Barack Obama and the new place of American power
A new spirit of humility is clearly evident, but will the Obama administration agree to expand the 'Big Five' on the UN Security Council?
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Mr. Obama looks to a predominantly Muslim country such as Turkey to improve America's relations with nonterrorist Islam, perhaps even to facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam," he told Turkish dignitaries.Skip to next paragraph
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Throughout his first international foray since becoming president, Obama spread the words his interlocutors wanted to hear. He had come "to listen," as well as proffer ideas. America appreciates that "Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt [and] is a powerhouse. China, India, these are all countries on the move. And that's good," Obama noted.
Of his meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev: "What we're seeing today is the beginning of new progress in US-Russian relations." Mr. Medvedev's leadership "was critical in allowing that progress to take place."
We shall have to see whether all the charm and sweet talk in play on this first Obama overseas diplomatic venture will be translated into tangible cooperation. Obama made it clear that at least in public, American diplomacy under his direction is to be characterized by more modesty and humility to friends and allies.
An interesting test for the Obama administration will be whether its diplomatic congeniality should extend to expanding the permanent, veto-wielding "Big Five" on the UN Security Council, who basically call the important shots at the UN. They are: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, which have held their closely preserved positions since the UN's inception in 1945.
Newly influential nations such as Germany, India, Japan, and Brazil, whose cooperation the Obama administration now seeks, have argued that while the Big Five may have been representative of the world as it was then, they are not representative of the world today. Therefore the permanent membership should be expanded to include these nations of new heft and importance.
It is an argument of unquestionable reasonableness. Behind the scenes over the years, deep, dark politics have thwarted such change. Will the newly recognized interconnectedness of the world extend to the international body that is supposed to represent it?
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column for the Monitor's print weekly edition.