The big picture

In his second term, US President Barack Obama is taking steps to enshrine his legacy and solidify America’s standing in the 21st century.

His recent decision to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, following a five-decade freeze, does not necessarily mean that the painful embargo imposed on the communist-run island will also be lifted. Such a move is likely to meet with resistance from Republican lawmakers, but it nevertheless shows that Obama has the stuff of greatness.

Diplomats had been preparing Obama’s historic telephone call with Cuban President Raul Castro for 18 months. Despite reactions from America’s conservatives, a far-sighted Obama is working to heal any open wounds from the Cold War and early post-Cold War years. He is effectively shaping the environment to ensure the continuation of American hegemony in the nascent era.

It is in this context that one must examine Obama’s decision to stay out of the civil war in Syria, his rapprochement with Iran, and his wading into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All these policy decisions represent a pragmatic, peaceful gesture toward the former “Axis of Evil” states. To be sure, the Obama administration’s newfound pragmatism derives from the realization that the US has been unable to neutralize old enemies via military means – a painful lesson that was learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US is still an unmatched superpower by virtue of its military and technological might, as well as its control of information data and capital flows. However, it needs to constantly confirm its superiority vis-a-vis the world’s other big powers, Europe, Russia and China. Washington would not like to see the emergence of a Russian-German axis of energy and commerce; it is concerned about China’s rise as the world’s biggest economy; and it will not take challenges to the dollar’s reserve currency role.

The shock experienced by oil-producing countries, the crisis in Ukraine, Europe’s declining influence to the east – there is no quick or calm end in sight to the geopolitical tremors around the globe.