Monday, January 28, 2008

Yes, it is 2008--not 1985

Those of you who have heard me speak in recent months will remember that one of my perennial criticisms of U.S. politicians is that they still view the world through the lens of 1994 (or sometimes even 1985)--when assessing both potential rivals as well as the stances of existing allies.

Parag Khanna joins the fray with an essay in the New York Times magazine derived from his forthcoming book The Second World.

Some points:

Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush ...

At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. ...

The new multicolor map of influence — a Venn diagram of overlapping American, Chinese and European influence — is a very fuzzy read. No more “They’re with us” or “He’s our S.O.B.” Mubarak, Musharraf, Malaysia’s Mahathir and a host of other second-world leaders have set a new standard for manipulative prowess: all tell the U.S. they are its friend while busily courting all sides. ...

The self-deluding universalism of the American imperium — that the world inherently needs a single leader and that American liberal ideology must be accepted as the basis of global order — has paradoxically resulted in America quickly becoming an ever-lonelier superpower. ...


I recommend the entire essay, but wanted to pull out one recommendation that I think is spot-on. It parallels what I have been telling east Europeans and Caucasians is the weakest link in their efforts to move to the West--that politicians' promises in Washington are not backed up by real money. Khanna recommends:

"In true American fashion, we must build a diplomatic-industrial complex. Europe and China all but personify business-government collusion, so let State raise money from Wall Street as it puts together regional aid and investment packages. American foreign policy must be substantially more than what the U.S. government directs. After all, the E.U. is already the world’s largest aid donor, and China is rising in the aid arena as well. Plus, each has a larger population than the U.S., meaning deeper benches of recruits, and are not political targets in the present political atmosphere the way Americans abroad are. The secret weapon must be the American citizenry itself. American foundations and charities, not least the Gates and Ford Foundations, dwarf European counterparts in their humanitarian giving; if such private groups independently send more and more American volunteers armed with cash, good will and local knowledge to perform “diplomacy of the deed,” then the public diplomacy will take care of itself."

Will be hard to have a diplomatic-industrial complex when the Chinese own stakes in the major Wall Street instruments. Assume you've seen today's Washington Post on the subject.
Interesting the points about how smaller powers will be able to shuttle back and forth between the major blocs--don't know if Washington is any good at this kind of bargaining.
Well, Mr. Khanna himself may be an example of continuing to live in 1990s. Stupid essay.
I'm surprised you found so much to like in this piece. His arguments about the influence of 'second world' states are unoriginal. His wildly exaggerated description of European and Chinese power is laughable. Europe on its way to complete energy security and perhaps annexing Russia with eight years? That's one of the most ridiculous predictions I've seen from a sober source. He seems to think that neither Europe nor China can do wrong, while the United States is inevitably on the path to failure. Like Thomas Friedman, too, he entirely discounts military power. As the above comment notes, "stupid essay".
This book is a fascinating wake-up call for Americans. While we try to export our version of Democracy by military means, China and the EU are improving their citizens' lives thru diplomacy & trade. The sections on the Balkans & Caucasian Corridor made up for the lack of coverage in the American Press.
We need to give more money to Foggy Bottom & trade; much less to the bloated Pentagon.
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