Saturday, December 14, 2013

Deep Currents, Surface Storms - International

(Obama's Cairo Speech, January, 2009)

We have looked at some key characteristics of the integral leader:
  • Sees the Deep Currents (what is trying to emerge) and experiences, but is not distracted by the Surface Storms (the often chaotic, what-is-happening-right-now, who's up-who's down level of action).
  • Leads from Behind most of the time. Sets the vision and a few key organizational goals or "attractors" that invite both high-performing teams and entire complex systems to self-organize in support of causing the vision to emerge.
  • Listens deeply, to what people and events are wanting to say.
  • Knows how to put aside his/her personal lenses in order to look clearly at what is arising.
Today I want to add one more quality of the integral leader - the ability to plant "seeds of possibility" and the patience to wait for what may emerge.

That's what Obama did in Cairo, in January 2009: he planted "seeds of possibility" that are beginning to grow and bear fruit. Let me give some highlights, which will include other "seed planting" fruit growing; in other words, Obama planted seeds in many places, not only in Cairo:

  • The Arab Spring would surely have happened at some point anyway, but I am certain our President's words that day in Cairo gave a great many people a sense of "Something is changing; now is the time to grow and transform." The result is not (at least not yet) the tolerant democratic governance we would have hoped; but wasn't it likely that the initial revolutionary surge would first bring in a different (i.e., Islamist) form of authoritarian structure, before democracy could grow?
  • The emerging conversation with Iran surely took its very early energy from the principles outlined in this speech: the US does not want to control any Muslim countries; I/we have deep respect for Islam; we/the US has sometimes made mistakes; and we want to work with all of you to build a new, safer, more peaceful, more exciting future. This was offered as a new beginning. And then there was Obama's fiercely criticized restraint during Iran's Green Movement after the "stolen elections". Had Obama intervened in any real way, I am sure we would not be in serious talks right now. Remember, from Iran's perspective, we had invaded Iraq to their West and Afghanistan to their North; we had declared them part of the Axis of Evil; we had a Presidential candidate singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Why in the world wouldn't they be on guard? So the seeds were planted in early 2009; but it was Obama's patience and consistency that have allowed these seeds to emerge from the earth and begin to grow into the light. It's a long way from a done deal; but the seeds were planted and the gardener is patient.
  • How about the partnership with Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons? Do you think Russia would have stepped forward to work with us, if the seeds had not been well planted years before with the new START treaty? Even though our relations with Russia have often been bumpy, Putin believed in Obama's commitment to reducing the world's supply of WMD, through the START treaty and through our patient building of the Iran sanctions program. And he knew that this President, unlike George W. Bush, was not trigger happy: he had withdrawn US troops from Iraq and was in the process of doing so from Afghanistan. People think the Syria move was a huge blunder and the CW deal was an accident. They're wrong. Deweaponizing Syria's CW with Russia's help was always the first choice. And do you really think Iran would be at the table now if we had bombed Syria?
  • And how about the seeds planted in starting discussions on the TransPacificPartnership and the more recent Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. It looks like Congress will grant the President fast-track negotiating powers, which means these agreements should be completed by mid-2014. Liberals hate these deals (can cost jobs, grants special powers to large corporations, sometimes weakens worker protections); but these deals will go through. Japan is now fully engaged in the TPP discussions; and I predict that before 2014 is out, China will want in. One of the key elements of these big trade agreements is that they provide multiple venues for resolving disputes. I suspect that the new TPP may give a structure and a space for peacefully resolving some of the East Pacific territorial disputes. Both the TTP and the TTIP are important deals, helping to bind the world together into a more connected system; but, in my view, the TTP has the ability to play an outsized role in bringing China more fully "into the fold".
In some ways, Obama's work in the international domain doesn't fit quite as neatly into the Deep Currents, Surface Storms metaphor and analysis. But key elements are there. And for certain, the media is essentially blind to the deep currents beyond our borders. They are endlessly distracted by our distractions. I will close this piece by saying I feel the world is becoming a safer place: the big, powerful countries are less and less likely to go to war with each other; and weapons of mass destruction have a reasonable to good chance of being curbed in the coming year.

One more note from the past and pointer towards a possible future: have you noticed that the Global War on Terror is over - we have specific adversaries but no existential threat; and what would you say if Israel and the Palestinians made peace before 2016?

Hopeful - that's the stance I am taking in the world. And much of the source of it for me is the extraordinary integral leadership our President is offering us. Bravo, Sir. And our gratitude.

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