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05 May 2008

America's Future in Newsweek

A surprisingly good article by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek on America's future. He's been on the talk shows the past week promoting his new book, from which this article is excerpted, but I didn't have a sense it would be particularly convincing - he sounded a bit like a Friedmanesque globalism cheerleader. But I wish he had highlighted this bit on the foreign policy "challenges" facing the U.S.

Some point to the dangers posed by countries like Iran. These rogue states present real problems, but look at them in context. The American economy is 68 times the size of Iran's. Its military budget is 110 times that of the mullahs. Were Iran to attain a nuclear capacity, it would complicate the geopolitics of the Middle East. But none of the problems we face compare with the dangers posed by a rising Germany in the first half of the 20th century or an expansionist Soviet Union in the second half. Those were great global powers bent on world domination. If this is 1938, as some neoconservatives tell us, then Iran is Romania, not Germany.
Yes, exactly. We have nothing to fear from these 'rogue' countries - they can barely influence their dysfunctional neighbors, never mind have any affect on the world stage.
Others paint a dark picture of a world in which dictators are on the march. China and Russia and assorted other oil potentates are surging. We must draw the battle lines now, they warn, and engage in a great Manichean struggle that will define the next century. Some of John McCain's rhetoric has suggested that he adheres to this dire, dyspeptic view. But before we all sign on for a new Cold War, let's take a deep breath and gain some perspective. Today's rising great powers are relatively benign by historical measure. In the past, when countries grew rich they've wanted to become great military powers, overturn the existing order, and create their own empires or spheres of influence. But since the rise of Japan and Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, none have done this, choosing instead to get rich within the existing international order. China and India are clearly moving in this direction. Even Russia, the most aggressive and revanchist great power today, has done little that compares with past aggressors. The fact that for the first time in history, the United States can contest Russian influence in Ukraine—a country 4,800 miles away from Washington that Russia has dominated or ruled for 350 years—tells us something about the balance of power between the West and Russia.
This has been a consistent gripe of Pat Buchanan's - why are we making enemies of Russia? Why are we constantly tweaking the bear's nose about bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and setting up radar installations in the Czech Republic to deter Iran (what a joke!)?
Compare Russia and China with where they were 35 years ago. At the time both (particularly Russia) were great power threats, actively conspiring against the United States, arming guerrilla movement across the globe, funding insurgencies and civil wars, blocking every American plan in the United Nations. Now they are more integrated into the global economy and society than at any point in at least 100 years. They occupy an uncomfortable gray zone, neither friends nor foes, cooperating with the United States and the West on some issues, obstructing others. But how large is their potential for trouble? Russia's military spending is $35 billion, or 1/20th of the Pentagon's. China has about 20 nuclear missiles that can reach the United States. We have 830 missiles, most with multiple warheads, that can reach China. Who should be worried about whom? Other rising autocracies like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are close U.S. allies that shelter under America's military protection, buy its weapons, invest in its companies, and follow many of its diktats. With Iran's ambitions growing in the region, these countries are likely to become even closer allies, unless America gratuitously alienates them.
Right. Unfortunately, this is McCain's insane view of the world - every single government that disagrees with America is a potential Nazi Germany that must be crushed before it rises to conquer the world!
In July 2006, I spoke with a senior member of the Israeli government, a few days after Israel's war with Hezbollah had ended. He was genuinely worried about his country's physical security. Hezbollah's rockets had reached farther into Israel than people had believed possible. The military response had clearly been ineffectual: Hezbollah launched as many rockets on the last day of the war as on the first. Then I asked him about the economy—the area in which he worked. His response was striking. "That's puzzled all of us," he said. "The stock market was higher on the last day of the war than on the first! The same with the shekel." The government was spooked, but the market wasn't.
That's because the deaths of a dozen or so Israelis each year from random rockets fired off from Gaza is hardly a threat to Israel's security (never mind being a strategic concern of the U.S.). Israel is as dominant in the Middle East as the U.S. is in the world. People dying from rockets is sad and unfortunate, but hardly a basis for dramatic national action.

I haven't gotten to the rest of the article, which I presumes covers economic and social issues, but I'm glad he provided this bit of perspective - hopefully people hear it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll never understand why we have to antagonize Russia. But in my view, many nations that used to be satellites of the USSR are happy to join NATO simply to tell the Russians "Fuck You."
But instead of needling the Russians maybe we could, you know, buy their oil or increase our trade with them? God forbid something that benefits both nations. And when I was in Russia recently, I actually had one Russian ask me(very politely) why the US was hostile to them.

May 05, 2008 1:24 PM  

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