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The State of the World

Yesterday, Ban Ki-moon made it clear he will be happy to see the end of 2008.  “This year we have been confronted with so many crises,” the U.N. Secretary-General said at his year-end press conference.  “This has been a really difficult year.”

Will 2009 be any better?  The embattled South Korean held out little hope as he listed current challenges: Somali anarchy, Zimbabwe’s crisis, Afghanistan’s crisis, the crisis in the Middle East, and the global financial crisis, in addition to general problems like poverty and climate change.  Worst of all, nations are not cooperating with the United Nations, he noted.

And we should be surprised?  For the first time in more than a century, the world’s financial architecture and its geopolitical structure are falling apart at the same time.  And as this happens, the authoritarian regimes are banding together.  Each of them, in its own way, is working to change the existing system and replace it with something more to its liking.

We can expect the hardline states to undermine global order, but what makes this period especially dangerous is that the United States and its partners are not willing to confront them.  Prime Minister Putin can invade a neighbor, destabilize others, and proliferate nuclear technology throughout the Middle East with nothing more than an expression of mild concern from the White House.   President Hu Jintao can implement beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies and receive nothing but praise from Treasury Secretary Paulson.

Ban Ki-moon had 350 meetings with presidents, prime ministers, and other government leaders last year and traveled 250,000 miles-ten times around the world-without real accomplishment.  Yet he gets a free pass for ineffectualness because he is supposed to represent all member states, which means his job is to be inane and inoffensive, and because he has no authority.  Yet Western leaders can at least speak out to defend their nations and their values.  With the occasional exception of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, they choose to stay quiet.  Have you heard President Bush talk about the “freedom agenda” lately?

In 2008, Western leaders “engaged” the autocrats and saw the world crumble.  In 2009, they have the responsibility to switch course, raise their voices, and accomplish not only what is feasible but also what is necessary.  And if they fail to do all that must be done, we will see more than just uncertainty and turbulence.



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