The threat of a looming U.S. government shutdown because of legislative gridlock in Washington has become such a frequent occurrence that it no longer has the power to shock U.S. allies and adversaries. In 1995, the titanic struggle for control of the U.S. political agenda between the Democratic Party under then-President Bill Clinton and the Republicans led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich gripped the attention of the rest of the world. In contrast, the current vicious battle within the Republican Party that nearly led to a shutdown of the federal government last week elicited exasperated shrugs from external observers who have become inured to the endless political infighting in Washington.
A last-minute agreement between Democratic and Republican leaders resulted in the passage of a stopgap spending bill to prevent state paralysis for the next 45 days. But the fact that an aid package to help Ukraine sustain its war against Russia was not included in order to assuage far-right Republicans hostile to Kyiv generated concern among U.S. allies over Washington’s reliability in times of need.
Moreover, the very act of compromising in order to keep the government functioning led to the toppling of Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy by a handful of representatives from that far-right faction within his own caucus. That stoked further anxiety among U.S. allies over its ability to sustain its global security commitments, as well as schadenfreude among Washington’s geopolitical adversaries. As the 2024 presidential election comes into view, the likelihood of further political paralysis in Washington has forced many other governments to ponder what a potential future without the U.S. as a coherent global actor might look like.