ZakPost 08-08-119 

The Post-American World



Fareed Zakaria

W.W. Norton and Company, 2008, 292 pp., ISBN 978-0-393-06235-9


Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and writes a weekly column on international affairs.  The great story of our times is "the rise of the rest."  The push of globalization will increasingly be joined by the pull of nationalism--a tension that is likely to define the next decades.  Global growth will produce both good things and problems.  Our biggest challenges will not come from the losers but the winners on the world scene.  While the title sounds pessimistic, the book is not.


Chapter 1.  The Rise of the West

"Poverty is falling in countries housing 80 percent of the world's population.  The 50 countries where the earth's poorest people live are basket cases that need urgent attention.  In the other 42--which include China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey, Kenya, and South Africa--the poor are slowly being absorbed into productive and growing economies."  (3)


Except for military power, power is shifting away from American dominance.  "That does not mean we are entering an anti-American world.  But we are moving into a post-American world, one defined and directed from many places and by many people." (5) 


Chapter 2.  The Cup Runneth Over

Between 200 and 2007, the world economy grew at its fastest pace in nearly 4 decades.  Income per person across the globe rose at a 3.2 percent rate. (7)


"With the arrival of big ships in the fifteenth century, goods became mobile.  With modern banking in the seventeenth century, capital became mobile.  In the 1990s, labor became mobile.  People could not necessarily go to where they jobs were, but jobs could go to where people were."  The expansion of communications has made the world more deeply connected.  (25)


These forces have given countries everywhere fresh opportunities to start moving up the ladder of growth and prosperity. (25)


Many of the most complex and potentially lethal dilemmas we face are the product of these successes. (27) 


Global inflation has been kept low because India and China are two great global deflation machines, pumping out goods and services for a fraction of their costs in the West. (27)


The countries with natural resources, especially petroleum and natural gas, are getting free rides, surfing the wave of global growth, getting rich without having to play by economic rules. (28)


The principle political challenges to the U.S. and Western ideas of international order come from Iran, Venezuela, and Russia.  They all have oil strength.  (29) 


"The most acute problem of plenty is the impact of global growth on natural resources and the environment." (30)  "Historically, populations have moved to find water; if water sources dry up in the future, tens of millions of people will be forced to start moving." (30) 


Nationalism is on the rise.  "Many of the 'rest' are dissecting the narratives, arguments, and assumptions of the West and countering them with a different view of the world." (35)  "In fact, rising powers appear to be following a third way: entering the Western order but doing so on their own terms--thus reshaping the system itself."  Countries can bypass the Western 'center' entirely and forge their own ties with one another.  "In a post-American world, there may be no center to integrate into." (36)


New powers are more strongly asserting their interests.  "China, India, Brazil, and other emerging powers will not follow along with a Western-led process in which they have not participated." (37)


But within the countries of China and India, sub-nationalism is also growing and that makes purposeful national action more difficult. (39)


"America will face the most intense economic competition it has ever faced."  "For now, the United States remains the most powerful player.  But every year the balance shifts." (42)  "The United States occupies the top spot in the emerging system, but it is also the country that is most challenged by the new order." (43)


Chapter 3.  A Non-Western World?

"If we are to understand what the 'rise of the rest' means, we must understand just how long the rest has been dormant."  Western intellectual and material dominance has existed for half a millennium.  (52)


"Why did non-Western countries stand still while the West moved forward?"  There is no good, neat answer.  (60) 


A central question for the future: "Can you be modern without being Western?  How different are the two?" (73)  "In the next few decades, three of the world's four biggest economies will be non-Western (Japan, China, and India)."  "Huntington has argued that modernization and Westernization are wholly distinct. (74)  "But in general, and over time, growing wealth and individual opportunity does produce a social transformation.  Modernization brings about some form of women's liberation.  It overturns the hierarchy of age, religion, tradition, and feudal order.  And all of this makes societies look more and more like those in Europe and North America." (81)


"Local and modern is growing side by side with global and Western." (82)  People used to get a Western slant on the news from CNN.  "Now every country is producing its own version of CNN.  These news channels are part of a powerful trend, the growth of new narratives.  The different channels of news represent many quite different perspectives on the world.  (83) 


"If Christian values lie at the heart of the Western tradition, then how should one characterize a country like South Africa, which has more than seven thousand Christian denominations?  Or Nigeria, which has more Anglicans than England?" (85)


"But as the modern world expands and embraces more of the globe, modernity becomes a melting pot." (85)  "The question 'Will the future be modern or Western?' is more complicated than it might seem.  The only simple answer is yes."  (86)


"The great shift taking place in the world might prove to be less about culture and more about power." (86)


Chapter 4.  The Challenger  (China)

"Americans like size, preferably supersize.  That's why China hits the American mind so hard." (87)


In 1979 things began shaking.  "China's awakening is reshaping the economic and political landscape, but it is also being shaped by the world into which it is rising.  Beijing is negotiating…globalization and nationalism."  "Meanwhile, growth also means that China becomes more assertive…casting a larger shadow on the region and the world.  The stability and peace of the post-American world will depend, in large measure, on the balance that China strikes between these forces of integration and disintegration." (88)


"China is the most successful development story in world history." (89, quoting Jeffrey Sachs)  "The size of the economy has doubled every eight years for three decades." (89) 


"China will not replace the United States as the world's superpower.  It is unlikely to surpass it on any dimension--military, political, or economic--for decades, let alone have dominance in all areas.  But on issue after issue, it has become the second-most-important country in the world, adding a wholly new element to the international system." (93)


"It is awkward to point out, but unavoidable: not having to respond to the public has often helped Beijing carry out its strategy." (95)


"Unprecedented economic growth has produced unprecedented social change." (97)  Beijing is the world capital of air pollution. (98) 


"The greatest problem China faces…is the risk that its government will lose the ability to hold things together…." (99)  Beijing has developed an elaborate and effective system to monitor use of the Internet.  (100)  "The Communist Party spends an enormous amount of time and energy worrying about social stability and popular unrest." (100)  "And as Chinese standards of living rise, political reform is becoming an increasingly urgent issue." (101)


"East Asians do not believe that the world has a Creator who laid down a set of abstract moral laws that must be followed."  (109)  "Historically, countries influenced by Christianity and Islam have developed an impulse to spread their view and convert people to their faith.  That missionary spirit is evident in the foreign policy of countries as diverse as Britain, the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, and Iran." (112)  For the Chinese a sense of the practical guides their philosophy.  (112)  "…there's no doubt that a basic worldview organizes the way people perceive, act, and react, particularly in crises." (113) 


"China views itself as a nation intent on rising peacefully, its behavior marked by humility, noninterference, and friendly relations with all.  But many rising countries in the past have similarly believed in their own benign motives--and still ended up upsetting the system.  …as a nation's power increases, it 'will be tempted to try to increase its control over its environment.  In order to increase its own security, it will try to expand its political, economic, and territorial control…." (114)  "…throughout history, great powers have seen themselves as having the best intentions but being forced by necessity to act to protect their ever-expanding interests." (115)


"China operates on so large a scale that it can't help changing the nature of the game." (115)  "China buys 65% of Sudan's oil exports.  It maintains a military alliance with Sudan…."  "China's deputy foreign minister was frank, 'Business is business.'" (118) 


"Having abandoned communism, the Communist Party has been using nationalism as the glue that keeps China together, and modern Chinese nationalism is defined in large part by its hostility toward Japan." (122)  "The danger of external crisis plus internal nationalism looms largest over Taiwan." (122)  "The rational decision making that guides economic policy is not so easily applied in the realm of politics, where honor, history, pride, and anger all play a large role." (123)  "…there is likely to be tension.  How the two countries handle it will determine their future relations--and the peace of the world."  (124)


"China needs the American market to sell its goods; the United States need China to finance its debt--it's globalization's equivalent of the nuclear age's Mutual Assured Destruction." (124)  China is expanding its military, but spends a fraction of what America does.  "The Chinese understand how lopsided the military balance is." (126) 


Chapter 5.  The Ally (India)

"While China's rise is already here and palpable, India's is still more a tale of the future."  "As the industrial world ages, India will continue to have lots of young people--in other words, workers.  China faces a youth gap because of its successful 'one-child' policies…."  (132)


More than 300 million people live on less than a dollar a day.  India is home to 40 percent of the world's poor and has the world's second-largest HIV-positive population.  "To many visitors, India does not look pretty." (133) 


"India does not have a government that can or will move people for the sake of foreign investors.  New Delhi and Mumbai do not have the gleaming infrastructure of Beijing and Shanghai, nor do any of India's cities have the controlled urbanization of China's cities." (134)


India's growth is taking place not because of the government but despite it.  It is not top-down but bottom-up--messy, chaotic, and largely unplanned." (134)


"The most striking characteristic of India today is its human capital--a vast and growing population of entrepreneurs, managers, and business-savvy individuals." "Because of it, India's managerial and entrepreneurial class is intimately familiar with Western business trends…." (135)  "It is as if hundreds of millions of people had suddenly discovered the keys to unlock their potential." (138)


"Despite its poverty, India has sustained democratic government for almost sixty years."  "Democracy makes for populism, pandering, and delays, but it also makes for long-term stability." (140)


India ranks 128 out 177 countries in the human development index.  Female literacy is 48%. (141)


"It is bottom-up development, with society pushing the state." (145)  "Most Indians, particularly the poor, have only miserable interactions with their government.  They find it inefficient or corrupt, and often both." (145)  "This is perhaps the central paradox of India today.  Its society is open, eager, and confident, ready to take on the world.  But its state--its ruling class--is hesitant, cautious, and suspicious of the changing realities around it." (146) 


"India is, by at least one measure, the most pro-American country in the world." (150)  Indians understand America. 


"The Hindu mind-set is to live and let live." (156)"Every government formed for the last two decades has been a coalition, comprising an accumulation of regional parties with little in common." (163) 


"If there ever was a race between India and China, it's over.  China's economy is three times the size of India's and is still growing at a faster clip." (165)


Chapter 6.  American Power

"When we consider whether and how the forces of change will affect America, it's worth paying close attention to the experience of Great Britain." (168)


"Whatever the outcome in Iraq, the costs have been massive.  The United States has been overextended and distracted, its army stressed, its image sullied.  Rogue states like Iran and Venezuela and great powers like Russia and China are taking advantage of Washington's inattention and bad fortunes.  The familiar theme of imperial decline is playing itself out one more time.  History is happening again." (173)


"…Britain was undone as a great global power not because of bad politics but because of bad economics." (180)  "…irreversible economic deterioration does not really apply to the United States today." (180)  "…the United States has accounted for roughly a quarter of world output for over a century….  It is likely to slip but not significantly in the next two decades." (181) 


"American military power is not the cause of its strength but the consequence.  The fuel is America's economic and technological base, which remains extremely strong." (182)  How will America fare in the future?  Look around.  The future is already here. (182) 


"Higher education is America's best industry." (190)  Lower high school test scores are indications of a large and diverse country with deep regional, racial and socioeconomic variations. (192)  The American system is too lax on rigor and memorization but much better at developing the critical thinking needed to succeed in life.  That's why America produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors and risk-takers. (193) 


"The native-born, white American population has the same low fertility rates as Europe's.  Without immigration, U.S. GPD growth over the last quarter century would have been the same as Europe's.  America's edge in innovation is overwhelmingly a product of immigration.  Foreign students and immigrants account for 50 percent of the science researchers in the country…." (198)  "But America has found a way to keep itself constantly revitalized by streams of people who are looking to make a new life in a new world." (199)


 Experts worry about statistics such as the zero savings rate, account deficits, the trade deficit, and the budget deficit.  These are concerns that Washington must address.  It is the political system that is the weakness more than the economics.  And the statistics are an antiquated and inadequate measure of the economy.  (199-200)


"Medicate threatens to blow up the federal budget."  "Americans are borrowing 80 percent of the world's surplus savings and using it for consumption.  In other words, we are selling off our assets to foreigners to buy a couple more lattes a day.  These problems have accumulated at a bad time because, for all its strengths, the American economy now faces its strongest challenge in history." (202)


"We rarely look around and notice other options and alternatives, convinced that 'we're number one.'  But learning from the rest is no longer a matter of morality or politics.  Increasingly it's about competitiveness." (208) 


"When American companies went abroad, they used to bring with them capital and know-how.  But when they go abroad now, they discover that the natives already have money and already know how.  There really isn't a Third World anymore." (209)


"What distinguishes economies today are ideas and energy." (210)


"The…American political system seems to have lost its ability to create broad coalitions that solve complex issues.  The economic dysfunctions…are the consequences of specific government policies."  "The American political system has lost the ability for large-scale compromise, and it has lost the ability to accept some pain now for much gain later on."   "The United States…has developed a highly dysfunctional politics."  "[It] has been captured by money, special interests, a sensationalist media, and ideological attack groups."  (211-12)  "The real test for the United States is political…." (214)


Chapter 7.  American Purpose

"At a military-political level, America still dominates the world, but the larger structure of unipolarity--economic, financial cultural--is weakening."  "There will be a slow shift in the nature of international affairs."  "This power shift could be broadly beneficial."   "But grasping that opportunity will take a substantial shift in America's basic approach to the world." (218) 


"Even if Iraq finally works out, that will solve only the Iraq problem.  The America problem will remain.  People around the globe worry about living in a world in which one country has so much power." (228)  "The task for today is to construct a new approach for a new era, one that responds to a global system in which power is far more diffuse than ever before and in which everyone feels empowered." (231)  [As a former college president asked, 'How do you get everyone in on the action and still get any action?' dlm]


Six simple guidelines for the U.S. role in the world:

1.      Choose.  Make large strategic choices about where to focus energies and attention.  Don't fall into the imperial trap of responding to every crisis in the world.

2.      Build broad rules, not narrow interests. 

3.      Be Bismarck not Britain.  Develop close relationships with all the great powers, closer than the relationships they have with each other.   "The world is not divided into camps, and it is far more connected and interdependent than it was.  'Balancing' against a rising power would be a dangerous, destabilizing, and potentially self-fulfilling policy." (241) 

4.      Order a la carte.  A superpower is not the solution to every problem.  Be accommodating, flexible, and adaptable rather than taking a single approach to every problem.

5.      Think asymmetrically.  Asymmetrical responses (tiny constituencies with ingenuity and passion provoking major powers) have become easier to execute and difficult to defeat.  Don't get drawn into traps (like Vietnam and Iraq) or overreact (which is perceived as imperialism).  (244-45) 

6.      Legitimacy is power.  The United States has every kind of power in ample supply these days except one: legitimacy." "Washington needs to understand that generating international public support for its view of the world is a core element of power, not merely an exercise in public relations." (258)  "Nationalism in a unipolar world can often become anti-American." (249) 


"At the end of the day, openness is America's greatest strength."  "…historically, America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of its government programs but because of the vigor of its society." (257-58)  "For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago." (259)



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