He came, he saw, he gave a speech. (My apologies to Julius Caesar.) The international community liked him personally. He departed and left not a ripple. Is this a "teachable moment?"
Much more broadly, the question more frequently addressed in the British press than the American is "what is the role of the United States in the 21st century?" While we have been fixated on Islamic terrorists and health care, the world order established after World War II is rapidly changing - and we are being quietly taken along for the ride. Some examples:
1. Our current and future deficits have led to calls for replacement of the US dollar as the international reserve currency, most recently by the UN and perhaps by the oil producing countries. In the future, countries with excess funds will not by default invest them in US dollars, and a periodic "flight to safety" will not mean buying US assets. Borrowing to cover out deficits will be much more difficult. Estimates vary on the timetable, with many believing that this will formally occur within a few years.
2. The Group of Seven Industrialized Nations (G-7) has been formally expanded to include major developing countries in the form of the G-20. This is currently unfolding, but it appears as if the International Monetary Fund is to become the administrative arm of the G-20 - something of a global "central bank". It should be no surprise that the 2016 Olympics went to one of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), rather than the "old regime" United States.
3. Low level calls continue for reform of the United Nations - particularly the Security Council where the WW II victors have a dominant position to the exclusion of Germany, Japan, India, and a majority of the world's population. While such a change may be logical, it would not seem to make international peace keeping any easier.
4. Within the past week, our government has given up its contract with ICANN, the governing body for the US - developed internet, with the intent that it come under the guidance of an international organization. Among the implications are a reduction in the preeminence of English in deference to Mandarin, Arabic, and other languages and potentially a greater degree of censorship and government control.
5. With Ireland's vote for the "Lisbon Treaty" to strengthen the European Union, Europe has taken a large step toward having a president and a common foreign policy. Japan has voted for a center-left government for the first time in 50 years with unknown results. In a short time, we may not recognize our major allies.
There is no question that the period of American unchallenged dominance after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is an aberration in global history, and that we will play a different role in the more pluralistic 21st Century world. But what is that role? And how much influence will we have in shaping it? Much will depend on the vision, interests, and managerial competence of President Obama.
What is the vision of the young man with a father from Kenya, a step-father from Indonesia, and a long-term ex-patriot mother? He does not share the thousand little stories from history, literature, the arts, religion, and sports that make up the American mosaic - Washington's cherry tree; the "good Samaritan"; the landing at Normandy. One must hope that the alternate stories offered by Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers did not take root. It is unlikely that either John McCain or Sarah Palin - who shared the roots of most of us - could articulate a clear 21st Century vision. They do understand, however, (as do most of the "Town Hall folks") that the Unites States of America is the greatest country on earth in terms of economic, political, and military power; democracy; ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity; generosity; and individual liberty and opportunity. One can only hope that Obama sees this as the basis for defining our world role going forward.
And the managerial competence? Hopefully the Olympic experience will help Obama understand that it isn't all about him (see George Will's column) , and that there is a large difference between popularity and leadership.
This week's You Tubeis a humorous, if premature, dirge for ObamaCare.
bill bowen - 10/9/09