Zakaria writes, “...we are moving into a post-American world, one defined and directed from many places and by many people.” (4) We are living in an era of the largest expansion of the global economy ever. Labor is now mobile. Jobs can go where the people are.
It was thought in the 1990s that developing nations would integrate into the Western order. Rising powers can now integrate among themselves. It can no longer be assumed that if the West forges a plan (trade, emissions, etc.) the rest of the world will follow. The composition of the United Nations is outdated. The G-8 does not include the second largest economy, China.
“For roughly two decades since 1989, the power of the United States has defined the international order. … That influence reached its apogee with Iraq.” (52) The U.S. Was “able to launch an unprovoked attack on a sovereign country... ...[I]t was this exercise of unipolarity that provoked a reaction around the world.” (52)
First Great Britain then America maintained the order of open economy, protecting trade routes, etc. As things change, the order could begin to fracture. Solving world problems may be much more difficult without a superpower.
Zakaria explores what it means for a nation to be “modern.” Does it need to be Western?
He reviews China's explosive economic growth. “...[O]n issue after issue, it has become the second-most-important country in the world, adding a wholly new element to the international system.” (106) He explores the relationship between China and the U.S., both planning for possible trouble.
Over the past fifteen years India has been the second fastest-growing country (after China). While India's poverty rate is half what it was two decades ago, it is still home to 40 percent of the world's poor. India will not look like China as it is a democratic country.
“According to the World Economic Forum, the United States remains the most competitive major economy in the world.” (200) “Higher education is America's best industry.” (207) Some estimate that foreign students receive 50 percent of all Ph.D.s awarded in the U.S. In sciences, the figure is closer to 75 percent. (215)
But America has problems. “...Americans are borrowing 80 percent of the world's surplus savings and using it for consumption. In other words, we are selling off our assets to foreigners to buy a couple more lattes a day...for all its strengths, the American economy now faces some of its strongest challenges in history.” (219)
“The problem today is that the American political system seems to have lost its ability to create broad coalitions that solve complex issues.” (233)
As a result of the invasion of Iraq, Zakaria writes, “To foreigners, American officials seem clueless about the world they are supposed to be running.” (250)
Zakaria has strong words indeed for the current international opinion about the U.S. His is certainly a warning call to American leaders and politicians to quit being obsessed with ideas and begin to see the role of the U.S. In a much different world than it was a generation ago.
Fareed Zakaria is the editor-at-large of Time magazine and host of CNN's “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
W. W. Norton & Co., 298 pages.