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Obama And The Multipolar World

Politics / US Politics May 04, 2014 - 03:03 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Happy Change to Flaky Change
Its now a long time in US politics since Mr Barack Obama was Mr Happy Changey. His domestic critics love to pummel him with the slogans he used at the time – and tries hard to forget, today. The happy-change theme has gone. One key to this which his critics will never let him forget is that his slogans of the time never had any substance.

 Were American supposed to be happy about uncontrollable debt and the stalking fear of the next 2008-style crash, company failures, more unemployment and – of course – massive bailouts and handouts for the real Happy Few?  The 1% who predate and feed off everybody else. Who was Obama kidding?

The president and his administration are accused of plenty: hesitation, indecision, apathy, lethargy, and the look and feel that acting in any domain – domestic or international - is horribly painful to them.

To be sure Obama has excuses. Inside America, polls suggest that Sarah Palin and John McCain to name only two, do have an audience. The problem is their narrative isn't even dredged from the 20th century – but is 19th century vintage. Their talk is at least as unreal, and more harmful than Obama's naïve tinsel tunes for the gullible, politely called the happy-hopeful.

Obama avoids the uber-sensitive words “multipolar world”. He clings on to the diluted, uncertain and weakened “theory of the West”, still theoretically top dog and strong enough to decide for the world, but this is now light years from the truth and getting further. “The West” of today is riven by its own internal-domestic conflicts and economic crises. The brutal fact is Obama can't be called a weak president but is only a part of a weakened and shifting, unsure alliance that is not top dog. He well reflects the West's real world status and its real “existential crisis”.

This has one ultra-powerful and basic but well hidden theme. Avoidance of the future. Prevarication, playing for time, hoping for no change – avoiding Unhappy Change – is the real hallmark of “the West”, and Obama reflects it perfectly. Obama has a very tough row to hoe and is not the disaster or clown that his critics call him.

Death of Empires
This existential crisis has the totally unsurprising result that talk about global reach, eminent domain and “America's destiny in the world”, a kind of ersatz colonialist urge, is pedal to the metal. Hysterics like McCain, Palin, Brzezinski and others get their meal ticket from it. It is no longer a cottage industry for pundits, but mainstream. After the Arab Spring crises, the Syrian crisis, the Iran nuclear crisis – all of them lost or stalemated to one degree or another for the West – we now have the Putin crisis. Obama is the favorite whipping boy for vitriolic editorials. He is to blame. He did nothing.

Putin considers himself part of “the West”, of course using his own definitions, and he proudly says so – for example Christian ethics and social philosophy.  Also, he is doing exactly what Obama's West does. Russia had an accelerated and massive dose of the future, for a decade after 1989 and did not enjoy it all. The USA has only had a fleeting dose of it, so far. This is the only difference. Russians avoid the future, also. Dreams of empire are high up the list, in this sport or hobby.

To be sure the current Obama narrative, since March, obligatorily focuses the man “I cannot work with for the rest of my term”, Vladimir Putin. White House briefings for the most recent Obama spectacle of tiptoeing down a dangerous path, in the dark, was his meeting with Angela Merkel, May 2. This bore all the hallmarks of the second and last term of the Obama presidency - and the realpolitik that rules the West. Germany wants to avoid the future. The USA wants to avoid the future. The minimum possible number of decisions will be made but a show of solidarity facing “the man we can't work with” was needed. Real decisions will be by default.

In a multipolar world things just happen, that's all. American firebrands of Alpha Male foreign policy, rallying under the banner of Zbigniew Brzezinski's so-called “doctrine for the 21st century” - but he meant the 19th century like Palin and McCain - rail and thunder that America's destiny is in “Eurasia”, wherever that is. Barack Obama is not interested, and can't be interested. Wags can say he doesn't know where Eurasia is. Is it in the Chicago region? Do they vote? But these jokes are irrelevant. Both Putin and Obama are avoiding the future and this means that when change comes, it will be by surprise or default, and will likely be fast and total.

Putin's Empire Games
Ukraine is a “portal to Eurasia” for the Alpha Male American Destiny crowd, but for Obama it is a trap – another trap he suspects Putin of setting, like the Syrian trap. In fact, and dangerously, Obama and his administration do not read the real headline for the Ukraine situation as they should read it. The process is an ongoing demonstration of the Death of Empires.

This would be uber-unsettling for them, and is disastrous for Putin. Future avoidance is for truth-avoiders, so Obama and his administration will shun the simple fact that Putin's Russia is acting exactly the same way the US has acted for at least the last 25 years.

Since Putin has been at the helm, the attempt to push back and forget the Russian future is the prime foreign policy goal for his Kremlin. We can call it the easily-understood urge to reset the time counter to an imaginary happy past. The further we go forward, the more the time dial has to be tampered with and set further back. Whether the happy-unchanging past ever existed, or not, is not important. It has zero importance at crisis times like the present.

Putin's Kremlin sees the expansion of the EU right across Asia, and southwards into the Arab world, as Europe playing stalking horse for the USA. Empire building. Encirclement. In other times with other presidents but Obama, that could or might have been true, but not with Obama. Nor with the European leaderships of today. No way.

We can concede that the basic EU “Eurasian” expansion policy is certainly influenced by Brzezinski. It gives itself the grandiose overall title of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP). To date, it covers at least 28 countries. Adding the existing EU28, that makes a total of 56 countries “which one day might possibly be European Union Member State equivalents”, end of citation.

Why a lot more than a quarter of the world's entire total of UN member states should be “European” just isn't explained. Certain criteria such as democracy, human rights, rule of law, the market economy, protection of the climate, and others are bandied around – but there is no economic plan. Nada.

Its likely not clear to Obama and he would be much too polite to say this to Merkel or other Europeans if he did know it, the EU Eurasian expansion policy is only a trick and a subterfuge to push back, dilute, avoid or prevent Europe's future. In reality, it is light years away from the real Brzezinski doctrine, which is a retreaded and recycled 19th century-vintage colonial model. This was an economic failure model as well as a standing invitation for dozens of wars. The EU's alphabet soup of SAP countries has no unifying theme – or policy rationale. While this blind expansion can easily be called similar to European colonialism of the 19th century, and Putin could or might be frightened by it, the SAP's lack of either substance or economic meaning makes it totally different.

European 19th century colonialists got  one-off hits from colonial pillage – called the “peace dividend” in newspeak – and then got economic and political blowback. It was a disaster.

Avoiding the Future is Outdated
Staying with the EU's strange and incoherent SAP, the potential economic benefit for Europe “anchoring” this gaggle of countries to the Old Continent is low, and will stay low. Many are economic basket cases. Many are near-dictatorships or edging that way – not to democracy. Many have incipient or larval civil wars brewing, whether the new and fashionable Flash Mob type, or traditional. Many have unresolved but smoldering border disputes with their closest neighbors. Many have ongoing or permanent pollution disasters.

Is it the Great Design or “neocolonial grandeur” to sweep in such countries to an already rickety and economically crippled Mother Country – if the US took them on board - or in the EU case, a rickety and economically crippled Union? The Europeans are shooting themselves in the feet!

At best, directly tracing to its real origins, what the EU calls “the associative agreements” is an attempt to reinvent the World Trade Organization, long after the real WTO was up and running. The very low pickings of potential economic meat in the SAP include a diluted, low level customs union of the SAP countries with Europe, but all they have to do is join the WTO if they haven't done so already!

Interest inside the EU28 for this expansion process is near zero, with public opinion much more concerned about immigrant worker hordes and the “social security tourism” threat of the process. Obama should take note of that if he has not done so already.

American foreign policy, like European and Russian foreign policy, is in disarray. For very obvious reasons the US has at all times aided and supported the EU's blind march east and south – making the Ukraine crisis almost as predictable as the Syrian crisis. This was a red line in the sand on somebody's beach – but the tides of time quickly washed the Syrian red line away. Very fast.
In a multipolar world, countries look after their own business and only act when there is genuine international agreement to act.

Mentioned both by supporters and critics of Brzezinski, the US has had long historical periods of isolationism and the rejection of a major external role, insulating itself from the world. Those US isolationist periods coincide perfectly with periods of domestic economic stress. When times are tough, the US draws in its horns and forgets its Great Nation strivings. The EU and Russia have not yet reached that Truth Moment.

This is the only difference. Russia cannot afford an ersatz empire called “the reconstituted Soviet Union”. Even more so in the case of the EU, its grave economic shortcomings dictate the need for rapid abandonment of its absurd Eurasian Quest. When was Mongolia “European”?

The times of greatest US expansionism, and greatest Russian or Soviet expansion, the Cold war era during which Nato and the EEC, then EU were created, can be dated at about 1948-1995. After that, the Western economy seriously turned sour and the G20 was born. Multipolarity grew. Calls for isolationism in the US, today, are not possible to ignore and despite all his failings, Obama is listening. Why the same calls are ignored, still today in Russia and the EU, is basically a conundrum of History. Here again, that is the only difference. Americans can explain this conundrum as an even greater “deficit of democracy” in the EU and Russia, than in the USA.

Economic Decline and the Empire
America can't afford an ersatz empire. The role of American economic decline since the 1990s was at first only relative but since 2008 it is giving alarming signs of being absolute. This can only, and will affect its foreign policy. Isolationism makes sense. Obama can rebrand and sell it as multipolarity.

In fact, the EU's forced march east and south is likely one trigger for the now clear and acute foreign policy dilemma the US finds itself in. The Obama administration proposed in its first term that the US would “pivot or rebalance” away from the Middle East, to Asia. For the Brzezinski doctrine, this is long overdue. However, like the EU finds out every day, and the US will also find out if it pursues the same expansion track, the “bang for the buck” is disastrously low and the geopolitical blowback can be high. Ukraine is an uber-powerful example!

In the US case, what is missing is any clear commitment and defined action to implement an expansion policy – if it really exists – and with President Obama it is very legitimate to ask if it exists. His four-country Asian tour of recent days was described by his sourest and meanest critics as “feckless and useless”, but its significance was its almost perfect lack of substance. Obama made it very clear, yet again, that he has no personal commitment to the “American Destiny” theory

We only have to step back 20 years to see what happens – in a multipolar world that has a one way drive to becoming more so – when there is combined action by Europe and the US to “change the face of Eurasia”, fatefully starting in the Balkans. The result in 1914 was World War I.

The 1995 combined EU-US-Nato action to carve Kosovo out of Serbia, and their action to support the breakaway republics of Yugoslavia was, in economic and even political terms, a near total failure. Taking only the highly symbolic state of Kosovo, this micro-state today is deeply mired in poverty and corruption with an Islamic-dominated government applying a variety of repressive legislation. Kosovo is a state that Kosovans only want to get out of – voting with their feet. The statistics don't lie.

Why did Gorbachev abandon the Afghan war shortly before pulling the plug on the USSR? The project was an economic failure and the Soviet economy itself was collapsing. Obama's foreign policy, in countless statements and reports repeatedly implies that the  “default policy option” is now the low-cost option. Called “assisted regime change” it consists of calls to authoritarian leaders to quit. First it was Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, then Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, followed by Bashr al Assad in Syria.

Ousting leaders can be difficult, and is expensive when the smart missile phase does not work because “boots on the ground” become necessary. Theoretically necessary because  this option is too expensive and won't happen. Obama knows this, he already had plenty of experience of it! To prove this is the reality of the multipolar world, the EU avoids boot-type “military adventure” like the plague.

Feckless – Not Reckless
The Obama administration well reflects its master. He has a proven lack of commitment to Empire Games and while his critics adore labeling him feckless he is not reckless. His critics can only charge him with that as recklessness by default and inaction.
Before the Ukraine crisis and linked to it, we had the Syrian crisis. Obama proclaimed that "Assad must go", but he stayed. The supposed “Western military option” inside Syria was to support some opposition elements judged “acceptable”. Their degree of acceptability to the Obama administration, we can note, is variable geometry. Because the Syrian opposition comes and goes and at present is mostly going – disappearing in the night and dissolving. The talk about chemical weapons, the famous “red line in the sand”, also came and went. The whole issue, we can argue, came and went. It fell off the Obama radar screen like Flight MH370.

Recent and supposed success stories for US-EU-Nato regime change included the 2011, Libya ouster and killing of Gaddafi. Today, Libya's prime minister has fled the country and large areas of Libya are out of the Tripoli government's control, the same way that large parts of Ukraine are out of the Kiev self-elected government's control.

Regime change in Egypt has been disastrous, both in political and economic terms. Egypt is totally polarized and marked by mounting violence. The same is true in Iraq, now the second-most civil war-wracked country in the region, with thousands killed each year in a vicious “car bomb war”.

Terrorism and anarchy are the hallmarks of the process. Is this how you build empires?
The Obama administration, but without fanfare has published reports and studies showing that former regime change “experiments” in countries as wide-ranging as Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea and Burma show that gradual and peaceful reform of authoritarian systems is less expensive and more likely to result in an open society. It is low cost and it works!
Much, much closer to the real world, the Obama administration has plenty of bottomless economic holes to fill – at home. The strength and resilience of the US economy is unsure. Social cohesion is threatened. The US has a shale energy boom, of course, but needs comprehensive immigration reform, infrastructure modernization, trade reforms and a willingness to tackle the entitlements crisis. US economic growth will remain low or very low. The Obama administration, and the next administration, and the one after will have to do something about US national debt before it explodes, driven by budget excesses, slow economic growth, surging Medicare and social security costs, higher interest rates, crony capitalism and criminal finance, outplacement, deindustrialization and a weakened dollar.

These factors explain Obama's apparent fecklessness!  Growing US isolationist sentiment is entirely predictable and natural. If Obama is a closet isolationist – all well and good. There is an accelerating movement toward a post-American multipolar world where governments will make decisions and take action, unrelated to US preferences for the future.

To be sure, this inevitable future will be messier than the previous – but it is real. The Ukraine crisis is a Defining Moment for Obama and the bottom line is: Keep Out.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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