No one can deny that Saudi Arabia was spot-on in refusing to join the United Nations Security Council as an ineffective, powerless entity. Countries are like beautiful women (except when they’re Saudi Arabia, which regards all women as minors no matter their age) and they want to feel they matter. But Riyadh’s mulish defiance at the United Nations was interesting for reasons that go beyond a visible attempt at a new muscular Saudi foreign policy. As also the suggestion that it is supremely interested in an ethical and principled multi-polarity.
Max Fisher of the Washington Post sees it as something else again. In an interesting visual report card of US foreign relations in 2013 (though there are two months still to go but no prospect of any substantive change), he identifies just seven countries with which US relations have improved this year (marked in blue) and nine with which relations deteriorated (marked in red).
Clearly, the weather report for the US is the global cooling towards it. Alternatively, the intense warming over its foreign policy, with too many hot seats and hot-button issues.
In Mr Fisher’s ‘report card’, Iran, as anyone might guess, is the big improvement. Then there’s Burma, Israel, China, Vietnam, South Korea and Cuba. Numbers 1 and 2 are easy; the other five record minor improvements in relations – nothing to print off new editions of the history books.
The souring-relations list is longer and it’s headed by Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Afghanistan, France, Germany, Turkey, Brazil and Bolivia are miffed too but it’s a moot point if that’s particularly newsworthy. Most of that lot are generally upset with the US for reasons of omission or commission.
But the main point about mapping the global cooling towards the US goes beyond keeping tabs on diplomatic love-ins, slug-fests and other forms of interactivity. It is to take a stand-back view of a changing landscape. It appears to be changing fast, political scientists Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue in an essay titled ‘The End of Hypocrisy’. America’s biggest foreign policy problem, they say, is not that more countries are falling out of love with it (and being rather less restrained in saying so publicly) but that the world is calling time on the special immunity it has enjoyed so far – the right to be hypocritical. The times they are a’changing.