Careful what you wish for: an unstable world as U.S. declines

Tony Karon writes: Alarmed by the unchecked global dominance of Washington in the late 1990s, France’s then-foreign minister Hubert Vedrine described the US as a “hyperpower” whose influence needed to be checked for the greater good. This would be achieved, he suggested, by the construction of a “multipolar” world order, in which US influence would be balanced by the emergence of a number of different power centres.

As 2011 draws to a close, there can be no doubt that “multipolarity” is upon us, and then some: Washington has found its abilities limited to influence the dramatic political events unfolding across the wider Middle East and beyond. The US in 2012 faces a wave of crises that could have profound consequences for America’s well-being, yet with dramatically weakened levers of influence to shape the outcomes to those crises.

Today, decisions made in Ankara, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, Tehran, Riyadh and even Doha are having an effect on international affairs that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago. A quick glance at a few of the crises currently on the boil suggests the “multipolar” world may be a more unpredictable place than Mr Vedrine imagined.

President Barack Obama pulled the last US troops out of Iraq saying that it could become a “model for the entire region”, but the bloodbath visited on Baghdad by car bombers in the final weeks of 2011 was a grim reminder that Iraq may still be headed down the abyss of sectarian bloodshed. The attacks come against a backdrop of sharply rising sectarian tensions as the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki appears to be systematically removing leading Sunnis from the political scene, raising fears of a renewed insurgency.

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One thought on “Careful what you wish for: an unstable world as U.S. declines

  1. Christopher Hoare

    Definition: unstable world == one that does not conform to the Washington consensus.
    Since it is the Washington consensus that is largely responsible for the worst of the world’s problems one can hardly call multipolarism a mistake if it operates on the problems from a wider viewpoint.

    As a Canadian citizen of English birth I was amused by the classic putdown, “You can always tell an Englishman, but you can’t tell him much”. For your information, the American has inherited this judgement along with the troubled mantle of empire that it snatched from the hapless Brits in WWII. Some days it seems that it is not possible to get through to Americans at all. Tony Karon and others—you will get a little closer to the current world realities if you try listening to others and quit seeing illusions through purely American eyes.

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