THE US government shutdown is an ugly sight, and the entire world is watching it. As global financial leaders converge in Washington on Friday for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, their chief concern is not poverty in Zimbabwe or economic instability in Greece, but dangerous political brinkmanship right here in the United States. That’s not just embarrassing. It’s also costly. The sense of uncertainty created by the US government shutdown creates a drag on the entire global economy. Governments around the world have built their economic systems around the dollar, whose status as the world’s reserve currency depends on a reputation for sober fiscal management. Meanwhile, as Americans are preoccupied with shuttered national parks and Head Start classrooms, one of the largest newspapers in China, People’s Daily, is accusing Washington of using “domestic policy to kidnap the global economy.”
When Republicans refuse to fund the federal government and flirt with the idea of defaulting on debts, fear spreads among longtime allies that the United States will break its promises to them. The State Department has already warned that next year’s allotment of security assistance to Israel may be delayed if the shutdown continues. Meanwhile, the nation’s adversaries are concluding that the United States is too preoccupied with its own troubles to uphold the world order or respond forcefully to threats.
The longer the shutdown continues, the more it will sidetrack goals that Republicans say are their top priorities: economic growth, national security, and restoring the sense of American leadership in the world. When President Obama was forced to miss a key summit in Asia this week, he lost an opportunity to champion a 12-country agreement to create a free trade zone stretching from Chile to Japan. When US Trade Representative Michael Froman canceled a trip to Europe, it delayed negotiations over a milestone treaty aimed at removing trade barriers between the European Union and the United States. And when the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control furloughed nearly all of its staff, it hamstrung its own ability to enforce sanctions on Iran.
As the United States and Europe emerge from a recession, the timing of this shutdown could hardly be worse. Even after Congress puts an end to this dangerous brinkmanship, other nations won’t soon forget the spectacle of the most powerful government on earth grinding to a halt over partisan differences. To friends, Washington looks like a less reliable ally. To enemies and strategic competitors, the United States looks like a fading empire touting a democratic system that breaks down as often as it works.