Has the US stepped back from the global political and economic leadership role it has played since the end of WWII? The critics who attribute the turbulence in the Middle East, Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and a resurgent China to a lack of global leadership by the US and specifically President Obama think so.
I suggest, however, that the critics take a breather to consider what happened yesterday and how it could change the world for the better.
I felt a sense of national pride over the announcement that Iran and the US-led P5+1 Countries (UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and US) had reached an agreement on a process that would ensure Iran develops nuclear capabilities only for peaceful purposes in exchange for a cessation of the US and EU economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
The immediate and heated criticism of the agreement from opponents in the Republican majority of the U.S Congress, Iran’s neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, however, could not diminish the historic significance of what occurred yesterday.
It was US leadership that resulted in an agreement that removed the certainty that war was the only path to resolving the future of Iran’s nuclear program, all in the middle of a region of the world that is engulfed in a war against Islamic extremists, rising tensions between Sunnis and Shias and the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Secretary of State Kerry admitted that a lot of hard work was still ahead and that the deal could still unravel during the next stage of negotiations over the process for reducing monitoring Iran’s nuclear program and what needs to be accomplished before economic sanctions are lifted.
Were these the actions of a declining nation state? Hardly. The United States has steadfastly fulfilled the global leadership role it assumed in 1945 during high points, the end of the Cold War, and low points, the Vietnam War. The US led initiative to create the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund helped to shape the dramatically different world of 2015. The post-WWII world of impoverished developing countries and former socialist economies are now the BRICS and the rapidly growing economies of Asia, Africa and South America.
These countries are now demanding their rightful place at the decision-making table on political and economic governance issues for the global community.
The critics of the Obama Administration’s foreign policies who still see the world as it was in the post-WWII era of the Cold War are out of touch with the political and economic realities of the 21st Century. They don’t recognize that America’s influence over global affairs is now less about domination and more about mutual collaboration.
Which is why I find it curious that the US government is so adamantly opposed to the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Sure, the AIIB is a challenge to the World Bank and IMF, and a response to what China and other emerging economies see as US-led western domination of the international financial system. But it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. US participation would provide an opportunity to play an influential role in the formation of the AIIB’s governance structure.
The Iran agreement demonstrated how important US influence continues to be in today’s world. Let’s hope that the White House continues to choose engagement over calls to retreat from global affairs. We need to have trade agreements like TPP and TTIP for economic growth and US jobs. And, most importantly, we must have wise leadership that can use America’s immense powers to address the new realities and opportunities of the post-20th Century world.