OVER the years I’ve seen for myself how a lot of US foreign policy actions have brought harm and suffering to many countries and their citizens.

My first overseas assignment as a young correspondent was in Central America back in the 1980s. There in countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, whenever politicians or activists stepped forward on behalf of the dispossessed, there too was Uncle Sam, ready to intervene on the side of the powerful and wealthy to help crush any fight for justice.

If this meant Washington shaking hands with the devil in the shape of right-wing warlords and dictators or supporting psychopathic death squads, then so be it. All this was done, of course, under the banner of rolling back communism.

Fast-forward to the Middle East in the 1990s and noughties and US arguments for military intervention then were all about ridding the region of bogeymen like Saddam Hussein. The upshot there, of course, was that while getting rid of one devil already familiar to Washington, it only strengthened other demons the US was then largely unfamiliar with, namely – al Qaeda and subsequently the Islamic State (IS) group.

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To say that America still reels from the political blowback resulting from both those interventions goes without saying. Those forces that drive ordinary Salvadorans, Guatemalans and others from Central America to leave their homes and put their lives at risk crossing jungles and deserts with smugglers to get to the US border are partly to do with bygone history. But they are also deeply embedded in Central America’s more recent history of inequality and violence in which the US has long played a defining role.

Likewise while American troops may no longer be in Iraq in numbers, their presence there lingers in a country still terribly wracked by the divisions set in train back in 2003 at the time of the US -led invasion.

Given this sometimes toxic foreign policy track record, why then do I find myself hoping America will soon find its way back onto the world stage as real and positive player?

Some will argue that Washington has never given up such a role, but this fails to recognise the degree to which under the presidency of Donald Trump, America has increasingly been cast adrift from its global values and its commitment to multilateralism.

As I’ve already said, US foreign policy has had it dark moments, but it has also frequently displayed an instinctive moral leadership on the world stage. With just a few weeks to the US presidential election, should Trump win a second term then his continuing disdain for multilateral institutions and cosy affinity for demagogues, autocrats, and full-on dictators, would only seriously further erode those global values and moral leadership perhaps irreparably.

Trump only takes notice of foreign policy when he himself stands to gain. National security, American and international interests, all play second fiddle to him winning a second term. While in office he has alienated European allies, ridden roughshod over myriad treaties and the quest for peace in the Middle East, abandoned Afghanistan leaving a total mess behind, cut dodgy deals with dictators, failed to condemn Saudi Arabia’s execution of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi or to stand up for persecuted Uighurs in China.

It’s not like the world can do without the diplomatic clout America can positively bring when faced with an international crisis.

Just look at the hugely dangerous conflict currently unfolding between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. There a cold war has become a very hot one and there has been barely a peep out of Washington. According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and befitting the “America First” diplomacy that emanates from the Trump administration, Washington is “discouraging internationalisation” of the crisis and thinks “outsiders ought to stay out”.

THE problem with this kind of thinking is that this conflict has been internationalised since its start and America’s wishing it were otherwise only heightens the risk that the conflict will grow. Meanwhile as America looks the other way the real brokers of the new world order these days, namely Russia and Turkey, are now fully embroiled in what’s happening in the Southern Caucasus. And it’s not just there they are doing so.

More than ever Moscow and Ankara, both anti-US autocrats, are seeking to expand their influence into the power vacuum created by a reduced US role on the world stage. Just look at both Syria and Libya.

In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia and Turkey are willing to act, while the US and indeed EU hovers on the sidelines. As Moscow and Ankara call the shots and shape global crises, any diplomatic and foreign policy checks and balances that Washington might once have exercised working in conjunction with the international community are few and far between.

There is a clear and present danger in this apparent indifference. Though far from perfect at times, global realpolitik dictates that the world needs American clout when it comes to a nuanced and knowledgeable diplomacy.

Should Joe Biden win the forthcoming election then at least there would be the possibility his presidency would precipitate meaningful changes in US foreign policy and provide its restoration to a positive track.

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In this regard a Biden administration will certainly have its work cut out in making up lost ground.

To begin with it would face significant political constraints on America’s choices about its actions on the world stage, partly because of Trump’s shortcomings but especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a recent poll by the US think tank the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 69% of Americans want the US to play an active role in international affairs but not dominate.

Frankly I’d settle for that right now. Professional, state-sponsored diplomacy exists for a reason and by and large over the decades US foreign policy has been characterised by an alliance-based approach. Before Trump, this great nation was often willing to line up alongside others in the world in some form of alliance, partnership or understanding.

America under Trump has lost respect and standing in the world in this capacity.

Warts and all, it’s time the US was back on the world diplomatic stage doing what in the past it has often done not just for its own benefit, but that of its friends and allies.