Obama Seeking to Avoid a ‘Clash of Civilizations’


Obama Seeking to Avoid a ‘Clash of Civilizations’

Pete SouzaPete Souza

“(U.S.) will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster.” – President Barack Obama

On the day after President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union (SOTU), which made little mention about the tension in East Asia, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Tokyo-based, The Diplomat, published an article that asked whether Obama “Has Obama Abandoned the Pivot to Asia?”: “Yet the TPP was notably absent from Obama’s address, other than a quick, throw-away mention of ‘new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific’ being able to create new jobs. As TPP negotiations reach the final, critical stage, public support from Obama in his most widely covered speech of the year would have been extremely valuable. That he couldn’t make room for even a sentence in his speech speaks volumes.”

While disappointment and frustration within hawkish camp are understandable, Obama’s silence on East Asia prompted this headlines in the Army Times: “Obama emphasizes diplomacy to strengthen security” indicating that the incumbent president had made a wise move to prevent a disastrous “clash of civilizations.” In his renowned 1997 book of the same name, Samuel P. Huntington sees the states in “the West” as a civilized group sharing such core values as democracy, pluralism, individualism, rule of law and Christianity. While other civilizations, such as Muslim dominated societies and counties like China in the East, do not appreciate these values and tend to resist them.

Aside from concern over the divide between predominately Christian and Muslim countries, Huntington foresaw a similar problem with China: “A more dangerous source of a global intercivilizational war is the shifting balance of power among civilizations and their core states. If it continues, the rise of China and the increasing assertiveness of this ‘biggest player in the history of man’ will place tremendous stress on international stability in the early twenty-first century.”

What is worse is that the clash between confrontational civilizations would engage countries into a type of “off-again-on-again” fault line wars. “Fault line wars…are by definition between two groups which are part of larger cultural entities. In a fault line war…Group A1 is fighting Group B1 and each will attempt to expand the war and mobilize support from civilization kin groups, A2, A3, A4, and B2, B3, and B4…hence the internationalization of fault line conflicts.”

China itself is a self-sufficient civilization in the sense that it is pursing the Confucian ideal Xiaokang (a moral society with a modest living standard), through a unique China Model (socialism with Chinese characteristics—coexistence of free market and state-owned enterprises) and a non-democratic political power succession mechanism. Chinese national leaders, generation after generation, have been following the directions set by Deng Xiaoping to adhere to socialism on the one hand and strive to garner economic growth on the other. The distinctive features of its non-Western operational models have simultaneously generated a well-justified suspicion that the rise of China may pose some threats in one way or the other with the West. At the hearing of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee on Dec 11, 2013, experts urged a grand and cohesive strategy to deal with the threat from China.

In spite of the hawkish voices around him, President Obama remains resolute to maintain stability in the region. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in a Georgetown University speech, suggested that the Obama administration has dropped Cold War thinking and instead will pursue: “When it comes to China, we seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations. That means managing inevitable competition while forging deeper cooperation on issues where our interests converge—in Asia and beyond. We both seek the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, (and) a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, a stable and secure Afghanistan.”

As the leading core state of the Western civilization, Obama highlighted the deal with Iran, silence on East Asia and the emphasis on diplomacy during his SOTU, which indicated that the U.S. is heading in the right direction to prevent a clash with the East.

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