f414b57ff8868210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q3Obama's four pillars look like a Herculean taske414b57ff8868210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Obama's four pillars look like a Herculean taskTo judge by the speeches made at the United Nations in New York this week, the world is on the verge of being made afresh.<p>To judge by the speeches made at the United Nations in New York this week, the world is on the verge of being made afresh. President Barack Obama has set out a daunting four-pillared plan to achieve what he calls a "new chapter of international co-operation - one that recognises the rights and responsibilities of all nations". His purpose is clearly to put behind him the unilateralism of the Bush years, when military force deployed without UN sanction was the prime expression of American power.</p>
<p>@body arnhem:That he is distancing himself from the past is no surprise. What is breathtaking is the ambition of the problems he sets out to resolve over the next three months. These include achieving a global agreement to prevent runaway climate change, reducing the world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons and reforming the world economy to prevent a repetition of last year's great crisis, as well as solving three hot crises - making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, reining in Iran's nuclear programme and winning the losing battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.</p>
<p>Opportunities for remaking the world come rarely - usually after war has blown away the diplomatic fog that clouds the reality of inter-state relations. The year 1945 was one such occasion: with Germany and Japan in ruins, the victorious allies founded the United Nations with the goal of maintaining international peace. In 1990, with the Soviet Union collapsing, George Bush senior set out a vision of a "new world order" under the leadership of the sole remaining superpower, America.</p>
<p>In these cases the plans of the victors were given impetus by the fact that their enemies had been trampled in the dust. This is hardly the case with Mr Obama today. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has fought off Washington's demands for a freeze on settlement building, transforming himself in the process from foxy politician to something akin to a national leader. In Afghanistan, Mr Obama's strategy of defeating the Taliban in what he called a "war of necessity" has collapsed amid the scandalous ballot-stuffing of the presidential election.</p>
<p>As for remaking the global economy, the fear of sinking into a global depression led to a trillion dollar global rescue package in April. With the prospect of falling off a cliff retreating, global solidarity is weakening and the world's major economies are likely to be less amenable to being told what to do by the US.
The world's bankers do not judge Mr Obama on his speeches but on whether he can secure agreement on healthcare reform, a policy on which it should be possible to achieve broad agreement but which has been sunk in the most vicious name-calling. In this case, he really does have a December deadline. If the debate stretches into 2010, the looming mid-term congressional elections risk making agreement impossible.</p>
<p>It is not unknown for untried Democratic administrations to begin in chaos and notch up spectacular failures: Bill Clinton's presidency was a rudderless ship until he hired David Gergen, a veteran political fixer from the Reagan administration, to shift the focus from grand ideas to the grubby art of the possible.
The situation is rather more dramatic for Mr Obama: he has gone further down the road of setting a moral tone, eschewing the crude calculations of political advantage. He displays the mindset of an intellectual, seeking a comprehensive, policy-based solution to problems, rather than the piecemeal approach that might yield more political traction.</p>
<p>No doubt he believes that the items on his ambitions foreign agenda are all issues that must be addressed, and the possibility of failure should not stop him from trying. But this is dangerous politics, when all the commentary focuses on the decline of America and the rise of the Asian powers.
The economist Kenneth Rogoff, professor of public policy at Harvard and a National columnist, believes that the transition from the "American century" to the "Asian century" is a process that could take 70 to 80 years. But the damage to the US economy and prestige last year might speed up the process to 30 to 40 years - depending on how China survives the crisis.</p>
<p>That is still more than a generation away. But any talk from Washington of sharing power will only prompt more speculation about the American colossus hobbled by debts to China.
It is clear that Mr Obama is not proposing to cede leadership of the world. On the contrary, he intends to lead, but clearly he has to do it more forcefully than he has done so far. He has to get some concrete achievements: he has not yet managed to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.</p>
<p>His talk of "a new chapter of international co-operation" is meant as a bargain: if major countries - principally Russia and China, but also the European Union states - help America to achieve its goals in Iran and Afghanistan through support for sanctions and providing troops, then the US will abide by the principles of the UN Charter. At the same time, foreign countries should understand his domestic difficulties with signing up to any new climate change agreement.</p>
<p>He told the UN General Assembly that "power is no longer a zero-sum game". That may be his vision. But individual states will look at his proposals through the prism of what they can gain for themselves from this bargain, and what they stand to lose if they fail to take the bait. The example of Mr Netanyahu suggests they do not have much to fear from going their own way.