'The Post-American World' by Fareed Zakaria
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This new analysis of America's role in the world is a serious, readable, perhaps essential book because Newsweek international editor Fareed Zakaria brings a unique perspective to the topic.
Zakaria, 44, is an American citizen born in India of Muslim parents. He studied at Yale and Harvard and taught at Harvard, Columbia and Case Western universities. He writes and thinks clearly as his succinct, short and comprehensible volume proves.
He tackles the very difficult situation -- for Americans and the rest of the world as well -- of where the United States finds itself now and will likely in the future.
By Fareed Zakaria
All of us had become accustomed, almost from the beginning of the past century, to view the United States as the go-to guy in the world's political, economic and military affairs.
Now, we are faced with the spectacle of an America with a faltering economy, fighting intractable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a troubled political structure in Washington.
That structure is corrupt and paralyzed with partisanship and greed to the point that it is incapable of dealing with the potentially lethal problems facing the country.
Zakaria lays all of these difficulties out clearly, but, almost surprisingly concludes that America's position in a world that is changing with alarming speed, is neither as bad as it might seem, nor as hopeless as one could conclude looking at the numbers and other facts.
Put another way, there is a slight tendency among America's critics, at home and abroad, to toy with or even savor the idea that America in 2008 is Rome in 476, China in 1430, the Ottomans in 1683, or Great Britain in 1899.
Although Zakaria considers a comparison between the British and American "empires" in their setting-sun modes interesting, his book is not a "decline and fall" treatise.
Rather, he argues, America is still strong, its $13-trillion economy, substantial assets and capacity intact, but that the rest of the world is catching up rapidly and in the process is crowding the United States seriously. Zakaria calls it, "the rise of the rest."
The book is full of sharp, almost aphoristic, amusing observations about the disquieting world we live in.
He notes that of the top 10 shopping malls in the world, the mall being perhaps the highest expression of American marketing acumen, only one is in the United States. Other observations:
• American political fear-peddling is a cottage industry.
• Emerging markets, not Wall Street, hold 75 percent of the world's foreign exchange reserves.
• The United Nations is an outdated configuration of power.
• Almost a fifth of India's parliament have been accused of crimes, including embezzlement, murder and rape.
• Higher education is America's best industry; immigration, its secret weapon; and openness its greatest strength.
Zakaria's book is forgivably obtuse in its chapter on India and, in a tug of his forelock to what he considers "America's great multnationals," he says corporate taxes are too high.
He closes, responsibly, with five short bits of counsel on how America can straighten up and fly right in 2008's turbulent, competitive skies. They alone are worth reading the book.
Zakaria's particular perspective makes his analysis and prescriptions truly worth reading.
First Published June 15, 2008 12:00 am