BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Closet Universalist? – Part 1

Okay, that’s not such a catchy epithet.  Hurling that at an opponent in a debate is likely to leave one’s opponent, the moderator and the audience confused.  Nonetheless, it might be true: President Barack Obama subscribes to a universalist view of the world.  His speech today in Cairo contained enticing elements of that philosophy and the requisite statements of hope he for which he is famous.  There were also, however, several contradictory statements that will give world leaders outside of the Middle East concern.

First, there are many schools of thought regarding how the world is organizing itself and what the consequences are and will be.  Samuel P. Huntingdon described nine distinct current civilizations in his 1993 book on the subject, The Clash of Civilizations.  “One-Worlders” see a universal civilization developing as a result of modernization and globalization.  This school of thought also tacitly – and sometimes not so tacitly – believes that the Western model (America + Europe) will be the ultimate end product.  Still another, more cynical (realistic?) school sees it as “Us and Them.”

Obama clearly identified “Islam and the West” and clearly identified many of the causes for the conflict that has characterized the relationship for the last fifty years, at least.  However, he proclaimed that America and Islam share “common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”  Shared basic principles do not, however, explain how human behavior changes or what might be done to influence change in one direction or another.

Obama stated quite clearly that violence is not the way forward for the Palestinians.  He stated this several times.  In his worldview, the growing interdependence of peoples and nations precludes violence as a method for solving problems. This is similar to Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches Theory” of diplomacy.  Friedman pointed out that no two nations that have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war.  Until the Yugoslav civil war in which NATO intervened, that is.

So, President Obama painted a vision of a world in which dialogue and negotiation replace bullets and bombs, because the consequences of armed conflict harm all of us.  I won’t contradict him on this point.  In his weltgeist, we have too much in common to allow what little that separates us to prevail.  However, this universalist position is one that has already been rejected by radical Islamists, not to mention leaders in China, India, South Korea and Singapore, to name a few.  He better come armed with more than ideas and pretty words, if he is to win this battle.

June 4, 2009 - Posted by | Middle East, Obama

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