we do better when the world does better. And we, we are abdicating to a degree; we're leaving some vacuums out there that are ultimately going to bite folks in the ass.

Mohamed Younis 08:06
It's really remarkable to hear you say that, because one of the things we found when we actually polled the world -- especially kind of in the years after 9/11, when it was all about, "You're either with us or against us," and, you know, we were going to build a democracy in Iraq. When you actually asked people what they wanted to see America do -- and this is now, you know, the 40-some Muslim-majority countries, but it really was pretty consistent across the developing world -- it's really about jobs and economic energy. It's not about, you know, come here and build a democracy. And it's almost like that's exactly what you're saying. Like if people, it's kind of about why people like you, right? They can like you because you have a strong military -- not likely, unless you're on their side -- or they can like you because your presence brings economic opportunity to their part of the world. And is that, you know, a more important thing to focus on as we try to learn the lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq?

Ian Bremmer 09:00
I mean, it's, it's a more plausible thing to focus on, given the deep political divide and dysfunction in the United States today. But I do believe that as the world faces more division, more polarization, more inequality, both of, of reality and opportunity, that the fact that the United States does not offer a compelling ideology that people want to align with is a problem. I mean, the ideology that the Americans increasingly are exporting today is techno-utopianism. It's Marc Andreessen and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos -- and not Bill Gates, by the way -- who really think that the future will be solved by technology. And, first of all, that's a very ahistorical view. It does not comport with cultural reality or psychological reality of human beings and our condition today.

Ian Bremmer 10:08
It also tends not to care about a lot of people that are left behind or the damage that's done as we get from here to there. In that regard, it is not what we should be trying to promote to the rest of the world. And, you know, I worry that an ideology that's being promoted by a small group of extremely rich, mostly men, is not the foot forward we want to be promoting with 8 billion people on the planet who are mostly not in that condition and never will be.

Ian Bremmer 10:50
I think America needs to stand for something that is much more broad-based, endurable and sustainable than that. And I would like that to be aligned with our government. I would like our civic institutions to, to mean something to the rest of the world. But in order for it to do that, it has to mean something to the average Americans. And right now, that is not true. Right now, our elections are the disaster. Right now, we believe that we are the enemy. And, and that is, that is not a position that allows us to build a compelling alternate narrative for the world.

Mohamed Younis 11:31
One of the most referenced "most important problems" -- we ask Americans every month, "What's the most important problem in the country?" -- and poor leadership and government have made the top of the list more than any other time in history in the past several years. So your point is, it's so well-supported by so many data points. Of course, you know, another global force that's really has a huge impact and is often debated what kind of image they have and, you know, what kind of vision for the world they lead is China. During the Trump era, there was a lot of really heavy rhetoric, spicy rhetoric going back and forth. Things rhetorically have quieted down. But of course, the challenges remain -- probably even deepened. What kind of keeps you up at night, thinking about the U.S.-China relationship now in this kind of Biden era in the next few years? What are the markers you're looking for?

Ian Bremmer 12:21
I mean, the rhetoric of Cold War, which is not borne out in the reality of the interdependence of the relationship; the push towards a degree of decoupling, as well as some data points of actual decoupling. I mean just today, Fortnite decided that they were pulling out of China. Yahoo said they're pulling out of China. Most companies aren't pulling out of China. Most companies recognize China is going to be the largest economy in the world by the end of the decade. They've built up businesses there, they're making money there, and they want to continue. But globalization and the integration of the two economies is turning around to a degree.

Ian Bremmer 13:05
China is no longer the major destination for low-cost labor, for global production, because we don't -- because their labor is more expensive than it used to be, and we just don't need as much low-cost labor as we used to need. And on the, on the high-technology front, you've got a lot of dual-use concerns, you've got a lot of lack of access to the world's largest data market -- tit for tat from the Americans -- that is making it harder. So even though there is still this incredible integration, you are starting to see the interdependence of the two countries unravel. And the more that happens, then the greater the likelihood that Cold War or worse could occur.

Ian Bremmer 13:46
You're not going to get involved in a Cold War with yourself. And, you know, when the Chinese and the Americans are fundamentally part of the same economy, you know, hurting them is kind of like hitting yourself in the face. So, but, but what happens if that's not as true in 10 years' time? Right now, we are moving, we're both moving, in a direction where that is less true, and we're also moving in a direction where we're spending much more time focusing just on ourselves. And so we're not building the kind of collective leadership that we need to respond to the pandemic or that we need to respond to climate change. And of course, that means that those challenges become much worse.

Mohamed Younis 14:27
In my few moments left with you, Ian, I have to ask you about Russia. I love to always read your latest thinking on what's going on. Right now, they're obviously getting hit really hard with COVID. They're also facing a population that's particularly skeptical of vaccination in general. What's going on in Moscow these days? And what are they kind of seeing, as they look out to a Biden administration that's still struggling to pass the infrastructure bill, just had a horrible end to the Afghanistan War? What does the U.S.-Moscow relationship even look like right now?

Ian Bremmer 15:01
Well, the Russians are in their worst phase of the pandemic right now: highest number of deaths right now, in the middle of an 11-day lockdown that they've just announced. Putin has expressed frustration: We've got Sputnik V; why aren't people taking it? The fact is that the government is not believed, and it wasn't believed when it was the Soviet government. There, and there were good reasons not to believe it, because media is state media.

Ian Bremmer 15:30
And, you know, there's an old dictum in the Soviet Union: They, they pretend to pay us; we pretend to work. And it was this basic sense that the social contract with the government was founded on a lie. That you don't have, you don't trust the government, and they don't trust you, and appropriately so. Everyone kind of tries to screw each other. And if you read Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy or Pushkin or Lermontov, you kind of understand like where that stuff comes from. So I'm not surprised that Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that shares that cultural sensibility of "trust family and close friends, and nobody else; these institutions will screw you," that this is where the highest levels of anti-vax sentiment exist anywhere in the middle- to high-economy world.

Ian Bremmer 16:32
And what that means is that even though the vaccines exist to respond to COVID, they're never going to get past it. They're, they're not moving to endemic status; they're going to keep having pandemic. And that's a, that's a very serious problem for the Russian economy. Now, it's mitigated by the fact their population's not that big, and energy prices are higher, and commodity prices have seen some inflation. And that's basically what they do. They don't, they don't really make a lot; they've got no technological capabilities outside of the military-industrial complex, which they sell, but, but they've got a hell of a lot of oil and gas and precious metals, and they can sell them. And that's allowed them to have a relatively low deficit -- in fact, next year, their economy is probably in surplus -- and still manage to expand their reserve accounts.

Ian Bremmer 17:21
And so, I mean, Putin doesn't have a lot to worry about domestically, when you know that you can spend on your population and you have all the control and there's no opposition. But it's, it's a bad place for the country, and their relationship with the U.S. and Europe is profoundly broken. And they want us to fail. I mean, unlike China, where there's a lot of integration of the economies, in the case of Russia, there's not only no trust, but there's virtually no integration. And so they're much more willing to support a chaotic geopolitical environment where the Americans have more fires to put out, including fires internally. And that's why the disinformation in our elections and the Brexit referendum and the French elections, general elections, that's not coming from China; that's coming from Russia. And it is more aligned with their national and strategic interest.

Mohamed Younis 18:09
And it's, it's so ironically tragic that, that this information, at least when it comes to vaccines, is really coming home to hurt them these days. Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group, it's always a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for being with us.

Ian Bremmer 18:25
My pleasure.

Mohamed Younis 18:33
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for "The Gallup Podcast" wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to or follow us on Twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.

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