Is America Still Relevant?
That’s the question being being asked in this Newsweek column. The author, Fareed Zakaria, wonders what a post-America world will be like. He's referring to the annual Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. He says “For the first time in my memory, America was somewhat peripheral. There were few demands, pleas, complaints or tantrums directed at the United States. In this small but significant global cocoon, people—for the moment at least—seemed to be moving beyond America.”
People in Europe and the Middle East seem to think that their views about America’s foreign policy in general — and George W. Bush in particular — have been vindicated. Everyone else is united in their opposition to America’s Mad Cowboy; so it just seems redundant to keep beating the same dead horse by bashing Bush.
This year’s theme at Davos was “Shaping the Global Agenda: The Shifting Power Equation.” The consensus was that Asia is on the rise, and Europe and America are on the decline. Like it or not, the global dynamic seems to be shifting.
The author describes what a post-America world might be like. “It will be free of American domination, but perhaps also free of leadership—a world in which problems fester and the buck is endlessly passed, until problems explode.”
For one thing, international cooperation on global warming could go from Godawful to worse. A high-ranking Chinese official said “The ball is not in China’s court. The ball is in everybody’s court.” India’s planning czar said “every country should have the same per capita rights to pollution.” If the combined population of India and China (2.3 billion) starts polluting at Western levels, we’ll have global meltdown.
Cooperation on trade and tariffs may also start going from bad to worse, especially within the European Union. For that matter, China, India and Brazil talk about flexibility and cooperation, but without any concrete actions. As the author says, “The ball for every problem is in everybody's court, which means that it is in nobody’s court.”
According to Zakaria, the global system — economic, social, political — is not self-managing. It needs leaders to handle stresses and problems. He compares the coming post-America period to the 1920s. Then, as now, technology (electricity, radio, movies, cars) had transformed the world. Britain was declining and America was isolationist. The author describes the 1920s as “truly a world without direction” which begat protectionism, nationalism, xenophobia and ultimately World War II.
The author quotes a British historian who says “the end of American hegemony might not fuel an orderly shift to a multi-polar system but a descent into a world of highly fragmented powers, with no one exercising any global leadership.” He uses the term apolarity. This coming apolarity “could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age, an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism, of economic plunder and pillage in the world’s forgotten regions, of economic stagnation, and civilization’s retreat into a few fortified enclaves.”
OK, so that sounds more like a bad science fiction movie than anything else. But as Zakaria says, “for those who have been fondly waiting for the waning of American dominance—be careful what you wish for.”
Food for thought.