The Post-American World

Author: Fareed Zakaria

W.W. Norton & Company, 2008

Zakaria has a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University. He is a former editor of Foreign Affairs, and in 2000 he became editor of Newsweek International. He hosts an hour program on CNN on Sunday titled the "Global Public Square." He was born in 1964 and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

In this, his third major book, Zakaria begins:

"This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else." He writes:

We are now living through the third great power shift of the modern era. It could be called "the rise of the rest" ... Over the past few decades, countries all over the world have been experiencing rates of economic growth that were once unthinkable.

Zakaria is optimistic. Hundreds of millions are still living "in desperate poverty," but people living on one dollar a day has declined "from 40 percent in 1981 to 18 percent in 2004, and is estimated to fall to 12 percent by 2015." Zakaria sees poverty declining in the world in general. Between 2000 and 2007, he writes, the world economy grew at "its fastest pace in nearly four decades." Income rose "at a faster rate (3.2 percent) than in any other period in history." And this occurred despite all of the turmoil.

Zakaria believes that Americans will benefit from this overall growth, what he describes as a bigger pie. He is aware of problems, environmental and otherwise. Zakaria writes (before the crisis of September 2008) of "low interest rates and cheap credit [causing] people to act foolishly or greedily, inflating bubbles in technology stocks, housing, subprime mortgages, or emerging market equities – bubbles that eventually pop.

Zakaria focuses on the question of U.S. power to control. The power shift he describes as countries choosing to forge ties with one another rather than following the U.S. or the "West" as a center of power – a shift away from "unipolarity." He predicts that no country "will get its way entirely." He writes:

This does not mean becoming resigned to chaos or aggression; far from it. But the only way for the United States to deter rogue actions will be to create a broad durable coalition against them. And that will be possible only if Washington can show that it is willing to allow other countries to become stakeholders in the new order. In today's international order, progress means compromise. No country will get its way entirely. (p. 44)

Zakaria describes the United States as having "enormous strengths" and writes that "the new world will not throw up a new superpower but rather a diversity of forces that Washington can navigate and even help direct."

But he describes U.S. officials as preaching to foreigners rather than engaging in conversation. He quotes:

When we meet with American officials, they talk and we listen – we rarely disagree or speak frankly because they simply can't take it in. They simply repeat the American position, like the tourist who thinks he just needs to speak louder and slower and then we will all understand.

Zakaria quotes Singapore's foreign secretary, Kishore Mahbubani: "There are two sets of conversations, one with Americans in the room and one without." (p. 226)

Zakaria faults Democrats for unilateralism. He also writes of the "chest-thumping machismo of the Bush administration" and "the kind of posturing that played well in the Republican convention." Among the chest thumpers he included the Republicans Rudy Guliani and Mitt Romney, the latter of whom said he wanted to double the size of Guantanamo. And there was Tom Tancredo, who suggested that the U.S. threaten to "take out" Mecca.

Zakaria praises McCain for coolness regarding another 9/11 threat from al-Qaeda (see page 252), and he writes of the inclination of candidates to appeal to public fears and a desire for toughness. Referring to a debate in South Carolina in 2007 during which candidates were asked how they would respond to another attack like 9/11, Zakaria writes that "they promptly vowed to attack, retaliate, and blast the hell out of, well, somebody." He describes Barack Obama as the "only one to answer differently." Obama's initial response, according to Zakaria, "was the right one." Obama said, in Zakaria's words, "that the first thing he would do was make certain that the emergency response was effective, then ensure we had the best intelligence possible to figure out who had caused the attack, and then move with allies to dismantle the network responsible." But then, realizing his vulnerability, Obama "dutifully threatened retaliation as well." After the debate, in Zakaria's words, "his opponents suggested that Obama's original response proved he didn't have the fortitude to be president."

Zakaria favors a collective international response to terrorism over "chest thumping" unilateralism, with the U.S. maintaining its openness and the kind of fearless optimism held by Ronald Reagan.

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.