Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria writes about significant global paradigm shifts in The Post-American World (W. W. Norton, 2008). A native of India and a naturalized United States citizen, he advocates a nonwestern view of global culture without pushing an anti-western agenda. He does not argue that the West (and specifically the U. S.) is in decline, but that such nations as India and China are experiencing dramatic growth, that they are becoming major factors in world economic and political matters. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U. S. has stood unchallenged as a global super power. That position is changing. The U. S., Zakaria argues, still wields major economic and cultural influence, but other nations are gaining in power and prominence, and the question that confronts the U. S. is what kind of role it will assume in this new world order. Will we work with other nations, including ones with whom we have major disagreements, or will we pursue our own goals unilaterally, without regard for other players?

Zakaria notes that the West tends to view its history only from its own point of view. He notes as an example that we think of World War II only as a war fought by the West against totalitarian regimes, yet argues that most of the fighting in that war, and most of the deaths, occurred on the Eastern front between Russian and German armies. We also overlook the former prominence of science and of other forms of knowledge in the Asian and middle-eastern worlds. The West is not the only wellspring of knowledge and of civilization, he argues.

Zakaria is clearly an admirer of the United States. He calls it the first multinational nation and notes that much of the rest of the world has had great admiration for our nation and culture. But since the 1990s, as the U. S. has acted in an increasingly monolithic way, and especially since the second Bush administration, the nation has forfeited its former position of respect. Zakaria argues that much of the current prosperity of the U. S. is attributable to the creative work of recent immigrants from other countries. He praises our system of higher education as the best in the world, one that teaches students how to think critically and to solve problems, but notes that our public school systems are in crisis and that they’re not working well—we haven’t discovered how to educate the diverse population of students in these schools. The open market of the United States, its receptiveness to new ideas and ways of doing things, is a major key to its success. He notes that China’s open market approach to the world economy is a key to its burgeoning success. China is not a democratic nation, and Zakaraia observes that when the Chinese government decides to enact change, change happens fast. When India decides to do something, decisions get bogged down in the democratic process. The same is true in the United States. Zakaria finds our government a weak element in our nation—it is crippled by partisanship and political bickering.

Zakaria discusses the rise and fall of the British Empire and considers whether it offers parallels to the current position of the U. S. He regards the Boer War at the end of the 19th century as responsible for the decline of British world influence. He suggests that the current Iraqi war for the U. S. could be similar, but also notes significant differences that do not guarantee a similar outcome if appropriate decisions are made.

Much has changed since Zakaria wrote this book—a devastating international economic crisis (which some nations are blaming on the U. S.), growing anti-immigration sentiments in our nation, the Tea Party movement, the election of an African American president who has taken an approach to foreign policy decidedly different from that of his predecessor—all these changes and others have significantly altered the landscape he describes. But they don’t alter his fundamental argument.

1 comment:

Connie Dodge Green said...

Zakaria is right. The American Democratic process is crippled by partisan bickering, along with the nebulous infusion of campaign and PAC money. For example, the recent crisis with BP and the Gulf spill is conspicuously caught between doing what is right and necessary and accounting for who benefits from BP's money. I'm not sure that the election of Barack Obama changes the landscape. Those who should be compensated for this mess are still left hanging fire as a result of BP's liability being capped. As for our school systems, unless their is a "command and control" decree, U.S. schools will never achieve the levels that should exist. Why? Because education is always the centerpiece of political battlecries on both sides of the aisle. Why ruin a perfectly good platform?

BTW -- I am a Democratic operative and ghostwriter. Do you remember me? I remember you and always will.