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23TH September 2011

A Line In the Sand - Geopolitical - Mobile - Timely

This is the Berlin Wall, and we are Moscow… UN’s 63rd Fall Session ushers in a new reality

From my UN field trip...

The streets of new York City are clogged with tyrants, powerbrokers, divas and muses these days… and I don’t just mean Fashion Week! The Isle of Manhattan yields to the UN General Assembly’s Fall Gathering, and while I passively observe both, Melissa reminds me I am more useful commenting on the latter.

I spend a fair amount of time and capital in my own quest to understand the Middle East, but it doesn’t take all that to know this week brings a seminal moment in our influence there… it’s a whole new ball game if you haven’t noticed.

Wednesday’s Sarkozy rebuke of Obama was legendary, but Friday brings us the big squirm: the Palestinian quest for membership at the U.N is driving the US to the brink of sanity as throwing a veto on behalf of Israeli interests will surely off the rest of the Arab States. In the morning, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to speak. He has said that after he gives that speech, he will deliver a letter for application to the U.N. secretary-general. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak a little later in the day.

What makes me interested in this business is that the Arab Spring has set in motion a Rube Goldberg progression with no known end result. What Cairo unleashed was the power of  mobile social media among restless people, aided by the most unlikely of news sources al-Jazaeera. Long running dynasties in are running scared. And the West and the US in particular has at least one eye on the oil spigot, at least one toe in the Israel camp, and one hand in their pocket looking for the any loose change to help their ailing economy. Meanwhile, with this “people’s democracy” thing being bandied about as the likely solution to the vacuum left by the tyrants I have to believe everyone at the UN Cafe is wondering where it all leads and who leads after all.

Many of us Americans were only recently introduced to Islam in a most unfortunate way 10 years ago, as Irshad Manji points out in her blog . The Middle East is beginning to get its footing in modernity after a long and deep slumber with a rich cultural and religious legacy. That footing will displace our world order. As Robert Fisk opines in the Independent  this vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.  Ten years ago on 9/11 OBL succeeded in polarizing the West and the Muslim world  Zach Karabell, from Daily Beast reminds us, but a decade later, in the wake of the Arab Spring, that seems more transitory than permanent. We are living one of Thomas Friedman’s four ruling bargains, and it is going to probably hurt.

I was fortunate enough to join US Ambassador Frank Wisner for breakfast this week at the Next American Economy gathering put on by Bo Cutter. Reflecting on his overview, and I paraphrase here and am not quoting or mis-quoting,…the glide path from hegemony to responsible power is an important one for the US to manage. Letting domestic politics trump global influence will make the landing a hot mess. We must remember the importance of events, stay engaged, and remain cautious.

So while the Middle East and  the Arab spring may seem far away to us most of the time, this week the whole show is right here in Manhattan and the effects of how it all plays out will have profound influence on how we are viewed in the world. It will be a painful reminder of just how vulnerable we Americans really are.

No fashion runway ever had so much riding one show!

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