Obama and the new world order

Today's threat to world peace does not come from revisionist states but from Pan-Islam.

US President Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel 390 (photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel 390
(photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama’s new foreign policy team of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan personify the president’s unique ability to unite the partisans of Richard Nixon and those of George McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent in 1972.
Obviously, the “Come Home America” siren song of Mc-Govern’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention captivates Obama’s left liberal base. For the left, an immoral and corrupt America had no right to mount self-righteous neo-Wilsonian expeditions to Saddam’s Iraq or the Taliban’s Afghanistan.
It is more surprising to see the folks at the conservative National Interest proclaim Barack Obama as the legitimate heir to Nixonian realism.
The backdrop is similar: Both Obama and Nixon inherited an American public opinion that was war weary and leery of further foreign involvements. Previous interventions had sapped the country’s resources and it was necessary to reconstruct America economically. Even Mitt Romney recognized the power of this sentiment as he sought to blur foreign policy differences with Obama.
Nixon went about his task by updating the early 19th century balance of power system of Henry Kissinger’s hero, Prince Metternich. Nixon and Kissinger assumed that America could economize on intervention because the other major players in the system – the Soviet Union, China, Europe and Japan would be motivated by their own interests to do some of the heavy lifting. If any of the players menaced the balance of power, the others would simply gang up against him. Kissinger also believed that, ideological pretensions to the contrary, the Soviet Union and China were essentially normal players in the system and could be further enticed by summits and increasing respectability to play a responsible role.
But the period of balance of power diplomacy was short-lived. It was poisoned by events such as the Yom Kippur War, which the Soviets planned while leaving the US in the dark. But assuming it can and should be recreated, who would be Obama’s fellow balancers? Europe has neither the will nor the military capabilities; Japan’s half-hearted rearmament will only help in South East Asia; Vladimir Putin continues to recruit legitimacy via America bashing and has prioritized relations with China over the flexibility of a balance of power system; China and Russia’s behavior in Iran and North Korea provides scant encouragement about their commitment to world order Today’s threat to world peace does not come from revisionist states but from Pan-Islam. Obama’s team either believes that the struggle has been won and there is no war on terror to prosecute or seeks to invoke “moderate” Islamists like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the Turkish AKP to balance the radical al-Qaida.
Al Jazeera’s tele-Islamist Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi will presumably “balance” Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri. Such “allies”, however, will charge for their cooperation. And they will demand payment in Israeli currency, including legitimization of Hamas. It is far from certain that the Administration will refuse this bargain. Indeed, it seems to believe that it has a better perception of Israel’s interests than Benjamin Netanyahu.
Nixon, while seeking to downsize American commitments, could still be counted upon to employ force when needed. During the Yom Kippur War, he called a nuclear alert to deter the Soviet Union from intervening.
But Nixon never hankered after McGovern’s constituency, and it is far from certain that Obama has renounced the fantasy of playing Nixon and McGovern simultaneously.
Therefore, the employment of force to prevent an Iranian bomb (ETA 2014) is a choice he will seek to defer as long as possible. The nightmare scenario is reminiscent of the late 1930s when a moralistic left and a “Fortress America” right both believed that the aggressor should and could be contained – without American military involvement.
Amiel Ungar is a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.