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Superpowers pine for the good old days

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For a glimpse of what life must be like for a Group of 20 negotiator, jump over to the New York Times for its summation of the U.S.'s apparent victory in winning backing at the United Nations Security Council for further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she had brokered a draft agreement, finally winning over a reluctant Russia and China and big footing a compromise that upstarts Brazil and Turkey struck with Iran on Monday.

"This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describing the agreement as a "strong draft," according to the Times.

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And if not for a thing called the internet, that would be the story on Wednesday. But because of that thing called the Internet, the Times can update its reporting around the clock. When the sun rose in Moscow, the paper dutifully sought out Russia's take on Ms. Clinton's "strong draft." Turns out, that draft might have a little less force than first appeared, as a Russian foreign ministry spokesman told the Times that the Brazil-Turkey plan should be given a longer look.

"Our position is, give them another chance," the Russian official said of Iran's apparent willingness to send its enriched uranium to Turkey. "We should take into account this demonstration of readiness by Iran."

Any number of things could be happening here. Ms. Clinton might have exaggerated her position in an attempt to force a resolution. Russia could be double dealing, trying to play this diplomatic game from both sides. Don't underestimate the possibility of miscommunication, misunderstanding or some other form of bureaucratic failure. For more informed speculation, see Daniel Drezner, a former U.S. Treasury official and one of the original academic bloggers, who also is puzzling over the announcement of two separate diplomatic agreements on Iran in 36 hours.

But one thing is clear in all of this: the U.S. isn't in charge of world affairs anymore. Put another way, the White House might still be chairman and chief executive officer of global order, but it must contend with a strong block of activist shareholders intent on exerting more influence on how the enterprise is run.

The surge in diplomacy around Iran over the last few days is the new world order taking shape in real time.

You have evidence of the U.S. preferring to achieve its objectives through the UN Security Council, a smaller venue where setting and influencing the agenda is a far simpler matter. This preference also could explain the U.S.'s new found interest in the Group of Eight process, which, after being left for dead, is suddenly showing new signs of life, as University of Toronto professor Alan Alexandroff noted over on the Centre for International Governance Innovation's G20 blog. The older powers might already be pining for good old days.

The counterpoint to the U.S. in this realignment of global power is Brazil and its president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Unlike China and Russia, who weren't always considering "emerging" powers, Brazil under Lula is like a peewee hockey player who has just learned how to take a slap shot. Brazil is the most outwardly enthusiastic of the BRIC nations in what appears to be an effort to foster an alternative pole of influence to the G8. (Pity Russia, caught between the two.) At the International Monetary Fund, Brazil's executive director, Paulo Nogueira Batista, has made much of the fact that the BRIC nations hold a veto over how a newly expanded credit line -- the $550-billion (U.S.) New Arrangements to Borrow, or NAB -- will be used because they are among the biggest contributors.

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Lula's intervention in the Iran situation represents his hardest slapper yet. Let's see if he scores or puts it off the post.

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About the Author
Senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation

Kevin Carmichael is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, based in Mumbai.Previously, he was Report on Business's correspondent in Washington. He has covered finance and economics for a decade, mostly as a reporter with Bloomberg News in Ottawa and Washington. A native of New Brunswick's Upper St. More

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