“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zacharia (Norton, 2008)

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Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom, and editor for Newsweek Inter-national, offers up a sobering yet fascinating look at the possible future of the United States and its stake as the global superpower in the first half of the twenty-first century.  The Post-American World is part business, part political, part historical, and part sociological; as Zakaria analyzes how the United States has arrived at the state it is in internationally, and what the future holds for the two global giants of India and China on the horizon.

Zakaria begins by discussing how the United States – as well as its citizens – has continued to perceive itself, from the end of the Cold War to the present, as the sole global superpower and utopian democratic and capitalist nation by which the rest of the world should admire and follow suit with.  This is all too clear with the globalization of numerous American companies such as the McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises, which can now be found almost anywhere in the world, on every continent except Antarctica.  But in that time, the United States has lost uncountable jobs, manufacturing industries, and development institutions to other countries, which is now causing serious problems with unemployment and the cost of goods and services to the nation and its citizens.

Zakaria points out: “Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission – it globalized the world.  But along the way, they might write, it forgot to globalize itself.”

Coupled with this is the continued downfall and disinterest the rest of the world now has in the United States with the choices and decisions it has made.  “The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism,” Zakaria says. And it is not until the United States fully comprehends this, that things will begin turning around and improving.

With the United States left in the wake of globalization, Zakaria turns the reader to the next two giants that will become the next so-called superpowers due to the variety and number of industries already situated within their borders, as well as the exploding workforce that is available at a much cheaper rate than the Western World.  Zakaria spends most of the book, with specific chapters each on India and China, giving their history and development over the centuries and how it is that they now stand at this brink to become the next superpowers.  He also offers sobering statistics in a world that is becoming more environmentally inclined: “Between 2006 and 2012, China and India will build eight hundred new coal-fired power plants – with combined [carbon dioxide] emissions five times the total savings of the Kyoto accords.”  And yet the growth in these countries is unstoppable and how is America to critique this when it is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide in the world?

In the last chapter, Zakaria addresses what the United States needs to do to become the once great shining nation it was.  “It needs to stop cowering in fear.  It is fear that has created a climate of paranoia and panic in the United States and fear that has enabled our strategic missteps.”  While at this moment in time, this seems more of a lesson for its government than its people, it is the last paragraph in The Post-American World that makes the most sense to the reader:

“For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago.”

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Originally written on June 20th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.