Saturday, April 11, 2009
The Slow Pivot
I am preparing for a podcast interview tomorrow afternoon and family obligations during Passover prevented me from posting more frequently this week.
In the meantime though, President Obama's weekly address is an opportunity to note that at least rhetorically, he's attempting to condition the American people for today’s new world order. Yet at the same time, Obama is also trying to be reassuring with religious references to Passover and Easter as well as reiterating that American "leadership" is the key to meeting today's global challenges.
It's a tough balancing act as most Americans grew up in a world in which we were respected and feared and enjoyed enduring prosperity. After World War Two, the global financial system that emerged known as Bretton Woods, was exceptionally favorable to the United States. Furthermore, America was the number one super power in a bipolar world. For damn sure nobody used the term "existential threat" with respect to nation states such as Iran.
Today however, both China and India are emerging superpowers, Russia has become a petro state on steroids, globalization is depressing American wages, Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal is on the verge of becoming a failed state, addressing global warming requires difficult consensus and stateless terrorist actors are consumers in the nuclear proliferation market. Even worse, greed and insipid American leadership ruined the same financial system we created and we find ourselves at the mercy of other countries forbearance as a result.
Hence, while America remains powerful, we must pivot from an empire culture to a more cooperative posture. Yet simultaneously, America must remain vigilant in a dangerous world in which conflict and brutality remain humanity's default state in too many places. So, President Obama preaches cooperation and diplomacy while requesting congress appropriate $83 billion for war.
People like me are pushing Obama to pivot from empire to cooperation more aggressively. Personally, while I acknowledge the world is certainly dangerous, I believe Obama's foreign policy is still too unilateral. Politically however, I suspect Obama is straddling the same fence most Americans are sitting on: many feel isolated after George W. Bush, ashamed at the immorality of our foreign policy transgressions, but also don’t want to relinquish our status as a superpower and leader.
Today’s weekly address illustrates the challenge confronting Obama as he gently nudges Americans to leave the perks of an empire behind while retaining his political viability. I wish him well in that endeavor but believe he will eventually have to cook up a new omelet by breaking a few eggs. A slow pivot may not be fast enough.