Sep 26th 2008

Fareed Zakaria: Facing a Post-American World - An Interview

by Nathan Gardels

Nathan Gardels has been editor of New Perspectives Quarterly since it began publishing in 1985. He has served as editor of Global Viewpoint and Nobel Laureates Plus(services of Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media) since 1989. These services have a worldwide readership of 35 million in 15 languages. Gardels has written widely for The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Harper's, U.S. News & World Report and the New York Review of Books. He has also written for foreign publications, including Corriere della Sera, El Pais, Le Figaro, the Straits Times (Singapore), Yomiuri Shimbun, O'Estado de Sao Paulo, The Guardian, Die Welt and many others. His books include, "At Century's End: Great Minds Reflect on Our Times" and "The Changing Global Order." Since 1986, Gardels has been a Media Fellow of the World Economic Forum (Davos). He has lectured at the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Rabat, Morocco and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, China. Gardels was a founding member at the New Delhi meeting of Intellectuels du Monde and a visiting researcher at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow before the end of the Cold War. He has been a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, as well as the Pacific Council, for many years. From 1983 to 1985, Gardels was executive director of the Institute for National Strategy where he conducted policy research at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, the People's Institute of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, the Swedish Institute in Stockholm and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Bonn. Prior to this, he spent four years as key adviser to the Governor of California on economic affairs, with an emphasis on public investment, trade issues, the Pacific Basin and Mexico. Gardels holds degrees in Theory and Comparative Politics and in Architecture and Urban Planning from UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lilly, and two sons, Carlos and Alexander. Gardels plays the cello on his free time.

Fareed Zakaria is author of The Post-American World and editor-in-chief of Newsweek International. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in June.

NPQ | Barack Obama has been reading your book The Post-American World. If he becomes president, what is it that you most want him to take away?

Fareed Zakaria | I hope he grasps that the third great powershift of the modern era is taking place. The first was the rise of the West. The second was the rise of America as the leading Western power. Now we are seeing the arrival of a post-American world-not because the United States is declining, but because the rest are rising.

This shift is not about Bush or about Iraq. It is a much deeper and broader phenomenon of the rest of the world catching up. For the US to thrive in a world like this, it must adjust economically, politically and culturally.

At a political level, Obama talks the right language about engaging the world with a political and not a merely military attitude. At an economic level, however, this historic shift is going to be more challenging for him and for Democrats in general. This is a world where the US had the lowest corporate tax rate 20 years ago and now has the second highest-not because the US rate was raised, but because everyone else lowered theirs! Then, of course, Democrats tend to be quite retrograde on freer trade.

Facing a post-American world means America will have to play better at every level because these days we have lots of competition. It is not just about India and China. In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew at a rate of 4 percent or more, including 30 countries in Africa.

The US can thrive in this economic environment because it is not a zero-sum game. The pie is expanding and we can all have our share. In purely political and military terms, of course, there will be some relative US decline because that kind of power is more zero-sum in nature. This shift I'm speaking of will not take place overnight. The US will remain a central player for a long time, but from now on we will have to share power with others who have come to the table.

NPQ | Some, like Singapore's Kishore Mahbubani, say that a post-American world where the rest rise will necessarily be de-Westernized. Do you see it that way?

Zakaria | What does it mean when people say that the Asian countries are reinventing modernity, that the next wave of modernization will be non-Western? In some sense, this is undeniably true. Chinese is a non-Western language, and those who are modernizing China speak it. India has cultural traits America does not have, as does Japan.

But the striking thing is that the West has been dominant for so long, it has put such a distinctive stamp on the modernity it invented that no one really knows how to escape it. What will Indian corporations look like as India becomes more prosperous? Well, InfoSys, Tata and Wipro look about the same as corporations in Silicon Valley or other IT companies.

We all live so completely in a Western world we don't how to invent a non-Western modernity. Would we do away with double-entry bookkeeping?

China's cities mostly look like those in the West, the same structures only with Chinese architectural flourishes. The highways, road and bridge structures are the same. If you are growing up in China today, you are living in a more Westernized China than at any point in the prior 5,000 years.

NPQ | Can there be modernity that is not secular and democratic, but religious or illiberal?

We see that in China modernization does not include the Western features of human rights and democracy. The example of Russia suggests that the future may belong more to the Putins than the Havels of history. We see in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with its Islamist roots, that modernization does not necessarily mean a secular, but a religious, outlook. The recent ruling to allow women to wear headscarves at university can be seen as a symbol of non-Western modernity.

Zakaria | The GDP per capita in China is about $4,000, and the government still has fairly tight control of the country. Yet, the economy is increasingly open and, in many social aspects, there is great openness. At $4,000 GDP per capita, what Western country had substantially greater political freedom than China? Britain or America, perhaps. France, Austria-Hungary, Germany? Certainly not.

What we regard as Western modernity came at the long end of a train of highly repressive, dictatorial regimes that opened up very slowly against the wishes of the powers at the time. Kaiser's Germany was highly illiberal. That was the 1900s.

Chinatoday is according more respect for human rights than at any time in its past, mainly as a consequence of its contact with the West. It would not have happened otherwise.

On a 25-year timescale, Russia has moved forward quite substantially. On a five-year scale, it has moved backward. It is not non-Western culture but the abundance of natural resources that have retarded political modernization there, just as in Saudi Arabia. Russia is a Siberian Saudi Arabia.

Turkeyis more interesting. There you had a forced, totalitarian modernization on the Western model imposed by Ataturk. What we are seeing now is an incredibly healthy process where the society is modernizing rather than merely the state. As the society modernizes, it is asking for some space in cultural terms that is not entirely Western.

Here, you are absolutely right. There is a facet of non-Western modernization. At the same time, all the society is asking for is the same right accorded every American of choice in free religious expression. It is just a doff of the cap to the line in the Koran that says women should dress modestly. Only the French and Turkish states had imposed Enlightenment liberalism by dictat. Now, that is what is illiberal, not the right to choose.

Still, what we are witnessing in all these countries is that, because of increasing contact with the West as they open up, they are adopting a form of modernity that is broadly part of the framework created by the West, with some interesting variations, but not vastly different. Bollywood films may not look like Hollywood films, but they all have chase scenes and love stories.

NPQ | The Islamic activists of the AKP in Turkey argue that Ataturk believed only secularism equaled modernity because positive science is what created progress. They think a religious culture can also be scientific and technologically modern.

Zakaria | Let's not create a stereotype of what Western modernity looks like. Britain is not technically a secular country since the head of state is also head of the church. Germany funds Catholic and Protestant churches, something unthinkable in the US. What is happening in Turkey today is more in accord with those societies in the West, including the US, who have always given religion space in the public realm.

Turks are reacting to the complete rejection of any role for religion in society. Ataturk's model was unsustainable in the long run in a society that is 90 percent Muslim in a world undergoing a broad religious revival. Yet, when a synagogue is bombed in Istanbul, there is general sympathetic commiseration for the victims. That pluralist spirit is a core value of modernity.

NPQ | So, on a global scale, you don't see a post-American world becoming less Western and more traditionally, say, Asian. Rather you see a new cosmopolitan, hybrid global culture emerging within the international rules-based system that America largely constructed?

Zakaria | That is precisely right. First of all, there is no such thing as Asia and "Asian values." There is India. There is China. There is Japan. There is Afghanistan. Asia is a Western construct. To find something that unifies the Afghans and Koreans would be an heroic undertaking of generalization.

These societies are moving into a Western-created modernity, and as they rise in power they redefine that modernity in a way that doesn't change its central aspects-science and technology, commerce and capitalism, shift from countryside to the city-but colors its character. The model here is the US. As immigrants came into the US, they changed its complexion, but at the end of the day the basic formula of America, the structure of society, has remained similar.

The core issue is not going to be about culture. The issue is whether the rising powers will get a respected seat at the table. It is not a matter of "letting them in." They have to want to integrate themselves into the existing international order because they believe it will give them a voice commensurate with their accomplishments and status.

If that process goes well, there will be a stable world order. If not, the world order will be unstable. In either case, it is largely an issue of power, not culture. In cultural terms, the British and the Germans in 1914 were very similar. They still managed to destroy the world.

NPQ | Bill Clinton said some years ago that America's strategic vision ought to be "to make the world safe for interdependence" because the US would not always be on top. The rise of the rest really only means they are joining the post-WWII American-framed international order-the United Nations, Bretton Woods, the World Trade Organization-with its commitment to universal rules of openness that have spread gains widely. Isn't that essentially what you are saying?

Zakaria | I would put it this way: America's key challenge is to maintain and refurbish the structures of stability for global economics and politics as this huge powershift takes place, as the rest rise. The key challenge is drawing the new great powers such as India and China into this system so they feel they have an investment in maintaining it.

Unfortunately, this supremely important task doesn't stir the soul as much as, say, combatting some menacing evil. You won't hear many people issuing trumpet calls on behalf of stable interdependence. Yet, that is precisely the challenge. We have created a system where others feel they can rise to power without going to war, raping, pillaging and plundering.

We should be mindful of how historically unique this situation is and focus on how we can keep it going. We need to be mindful of the morality of this struggle to create a world in which hundreds of millions of people can live better lives than ever before.

To be sure, this sounds like some wonky appeal to shore up international institutions. It may not have the appeal of unfolding a banner to go out and fight the next crusade, but it is by far the more noble cause.

Copy Right Nathan Gardels, see NEW PERSPECTIVES QUARTERLY - NPQ.

If you wish to comment on this article, you can do so on-line.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com. Please note that Facts & Arts shares its advertising revenue with those who have contributed material and have signed an agreement with us.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."
May 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Monetary policymakers are talking tough nowadays about fighting inflation to head off the risk of it spinning out of control. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually wimp out and allow the inflation rate to rise above target. Since hitting the target most likely requires a hard landing, they could end up raising rates and then getting cold feet once that scenario becomes more likely. Moreover, because there is so much private and public debt in the system (348% of GDP globally), interest-rate hikes could trigger a further sharp downturn in bond, stock, and credit markets, giving central banks yet another reason to backpedal." ----- "The historical evidence shows that a soft landing is highly improbable. That leaves either a hard landing and a return to lower inflation, or a stagflationary scenario. Either way, a recession in the next two years is likely."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"