Unrest in Egypt and the Birth of a New Political Age

As I wrote in a Huffington Post essay, "Obama, No Realist He," it is impossible to understand what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East right now without taking a step back and recognizing how fundamentally things are changing throughout the world today. We are seeing so many streams of change flowing into the river of history: technological change, advances in communications and media, evolving economies and the creative/destructive power of globalization, the post-WWII global order, "the rise of the rest," the election to the presidency of the most powerful country in the world a man with non-European lineage. But taken together what we know is that we are in a transitional global period now, and with these events of the last few weeks it feels more like we are entering the beginning of a new age rather than experiencing the end of the last.

This is particularly true due to the demographics of the world today -- fully 52 percent of the people alive today are under 30, and in developing countries the number is often much higher. This "youth bulge" we've heard so much about on TV is very real. Because of their numbers these young people have the power to sweep away cultural and political remnants from an old order, and will, without doubt, refashion the future of countries like Egypt around their own modern, 21st century sensibilities.

On MSNBC yesterday I publicly disagreed with former Defense Secretary William Cohen about the need to emphasize stability in the Middle East today. Given the changes underway throughout the world, I don't think "stability" as we understood it is really an option any more. Change of this magnitude is inherently unstable, threatening to the old order. The US's goal now should be to help manage the coming changes, the transition of societies across the world, into this new era of the 21st century. Part of our responsibility as the most influential nation on earth is to become more honest and open about the pace of global change, and the need to fashion global and national strategies to manage this level of societal change over time and throughout the world. The global institutions we have right now were built for a different era and a different set of global challenges. As I wrote in this essay for Salon last year, re-imagining our global institutions for the 21st century is one of the great challenges falling to our leaders today.

President Obama is particularly well-suited to lead America in this new era of global politics. And the way he and Secretary Clinton have artfully balanced our competing interests these past few days -- of sticking with an old geopolitical ally, while standing up for the universal rights for the people of Egypt and the region who are demanding -- appropriately -- a better life and more freedom - is a sign of how America has begun to adapt its foreign policy to these new global dynamics.

When I watch the images from Egypt I do not see unrest and instability. I see the creative birth of a new political age, a new day, a day which for so many has the potential to be so much better than what has come before. I don't fear these images from Cairo, I welcome them. But also realize that with every moment like this, moments of great opportunity and possibility, come dramatic and very real challenges. Managing these transitions, helping more people fashion better and more pluralistic civil societies, is in many ways the great foreign policy project of the next 10-20 years for the United States and mature democratic allies like England and Japan.

It is time to get to work -- let us do more to ensure that this new age is a good one for the most number of people in the world today seeking a better life.