New geopolitical players
Insightful Post-American World plumbs 'rise of rest'
One might assume a book titled The Post-American World would describe a bleak future for a declining United States. On the contrary, The Post-American World isn't about the decline of America but rather, as Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria puts it, "the rise of the rest."
From the breakup of the Soviet Union until recently, the United States enjoyed its standing as the world's sole superpower at the end of what is often described as the American century. But times are changing as China, India, Brazil, Russia and other countries are recognizing their potential to assert their emerging military and economic power.
According to Zakaria, the United States must be prepared to adjust to a more level playing field a playing field on which some nations can ignore the United States altogether if it hopes to preserve even a portion of its dominance in today's rapidly changing world.
Zakaria begins by retracing the fractious, uneven development of Eastern and Western cultures. For those without the time or inclination to read all 11 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization, his book provides a useful executive summary. Since the ascendancy of the United States is a relatively recent event, Zakaria spends as many or more pages on the rise and decline of the British Empire.
Among the factors that have led to recent shifts in global power are economic advancement abroad, which bolstered countries' nationalist instincts, and U.S. missteps. These include, especially in the past seven years, deliberately polarizing politics, a reckless and unreasoning foreign policy and a "holier-than-thou" attitude when dealing with allies and enemies alike.
In organizing the book, Zakaria evokes the vast extent of U.S. global dominance after World War II, then discusses the rapid growth and advancement other countries have achieved, now placing them next to if not above America's ranking in some categories of output and quality of life. Explaining the fundamental reasons for the "rise of the rest," Zakaria writes that "the [U.S.] economy has finally met its match," and "our corporate tax rate is the second highest in the world not because the United States raised it, but rather because everyone else lowered theirs."
Zakaria sees China as the challenger, the next country lined up to bask in the global limelight as it displaces the United States in the export of manufactured products and influence in Asia. He views India, on the other hand, as one of the most pro-American nations on the planet, one that can use its growing prosperity to benefit both countries. A recent survey found that the United States is almost as admired in India as it is at home.
Zakaria objectively presents the world's multifaceted views of the United States. He is very much the even-handed centrist he claims to be. For every U.S. weakness he identifies, he counters with a redeeming quality. He laments the idea, much in practice in recent years, that we need not live up to the standards we set for others. But he takes pride in the success of our nation: in our prestigious institutions of higher education, our adaptability, our expansive economy, our humanitarian endeavors and the fact that we are the only "universal nation," with immigrants from all over the globe.
Zakaria offers hope and six quick fixes "new rules for a new age" for improving our nation so it can remain a vital and effective global heavyweight:
Identify economic, diplomatic and military priorities. The United States can't have it all.
Rather than promoting narrow national interests, encourage a broad framework for international relations by which all the world's nations can get along and prosper.
Be Bismarck, not Britain. Rather than being an aloof referee, copy Otto von Bismarck, who tried to have better relations with all the great powers than any of the powers had with another.
Order a la carte. There might not be a superpower solution for every problem. A multinational, flexible approach could be just as effective. The United Nations might be the best structure to deal with one crisis, NATO or the Organization of American States the next.
Recultivate the legitimacy of U.S. power. The current administration largely squandered that legitimacy in the run-up to the Iraq War.
Stop cowering in fear. In six years, a fearful U.S. government managed to "destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, and embolden enemies, while solving few of the international problems we face."
Zakaria stresses "consultation, cooperation, and even compromise," empowering allies, because "diplomatic imperialism is a luxury that the United States can no longer afford." He argues that if America were to shift roles from a hegemonic and sanctimonious country to a mediator and prominent (but modest) role model for other countries, perhaps they would be more inclined to rekindle a friendship and salvage respect for our once revered nation.
My generation (I am 17) will inhabit the post-American world Zakaria projects. His book identifies our teenage fears for our country, even as we acquiesce to living in a world uncertain of its future. While my generation understands and embraces the technology boom and ever-increasing globalization, The Post-American World stresses the importance of working with other countries, enlightening ourselves to other cultures and accepting that sometimes on the global stage we must share the limelight.
The Post-American World provides a thorough and global understanding of this country's state of affairs, a blueprint of what to expect and enlightened counsel by which to steer our nation in the years to come.
If the next administration applies Zakaria's insight and advice to the governing of our country, perhaps we won't have to imagine a post-American world, because we will be rising with the rest.
Meredith Baker will be a senior this fall at Clear Lake High School. She is the teen correspondent for Channel 11's Great Day Houston and a frequent contributor to the Chronicle's opinion pages.