Fareed Zakaria’s The Post American World is an astonishing summary of the challenges that the U.S.A. presently faces. More importantly, it proposes new roles and opportunities that, if negotiated well, can secure a new, different, and even better role for the U.S.A. in the global community. The key is helping Americans understand that they are not under threat and that, by sheer numbers alone, they are no longer the center of global thinking. It is the emerging countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China (and others) that will in the near future eclipse the U.S.A. in not only population but in consuming goods and services. If the U.S.A. accepts a leading role among other important players, there should be no suffering and a new, more peaceful and prosperous, day may dawn.
Zakaria’s book was written during the 2008 U.S.A. presidential campaign and was in press before the many issues that President Obama now has to face unfolded. The predictions are uncanny in their accuracy and Obama’s handling, thus far, reflects a complexity of thought, a nuance of cultural understanding, and courage in placing real issues on the table, that brings great hope. The only thing Zakaria doesn’t address (and I constantly worry about) is the ideologic and conservative back-lash that seeks to undermine one of the greatest opportunities the U.S.A. has ever faced. The smear campaign that has been launched against the health care proposal and the business bailout has unfortunately shaken some of the public into thinking that Obama is a radical liberal. Obama is nothing more or less than a straight-forward realist who knows that to allow the U.S.A. to be the only modern democracy not to have a health plan and to let the U.S.A. and global economy tank without intervention would have been a disaster.
The massive changes that we now see in the world economic picture began in 1979 when China launched the economic reforms that have sustained unprecedented levels of growth for the last two decades and now allow China to be one of the U.S.A.’s most important lenders as well as trading partners. The gloom and doom mongers fear the role China now plays, however, think of it logically – with the U.S.A. as such a critical trading partner, why on earth would China want anything but stability and growth in the U.S.A. economy? Add to the economic picture the fact that the U.S.A. is still the most powerful military force and has cultivated friends on every continent through support of democratic reform and we have a picture of a new bi-lateral and probably multi-lateral world that will bring balance and shared responsibility to citizens throughout the world.
In addition to the economic, military, and diplomatic presence of the U.S.A., Zakaria draws attention to what he identifies as America’s best and most trusted product – higher education. With five percent of the world’s population, the U.S.A. has 42 of the top 50 universities and these are among the universities that are now establishing a presence in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa – and Education City’s universities are all in the top 10 in their respective academic areas. Why is U.S.A. higher education perceived so positively? Because it is so different than education elsewhere – different in the way that it cultivates independence of thought, critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation. This distinctive difference is something to give away through every possible means, not to reserve only for young citizens of the U.S.A. As more students/citizens acquire critical thinking insights throughout the world, real democracies will be unstoppable in the countries where these graduates go to make a difference. The student leaders of today will be the leaders of innovation and government and they will be the transforming agents for the growing middle classes around the globe.
The U.S.A. has many challenges which Zakaria does not minimize. He documented his reflections from several of the sources I’ve been reading over the last year (Needham and Roberts prominent among them). Facing these changes with historical and contemporary understanding, and with a conviction that the lifestyle that Americans have achieved is one that all deserve, will take the U.S.A. a long way toward a new and more respected role in the 21st century global environment. In short, Zakaria’s proposal is that the U.S.A. can be the one to lead the way to “a new architecture that ensures peace, growth, and freedom for the world.” (p. xxx)