2012 will be remembered for many things, Olympics, Euro crash, fiscal deficits and CERN's God particle etc. But at a time of tectonic shifts in power and money, the re-election of Obama must be one of the more significant historical events of 2012. His victory was greeted with a sigh of relief around the globe, not least because a weary world expected a new wave of wars from a Republican administration. President Obama has already proved dexterous in dealing with conflicts without protracted military engagements. But his biggest challenge will be to fundamentally re-orientate American foreign policy to prevent future US governments waging gung ho conflicts.
The fact is that the world is no longer the west's oyster in more than one way despite US power. Apart from financial equilibrium tilting eastwards, there is the beginnings of a paradigm shift in international politics. The era of wars pursued for idealism is receding. 'Real Politik' is shedding off false and real association with politics of 'just wars'. The new international game is no longer between left and right, human rights and cultural intransigence, democracy and authoritarianism, self presumptuous 'good' and 'bad' other. It is nakedly about resources, trade, cooperation and coexistence.
The new players are a lot wiser to the politics of hegemonic conflicts. There is a marked difference between the worldviews of East and that of the West. Russia seems to have understood this, has the USA?
Idealism is a major driver in western civilisation. It affects the west's view of the world. It works hand in glove with pursuit of power and control of resources. American foreign policy, the penultimate show on the international stage, has been infested with a desire to change the world into an image, albeit defective copies, of American idealisms; democracy, freedoms and capitalism. Governments have been toppled and countries destroyed in the name of defending and promoting American values. Crusades under another banner waged by American idealists.
The US has continued with the cold war script despite the end of that era. Islam, Middle East and some authoritarian regimes have been the new bogeys since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is a whole casket of visionary aims in US foreign policy. To bring democracy to the Middle East, empower secularists in Islamic world, introduce multiparty elections to China and so on. It started disastrously with Iraq, moved self flagellating to Afghanistan, pretended to be the inspiration for Arab spring and now itching to bring 'civilisation' to Syria. 'The mission' is important to justify invasions ever since Cicero and St Augustine choreographed 'just war'. It is intrinsic To American DNA and exploited by America's weaker friends, such as UK, Europe and now Japan.
The duplicity of maintaining unsavoury friends (dictators) was fine tuned by the Kirkpatrick doctrine of accommodating political realism in the hope of postponing 'world nirvana'. The road to heaven on earth is paved with nasty compromises.
The 'East' and particularly China, does not seem interested in spreading any 'final salvations' or change the world into its image. It is refusing to engage in the game the west knows best, the contest of ideals. It couldn't care less if Syria became a democracy or remained a dictatorship. It is masterfully deflecting attempts by the US and much of western media questioning China's one party rule.
The Chinese cannot understand why Americans and many Europeans cannot sleep well if China does not become a democracy. It considers it rude to question other people's cultural preferences and has no intention of toppling any democracy to prove its belief in the 'superiority' of authoritarian government.
This is the cultural challenge and paradigm shift that is becoming evident in international politics. It is the transformation from conflicts of political idealisms to coexistence or contests between civilisations. Neither China or India nor Middle East will play 'Lucifer', the 'evil other'. Meanwhile the West remains chained by its obsession with universal idealism and a bit disorientated in the new game.
For Obama, one of toughest challenges will be to take the 'political missionary' out of American foreign policy and make pragmatic coexistence and cooperation the over riding prerogative of US international relations. Drones cannot spread democracy and liberal values.
The fiscal cliff is a cakewalk compared to changing a whole culture of 'sermon on the mount' streak. Will Americans and much of the west be able to come around to the idea of live and let live. But Obama himself needs to be convinced of making this fundamental long term shift in US foreign policy and bring some clarity. If not, then Obama will only postpone violence on world stage and pass a historic opportunity to re-orientate US foreign policy.