Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Emerging World
It's old hat by now to talk about the Iraq War unlocking Iran's regional influence, creating the threat of a "Shiite Crescent" across the Middle East. What's getting less attention is the way in which Iran is engaged in a diplomatic effort to develop both bi-lateral and multi-lateral global alliances, in particular in Asia and South America. The goal of the effort, according to Benedetta Berti at PINR, is twofold. First, to consolidate China's support as an added Security Council rampart against sanctions. Second, to create a viable network of economic and strategic alliances so as to improve its position in the event of failed negotiations on the nuclear front leading to increased sanctions on the part of the US and EU.
It's important not to get too alarmist about Iran's ability to court countries like Venezuela and North Korea. The fact that it's successfully sealing energy deals with Pakistan (and most likely India), on the other hand, and pressuring the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to upgrade it from observer to active member merit more attention. Not because Iran threatens to become anything more than a well-connected, oil-rich minor power. But because it demonstrates the ways in which the post-post-9/11 world is increasingly taking shape.
In retrospect, 9/11 did not, in fact, change everything. Neither did our reaction to it. Combined, though, they managed to accelerate the development of the multi-polar world that inevitably must arise to counterbalance America's disproportionate power and influence. The run-up to the Iraq War demonstrated the limits of the multi-polar world's (as it was then constituted) deterrent power vis a vis an America bent on acting unilaterally. The aftermath of the war, on the other hand, has demonstrated the limits of America's ability to accomplish its strategic objectives when it goes it alone.
It seems intuitively obvious that while America's ability to wield its power unilaterally is destined to further decline, the influence wielded by alternative poles of power in the world is almost certain to grow. Iran's strategy of developing a broad network of alliances with emerging powers is one example of how that trend might take shape.
There needn't be anything defeatist or fatalistic about this view. An intelligent foreign policy would attempt to position America at the forefront of influencing the emerging poles' integration into the global order. Instead, the Bush administration has taken an enormous global reserve of sympathy and solidarity with the United States, in particular after the attacks of 9/11, and squandered it, much like it squandered the Clinton budget surplus.
I'm convinced there's still time to reverse course and rehabilitate America's image around the world. It will take a lot work, patience and humility, but it can be done. Perhaps most importantly, it will demand changing our habits. Instead of commanding, we'll have to start leading. And instead of talking, we should be doing a good deal more listening.