The world may seem to spin out of control, at least from a Western point of view, with the incessant appearance of new crises. It certainly seemed like it this summer. In the post-9/11 world, crises appear to ensue one another in the last decade with the financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Russia resurgence, and the rise of of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Think again argues Bernard Guetta, geopolitical chronicler for France Inter (French public radio), in his recent chronicle (listen here to his short analysis in French). Bernard Guetta argues that one should look back and compare with the world pre-9/11, and it was still a scary place. Following the end of World War two, the Cold War was the backbone of world events. The 40 years of tensions between the Soviet Union and the US/West were surrounded by decolonization processes throughout Africa, the Vietnam War, energy crises (1973 and 1979), fear of a nuclear holocaust, high level of terrorism in Western Europe among many other threats. However, the one element making the Cold War appearing more stable was the West ability to understand and identify his adversary. In the 21st century, the threats embodied by different groups, like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are face-less aside from the leaders.
Instead the world, Guetta argues, is doing much better if one takes a moment to reflect on the development and evolutions of many countries around the globe such as Latin America, several African nations, and the rise of Asian powers. These developments, in
terms of economic and societal dimensions, translate into broader levels development for more humans around the globe. So why most Westerners feel that the world is becoming more threatening than before? Bernard Guetta responds that in Europe and in the United States, Western citizens have lived inside ‘golden parentheses/bubble’ thanks to permanent progress for too long (Here are his words in French: En Europe, en Europe occidentale, et aux Etats-Unis, nous avons connu une parenthèse tellement enchantée, non pas du tout riche d’ailleurs mais de progrès permanent, que l’incertitude de l’avenir nous est devenue insupportable et nous aveugle, jusqu’à l’obscénité). With the ending of this golden era with the 2007 financial crisis, Westerners have become fearful of their future looking as uncertain as ever.
This outstanding and refreshing analysis by Bernard Guetta is facing one core problem. Since the end of history, World politics were understood as Western politics. In some way, what was good for the EU and the US was good for the world. However, in this post-9/11 global order, the West is not in the driver seat anymore, and is trying to remain in it. Throughout the last 13 years, the West, led by the US, France and Britain, have waged wars against potential threats around the world. The list of wars and military uses by the West in a 13 years window is certainly impressive: war in Afghanistan (13 years), war in Iraq (a third one is on its way), war in Libya, war in Mali, war in Central African Republic, war in Iraq against ISIS, and these do not include the use of tactical forces and drones in countries that the West is not at war with like Pakistan, Yemen or even Somalia. So the West has maintained a very aggressive approach in order to enforce their interests and perceived security. These wars and military actions contribute to the maintenance of the illusions of Western ability to shape the world.
Public opinions and experts thought that the use of preemptive war for advancing national interest and security died with the end of the Bush administration in 2008. Think again, the military intervention – at least airstrike for now – called by President Obama against ISIS is in the direct continuity of the Bush’s doctrine. In his September 10th speech President Obama clearly underscored the preemptive dimension of his strategy to fighting ISIS. He said “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”
The problem with Obama’s foreign policy is the lack of overarching strategy. He had argued in favor of a ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ type of foreign policy. But as demonstrated by Clinton and other experts, this is not a strategy. Obama is in fact doing ‘diplomatic public opinion.’ Obama is risking a new American intervention in Iraq because American citizens are majoritarly in favor of airstrikes against ISIS. But is it really in American interest?
As underscored in previous analyses, Obama is facing a interesting dilemma, American citizens greatly support his foreign policy, but do not support him as the President.
In the grand scheme of things, global politics have always been complex and messy. Yes, a greater majority of humans are living in better conditions that two decades ago. Yes, developing nations have increased their influence, power and provided greater good to their populations. But the West seems to be this declining bloc in search for this ‘golden parentheses’ at any cost. This last decade has been the story of Western powers seeking to prove to the world that their norms, values, institutions and relevance shall be adopted by all. Western powers, and their citizens, see a world going out of control – but when was it ever under control? – and are waging successive wars to remain on top. The lack of clarity and cohesion in Western foreign policies – especially in the case of Obama and some European leaders – demonstrate Western reluctance to fully re-engage with the world.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).