As 2010 draws to a close, I try to pinpoint the year’s most important events from a personal standpoint.
I find it quite easy to say what the main theme of these twelve months for me was. It is moral retreat of the West at a time when Western principles of democracy, transparency and accountability of authorities find more and more supporters elsewhere. From Cote d’Ivoire to Burma, from Egypt to Venezuela, those who fight for democracy and badly need help and encouragement could only see dithering and indecisiveness on the part of Europe and the United States.
America withdrew its forces on active duty from Iraq. True, there are still 50,000 U.S. military personnel there, advising the Iraqi military and police, but their deployment patterns and ability to influence the events on the ground is significantly lower than it used to be. In a country, which took eight months to form a government, this decision by the White House looked premature.
Once you combine this with President Obama’s disastrous decision to announce the withdrawal schedule for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the situation looks even worse. Even if you intend to withdraw, you do not warn your enemies about it so demonstrably. The Taliban are surely grateful to Washington, as Hamid Karzai is already calling for a “dialogue” with them – a euphemism for “please don’t hang me when you come to power” plea.
Despite being surrounded by some highly capable people, Barack Obama displays an amazing lack of understanding of major issues facing America. This probably stems from the fact that he was never much interested in what goes on beyond the borders of his own country in the first place. Obama’s idea of America withdrawing into its shell from the global problems was tried before by quite a few presidents (including that icon of the American Left – Franklin Roosevelt), but such policies always proved to be misguided, as events time and time again propelled the United States to the forefront of global politics.
I suppose this could be the case again as the EU is increasingly mired in its own problems. The disastrous lack of vision and political leadership in Europe found an exceptional series of proof in 2010. European economies started to go bust one by one. It was Greece and Ireland this year, Portugal, Spain, possibly Italy and even Germany to follow. The only receipt that Brussels found for all these ills was to issue more “stabilization” handouts. And this at the time when there are serious doubts about the long-term survival of the euro.
The populations and the governments in Europe still haven’t realized that the welfare paradise they have been living in is probably irretrievably lost. They demonstrate on the streets to keep everything as it was before, and do away more and more with what remains of the European armed forces. Britain’s supposedly conservative government has just decimated the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Germany is reducing its already laughable armed forces and replacing a highly successful draft system with a volunteer one – all in the name of cuts. European countries look increasingly unable to project any power at all – neither military, nor economic. So the “Americans to the rescue” call is not long in coming.
If one looks back at 2010, which regions of the world this call will come from is more or less clear. Iran was flaunting its belligerent attitude for the last twelve months and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and delivery systems fast. If the Wikileaks diplomatic cables have revealed anything encouraging, it’s the fact how eminently sensible the Arab leaders are to ditch all the rubbish rhetoric about the so-called Muslim solidarity and call on Washington to do something real about the dangerous and expansionist Tehran regime.
Another hotspot is the Korean Peninsula, where last year the megalomaniacs in Pyongyang have deliberately put the region and the world at risk – twice. Washington’s – and everyone else’s - response to the sinking of a South Korean ship and the shelling of South Korean territory was timid to say the least. China with its perceived special leverage in and on North Korea could (or would) do nothing to quell Kim Jong-il’s regime. Next year could well produce more tests of international resolve there. Will Obama react?
Finally, there are problems elsewhere. The brutality of Lukashenko’s dictatorship smack in the middle of Europe; Russia, forever poised on the brink of authoritarianism; Egypt, torn between Mubarak’s suffocating rule and the possibility of Muslim Brotherhood takeover; and, last but not least, China, spreading its dangerous gospel of authoritarian capitalism all over the world – to name but a few. Values, and not interests-based inspiration from the West is still in high demand. If only the West could wake up to this reality.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.