Monday, 08 September 2008 - 08 Ramadan 1429 H
Charting the world of tomorrow
Vast changes are taking place in the world's geo-political landscape. Events this past month have cast a sharp light on these changes, which are impinging on almost every corner of the planet.
China and Russia have given remarkable demonstrations of national resurgence. The Beijing Olympics and Russia's punishment of Georgia are not isolated phenomena but are, in both cases, the reward of long years of hard national endeavour.
China has proved – in spectacular fashion – that it has thoroughly remade itself in the three decades since the murderous madness of Mao's Cultural Revolution, while Russia, in turn, has hauled itself back into the great power league after the physical dismemberment, financial collapse and national humiliation that followed the collapse of Communism.
Both countries have evidently managed to harness the fierce national pride and loyalty of the great majority of their citizens, which is an essential ingredient for national renewal.
After the amazing television pictures from Beijing, who today would dare challenge China's millions of disciplined men and women? And, after the swift crushing of Georgia's U.S. and Israeli-trained army, who could doubt Russia's determination to restore its influence over its 'near abroad', as well as firm control over the transport to Europe of Russian and Central Asian oil and gas? The revival of Chinese and Russian power – both economic and military –has long been evident, but it had not been fully absorbed into Western strategic thinking. Now it can no longer be ignored.
NATO, a Western relic of the Cold War, needs to rethink its role and even to consider whether its continued existence does more harm than good. It has suffered –or is suffering – a double defeat: in Afghanistan (where it has been sucked into an unwinnable war against a tribal enemy, and should pull out before taking further losses) and in the Caucasus (where, foolishly and unnecessarily, it provoked Russia by seeking to expand its membership to Russia's very borders.)
Most members of the European Union know this. But Europe's dilemma is acute. It depends vitally on an energy partnership with Russia – which supplies 40 % of the gas Europe consumes – but, at the same time, it wants to remain in close alliance with the United States (in spite of the widely-shared distaste for George W Bush and his Administration.) It is not easy for a Union of 27 members – of very different interests and orientation – to arrive at a common policy, a difficulty which accounts for Europe's relative lack of political weight. But the EU is, on the whole, a rich man's club, less concerned to play a great- power game than to protect its peace and prosperity from the problems and conflicts of the world outside its borders.
Changes in the world's geo-political landscape are of far greater importance to the United States, still the reigning superpower in spite of the body-blows it has suffered from President George W Bush's monumental errors and from the emergence of powerful rivals.
However, America's democratic genius is its ability to change course and to re-invent itself – even when it finds itself on the very brink of catastrophe. This is what Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, has understood and why millions of Americans have rallied to his banner.
If Barack Obama were to win the election next November, major changes in U.S. foreign policy can be expected. The United States will involve itself resolutely – and as a real 'honest broker' this time – in Arab-Israeli peace-making; it will withdraw militarily from Iraq but will help that country's rebuilt itself after the devastation of war; it will engage in a global dialogue with Iran, offering it security guarantees and recognition of its regional role in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions; more generally, it will drop Bush's 'Global War on Terrorism' and seek to build bridges of confidence and cooperation with the Muslim world.
Obama's foreign policy advisers seem to have grasped that the uncritical U.S-Israeli alliance of the Bush years has been bad for both sides and needs correction. It has served to drag the U.S. into war with Iraq, into hostility with Iran, and into a dangerous confrontation with much of Arab and Muslim opinion. It has also emboldened Israel to wage war on its neighbours, rather than make peace with them, and has encouraged Israeli hard-liners to believe that, with American backing, their small country can subdue the whole region militarily, and continue its territorial expansion at the Palestinians' expense.
These are grave mistakes because the Arab world is not what it was in 1948, 1967, 1973 or even a decade ago. Profound changes are taking place – in economic development, in education, in diversification away from oil, in armament – as important in their way as those which have transformed China and Russia.
Resistance movements to Israel have also arisen – like Hezbollah and Hamas, deeply rooted among the people – that cannot easily be defeated. In a word, it is more than time for Israel to rethink its security doctrines and settle with its neighbours.
Any visitor to the Gulf or Saudi Arabia – the Arab world's power-houses – cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular development of the last thirty years – and by the grandiose plans for expansion in the next thirty. The International Monetary Fund gives the following GDP figures for 2007: Israel $162bn; the United Arab Emirates – one of the fastest growing economies in the world –$192bn; Saudi Arabia $376bn. These figures alone should cause Israel and its backers to reflect.
Obama's one mistake so far in his foreign policy ideas is to want to pour more US military resources into fighting the Taliban, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, where Osama Bin Laden and his colleagues are thought to be hiding. There can be no military solution to the Afghan problem. A tribal society, deeply attached to its traditions and religion, will not accept to have a Western model of society imposed on it by force, and will fight to the death to prevent it.
The world's geo-political landscape is still dotted with potential flashpoints – in Kashmir, in Kirkuk, in Gaza and the West Bank, in the Caucasus, and in the troubled border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to name only a few – but the potential for radical change in the leadership and foreign policy of the United States in 2009 is probably the best news to look forward to as this year draws to a close.
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