Waving Hello to Obama, and Waving Goodbye to Hegemony

A quick comment on this paradigm-shifting article in the NY Times Magazine (a highly recommended read), “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony”: it synthesized and articulated a lot of things that I’d half-intuited in inchoate fashion. Basically, the article’s author argues that America no longer enjoys global dominance as a beacon of liberal/democratic values and that instead the EU, China, and America share geopolitical influence among themselves and the nations of the second world.

The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three.

This made a lot of sense to me given what I’ve experienced anecdotally.

On Europe:

Europeans use intelligence and the police to apprehend radical Islamists, social policy to try to integrate restive Muslim populations and economic strength to incorporate the former Soviet Union and gradually subdue Russia. …What other superpower [the EU] grows by an average of one country per year, with others waiting in line and begging to join?

Furthermore, we’ve lost influence in these key areas:

And Europe’s influence grows at America’s expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past.

On China:

The East Asian Community is but one example of how China is also too busy restoring its place as the world’s “Middle Kingdom” to be distracted by the Middle Eastern disturbances that so preoccupy the United States. In America’s own hemisphere, from Canada to Cuba to Chávez’s Venezuela, China is cutting massive resource and investment deals. Across the globe, it is deploying tens of thousands of its own engineers, aid workers, dam-builders and covert military personnel. In Africa, China is not only securing energy supplies; it is also making major strategic investments in the financial sector. The whole world is abetting China’s spectacular rise as evidenced by the ballooning share of trade in its gross domestic product — and China is exporting weapons at a rate reminiscent of the Soviet Union during the cold war, pinning America down while filling whatever power vacuums it can find. Every country in the world currently considered a rogue state by the U.S. now enjoys a diplomatic, economic or strategic lifeline from China, Iran being the most prominent example.

And finally:

From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia, the new reality of global affairs is that there is not one way to win allies and influence countries but three: America’s coalition (as in “coalition of the willing”), Europe’s consensus and China’s consultative styles. The geopolitical marketplace will decide which will lead the 21st century.

Some would bemoan America’s apparent decline from “first among equals” to “one among equals.” Not me–I’ve never been a triumphalist or an exceptionalist; I have zero interest in being part of an American empire. I believe by going the unilateral route as we did under Bush 43, we’ve gone way off course in anything we were supposed to be about as a country. Thanks to eight years of Bush, what is it about our “loot-while-you-can”, greed-filled and dishonest mortgage fiasco in the financial sector that is such a model of capitalism other nations would like to emulate? Or our ugly, imperialist way of pre-emptively making war on another nation on the most trumped-up of evidence; is this the kind of democracy we’re constantly banging on about exporting, or would that be our (again) stolen elections marred by voting “abnormalities”?

The article struck certain chords in me that confirmed my gut feeling: electing Senator Obama to president is not at all farfetched. (I’ve resisted saying anything so far out of weird superstition that anything I say will cause his instant downfall. Silly, eh–it’s not about me all the time.)

Instinctively, you look at Obama’s record, read his positions, absorb what you need of his autobiography, and you see someone who belongs to the future. By virtue of his mixed heritage, he has ties to Indonesia, America, and Kenya. Plus he had the foresight and integrity to be against the Iraq war from the outset. Finally, I believe he has no stake in restoring America to her imperial prime, but instead would ably pilot this country through multilateral and newly globalized waters.

By contrast, Clinton’s qualifications and political assets belong to the past. Rightly or wrongly, there’s a sense that she is part of a pre-9/11 Clinton legacy. The Iraq war vote and her vote on it tells me that with Clinton, it might be more of the same old paradigm (“America has a special role in bringing democracy/capitalism to the rest of the world”). I’m not saying she would actively do damage in the way the Republican candidates would, just that I think she would be a little slower than Obama to work from a presumption that we live in a world where America is not the center.

In the end, I think I’d be happy with Obama, Clinton, or Edwards for president. I just think Obama would do the best job of inspiring America–and young Americans–to get aboard a renewed and re-aligned America.

(Here’s more “personality test” hoo-ha on the Obama/Clinton campaigns and what it reveals about you if you choose one or the other.)

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