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21st Century Obama vs 19th/20th Century Putin

When President Obama gave his speech in Cairo in 2009, I knew it was a seminal moment in U.S. foreign policy. He talked in detail about most of the issues facing the Middle East. But two paragraphs summed up his overall perspective. In them he rejected both the neo-con dream of unipolar domination and the isolation of libertarians.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
I thought of those words when I read George Condon's article about the leverage President Obama has over Putin.
President Obama is not the first American president to be confronted by provocations and military actions from Moscow. All 12 presidents since World War II have faced such challenges. But Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world's financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.

"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating," says a senior administration official, speaking on background. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."
The article goes on to explain that during the Cold War, the USSR was economically isolated. That all changed in 1987 when Russia worked diligently to join the G-7 partnership - which they eventually did in 1997. And now the prospect of economic sanctions imposed in partnership with other nations has real teeth.

Thinking in terms of power as partnership rather than domination is something that neither the U.S. neo-cons nor Putin seem capable of incorporating. That does not change the reality that we are living in an increasingly interconnected world. But it's exactly why President Obama is a leader for the 21st century.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is an excellent analysis, Nancy. Thank you.

  3. (Doggonit! Looked like a double post, so I deleted one and the software nuked both iterations of the comment entirely. Reconstructed, sorta:)

    I don't think it's just the neocons in the US stuck in the "power over" habits of thought with Mr. Putin. Grokking the "power with" concepts and methodologies seems too strenuous a leap for the great majority of political observers and practitioners. This is true for those with elected office and professional platforms as well as for the soapboxers on social media and internet weblogs. The few who are spotlighting the efforts of our "Community Organizer in Chief" in anything but neutral or derisive terms are fairly easy to find, but this is precisely because there's so much contrast from the norm.

    I'd like to believe we're on the cusp of the type of... community of part-time competitors and part-time collaborators that the POTUS has been working his ass off to formulate out of the factional mess we've developed domestically over the last four or five decades (and internationally since the beginning of history), but I'm not actually hopeful. I cling to faith that we'll get there, but I suspect this president is just one of the significant lights in what will be a series of big and little changes accomplished somehow against the chronic recalcitrance we're prone to as a species.

    1. I tend to share your pessimism. These are changes that sometimes take generations. But I'm shouting about it as loudly as I can to try to hurry that along ;-)

      If PBO can pull off negotiations w/ Iran, Israel/Palestine and/or Russia - it will go a long way in planting the seeds.

    2. Your title says it all, and explains why Republicans are so eager to embrace Putin. That and the fact he's white.

  4. You frequently carp about various extensions of white privilege, but you never consider the luxury of being an American in deciding what is and isn't the new evangel of the century to come. Put it this way, nobody has ever credibly threatened to confiscate/seize American billions or hammer the dollar into oblivion. In this "new, interconnected 21st century of partnership and friendly competition," it goes unsaid that those who make the rules are still the ones with all those old-fashioned 19th and 20th century banks. Who, it must be said, were quite happy to profit off the Russian, Iranian, etc. dirty money in the first place with their home governments' explicit blessing.

    1. You miss the trajectory here. If the 21st century replaces war (killing combined with economic destruction) as a means of dominance with economic pressure on aggressor nations via economic pressure exerted via a partnership of nations - we've taken a HUGE step towards a more peaceful world.

    2. The trajectory is that money is now worth more than land. Countries aren't keeping enough of their capital within their own borders and it presents a key strategic vulnerability.

      You're switching back and forth between peace and dominance, but you can still have a peaceful world dominated by a few hegemonic powers. Is NATO less of a "partnership" than Maastricht just because it has forward nuclear missiles? We've always had partnerships.

      It's easy for the west to gloat about its embracing multipolarity when it still owns more than half the world's wealth, despite having a sixth of its population. It owns finance. It owns the foreign exchange of currencies. And after even the US military is disbanded, it will hold onto that advantage like grim death. Because it's how you stay dominant.

    3. Its true that global finance is another form of dominance. But to spell out the trajectory I was referring to a bit more blatantly...we're moving away from killing people as a form of dominance. Referring to that as a trajectory means that I recognize that its not a final destination. But its progress.


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