It is a pity no one takes the current administration seriously. That lament is not personal--that is, it ought not to be interpreted as any sort of judgment about the actions or character of the people who now hold positions of authority. I leave those judgements to the psychologists, politicians, ideologues, and sophists among us. Rather, it is a pity that the current administration's efforts to outline its vision for the emerging American global order has been mindlessly dismissed out of hand. That pitiable state acquires more important dimension when advanced by those who hold positions of influence (but no longer have personal or group access to power), who view this emerging Trump Administration vision, and the people who are advancing these ideas, as personal, professional, and ideological enemies. As a consequence, the current campaign by those out of power (or with no access to influence within the state apparatus) to mount (effective) campaigns of marginalization, demonization, and personal attack, obscures emerging realities, even as it advances political and ideological objectives. Agit-prop is no substitute for analysis, though it is a powerful weapon for advancing political agendas. And yet our intellectual classes have developed a taste for conflating the two.
This was very much in evidence among those with access to the global press, especially the establishment press that is used as a vehicle for the projection of influence among literate masses, in the wake of the recent speech delivered by Secretary of State Pompeo at the German Marshall Fund, Brussels, Belgium (Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order:
Remarks delivered by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the German Marshall Fund, Brussels, Belgium, December 4, 2018).
"Responses ranged from tepid to hostile" (Pompeo Questions the Value of International Groups Like U.N. and E.U.
, New York Times). The speech was dismissed as ridiculous (Stewart Patrick, Tilting at Straw Men: Secretary Pompeo’s Ridiculous Brussels Speech,
for the Council on Foreign Relations). But see Trump building a 'new liberal world order', says secretary of state Mike Pompeo
. The Washington Post, already quite cross with this administration for other reasons, put forward a "perspective" chiding the United States for lecturing Europeans on their own affairs and then noting: "The third and most disturbing takeaway was the number of times panelists talked about the need to cope with the United States and China, as if there were no difference between the two countries in Europe’s eyes" (Europeans are quite aware of what they’re going through. Is Mike Pompeo?
, Washington Post)
Though this last sentence was meant to heighten the criticism with which the perspective is larded, it does make the only point worth emphasizing--not as a negative but as a positive. As I have been suggesting for some time (and with greater certainty after the American elections of 2016), like it or not (and those once in positions of authority, along with influential sectors of the global intellectual classes based in the West, loathe it) two intimately related visions of the emerging global order have been emerging. Both have been dismissed out of hand. The first is that developed as the natural progression from the principles and objectives of the great project of Chinese reform that was once understood as socialist modernization and is now embodied in projects like the Belt and Road Initiative and New Era ideology. The other (which irritates people in the West more), the "America First" Initiative (an irritating name, to be sure) has become the visible expression of a cluster of ideas that are only now acquiring something that resembles a form of a different vision of the Western liberal world order. That emerging vision is organically related to the one on which powerful elements of the Western intelligentsia had banked most of its resources over the last generation, and yet it undermines its central post 1989 organizing principle--that the state must wither away under the guidance of an autonomous network of global institutional orders
. To that end, the United States itself will mark the contours of that transformation within its own national to transnational order. Those were notions that reached it most refined expression under the Obama Presidency. In his well known speech in Cairo in 2009:
Like Mr. Obama, the United States represented that blended ideal that
serves as a proxy for the world. "Much has been made of the fact that
an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected
President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of
opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America,
but its promise exists for all who come to our shores" Remarks by the President On a New Beginning,
supra. It is the world incarnate, a theme Mr. Obama raised for the
first time in this form in its inaugural address. See, Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIV: “For Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly; But Then Face to Face”; On President Obama's Inauguration Speech
Law at the End of the Day, January 21, 2009. "We are shaped by every
culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple
concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."" Remarks by the President On a New Beginning, supra. (Mr. Obama Speaks in Egypt: "Islam is a Part of America"--The Ummah Wahida, and the State in Two Distinct World Orders).
And these were the notions against which both the Trump Presidency, and in their own way the political ideology emerging in the Chinese "New Era" proffer their own quite distinct vision.
The "New Era" American vision parallels in many respects, those emerging in China as unveiled in its 19th Communist Party Congress in 2017. It represents an acknowledgement, at least in some quarters in the West, that the context in which internationalism had emerged has now changed fundamentally. That change is in large part a measure of its success, but one which appears to have consumed it. These are the ideas worth examining not in the context of personal smear campaigns that appear to mark this era of American politics, but as ideas worthy of serious intellectual engagement. The question that Secretary Pompeo poses is an important one--is the era of global multilateralism characterized by the building of complex supra-national public and private institutions into which effective autonomous transnational regulatory authority is vested over, should it be re-considered, or must it be defended against the great states who bought built the system and now stand as its greatest opponents?
This post considers Secretary Pompeo's speech through that lens.