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.