Traveling across Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw firsthand the limits of America’s influence abroad. Blinken confronted authoritarianism, growing threats from newly energized extremists, and persistent challenges posed by COVID-19 and climate change, all of which have stubbornly resisted various U.S. interventions. And, nowhere on his three-nation tour last week — to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal — was he able to escape obvious signs of the intense competition between the U.S. and China: a geopolitical power struggle that has been playing out largely in China’s favor for the past two decades, especially in Africa.
Before leaving the continent at his last stop in Senegal, Blinken said he had been well received by all three leaders he met. But, he allowed that “we have to be judged on what we do, not simply on what I say.” The limits ofWashington’s reach have been evident for some time but have been highlighted in recent months as President Joe Biden has promoted an “America is back” narrative, intended to signal a U.S. return to the international arena and institutions that his predecessor had eschewed.