It seems fashionable to argue that the wheels are coming off Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It’s a position which the distinguished American scholar Philip Bobbitt stakes out in the most recent edition of Prospect. But, in truth, nothing much is happening in foreign affairs—and even if he himself had not earned his peace price, President Obama reflects the new era of tranquility over which he presides.
Let’s look at the ledger. Iraq has all but disappeared from the front page. Afghanistan and Pakistan remain, but even here investors are still steadily upping their investments in Pakistan, presumably judging that the conflict is being over-hyped. The argument with Iran over whether it is building nuclear weapons drags on, despite the forgotten report of the CIA two years ago, which found that Iran was probably not. Iran now says it might ship some of its used uranium to Russia to be converted into fuel (to provide medical isotopes) or else import from Europe, instead of manufacturing its own. The argument should now be relatively easy to wrap up.
What else? Georgia is out of the picture, and long ago was Chechnya. The Russians and the US sweet talk each other. Now that Washington has decided to abandon its ill-judged anti-missile system in eastern Europe, the Russians have switched off their angst and are happily agreeing to the first major nuclear arms’ cuts for nearly a decade. China is part of the “system.” The priorities are economic growth, dealing with financial imbalances and, unfortunately, keeping the lid on dissent at home. It has made peaceful settlements of its border disputes with Laos, Russia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and is working on its age-old dispute of border demarcation with India. Its bitter clash with Taiwan, which once commentators said was potentially the most explosive issue on the map, is now quiescent. Japan and China are finally getting on fine.
Elsewhere India’s reflex anti-Americanism is dead and buried (thanks to President George W Bush’s decision to lift the embargo on nuclear materials) and North Korea is isolated, even from its old mentor China. Over the past five years Africa, too, has seen many of its perennial conflicts wind down. There are still serious skirmishes in the…