Saturday, January 25, 2014

President Obama is preparing us for a multipolar world

David Remnick has published some additional quotes from his interviews with President Obama. Here is one that I found particularly interesting.
I do think that part of effective diplomacy, part of America maintaining its influence in a world in which we remain the one indispensable power, but in which you’ve got a much more multipolar environment, is for other people to know that we understand their stories as well, and that we can see how they have come to certain conclusions or understandings about their history, their economies, the conflicts they’ve suffered. Because, if they think we understand their frame of reference, then they’re more likely to listen to us and to work with us.
What struck me was his reference to a more multipolar environment in the world. I first heard that word back when the neocon's dream of US dominance on the world stage was taking a beating because of the inept way Bush/Cheney had handled the invasion/occupation of Iraq. I found the discussion of multipolarity going on around the globe to be a fascinating alternative to either the bi-polar nature of the cold war or the unipolar dreams of the neocons for US domination.
It is a game of every power for itself, in which each regional power center cooperates with others when it shares common interests with them and opposes them when interests conflict. The result is the absence of a single paradigm of world order or even of a coherent pattern of alliances. In their place are coalitions of convenience that -- taken together -- have no consistent direction.
Notice how that language mirrors David Simon's prediction about the end of hegemony in domestic affairs after the 2012 election.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
President Obama wisely uses the word multipolar in a way that indicates his recognition that a balancing of power is inevitable, and that the US is going to have to do a better job of empathizing with the perspectives of people in other parts of the world in order to be effective diplomatically. It all reminds me of what he said a little more than 6 years ago in Cairo.
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.
One gets the feeling that perhaps we are in the midst of finally recognizing our "inescapable network of mutuality" - the garment of destiny MLK referred to over 50 years ago. And that President Obama is preparing us for that reality.


  1. Yeah, but it all goes away in January 2017. If HRC and her neocon pals inhabit the White House, we swing right back to the big tromping monster trying to control the world. Even worse if a Christie is in the WH.

  2. I think this is a really nice find. The difference between multi-polarity and unipolarity in a post-Cold War setting marks the difference between the foreign policy of Barack Obama and his predecessor. Obama's foreign policy has never been about unilateral nation-building. He acknowledges the importance of regional autonomy. His foreign interventions have been very targeted in Libya and Syria, primarily focused on protecting as many innocent lives as possible rather than furthering any large ideology or hegemonic interest. Even in counterterrorism, his policy has largely been focused on pinpoint areas of intervention through drones, combined with cooperation at the regional level in these countries.

  3. Most Americans have forgotten or never learned that a violation of one person's civil rights, is a violation of everyone's civil rights. It would behoove liberals to spend some time of simple messages that are grounded in truth. There's little use for arguing with fanatics, but an awakening in the middle would likely be enough. With the right framework, this could be true globally, in spirit. The desire to live in a better world could be the bedrock of a multipolar world view. But first, a majority of U.S. citizens need to see our country in these terms.


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