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America in the new world order

Guest Blogger

The underpinnings of American foreign policy in the 20th century – free-market capitalism, Western culture, peace and democracy – have lost their lustre in a large part of the world in the 21st century. In “The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas,” recently published by Harvard University Press, Steven Weber and Bruce W. Jentleson argue that America must shift its approach to maintain its place on the global stage. That means recognizing that the United States cannot dominate other nations anymore and must be willing to compete with charismatic authoritarian leaders and state-directed capitalism. Here, Weber, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke, outline how the world has shifted under America’s feet.

By Steven Weber and Bruce W. Jentleson

The most seductive deception of the George W. Bush years was that once he was gone, America would regain its global reputation and place of leadership, and all would be well. But while global opinion polls did show an initial positive Barack Obama effect, in some parts of the world like the Middle East this has now faded. And even in those parts of the world like Europe where Obama still gets high marks, that hasn’t translated into much more than limited support for U.S. policies, let alone a return to American dominance even of the benign sort.

The world was changing in many ways that would have been in play even if there had not been a George W. Bush -- and have continued even though there is a Barack Obama.

Generations of American leaders and elites, Democrat and Republican, have seen the world much as Ptolemy saw the universe -- with America at the center and the ROW (Rest of the World) revolving around us. U.S. policy discussions started with the presumption that the first thing an Indian diplomat, a Chinese entrepreneur, a Venezuelan oil worker, and an Egyptian human rights activist asked themselves when they woke up in the morning was, ‘What is America going to do today’?

Those days are gone. The world is now much more like the universe according to Copernicus, with many planets-cum-countries each with their own interests and identities plotting out their own orbits. What Margaret Thatcher called the TINA presumption – that There Is No Alternative to Anglo-Saxon political and economic ways of being -- is giving way to THEMBA -- There Must Be An Alternative.

In much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and most certainly in East Asia, what America offers as a motivating set of ideas to the world, is now simply one among many options -- with real alternatives coming from places like Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Lisbon, Rio-Brasilia, and from various forms of political Islam.

It’s remarkably seductive for Americans to see these alternative ideologies as retrograde, and as temporary diversions from liberalism’s gradual yet inevitable triumph. But none of these ideologies are in a process of anything like inevitable evolution into liberal democracy. Just because Americans don’t think they should have appeal, doesn’t mean that they don’t.

The Big Ideas about world order and just societies that many thought settled in the 20th century – embedded in concepts like the end of history, the indispensable nation, globalization as Americanization -- are up for grabs in the 21st. And they are up for grabs not as a war of ideas, as if it’s about shock and awe tactics, but in a globally competitive marketplace of ideas that is fast-moving, technologically-connected, extraordinarily diverse, noisy and infuriating -- and with no sense on anyone else’s part of American ideological entitlement.

Where is this competition headed? In 2020, almost regardless of how our recovery from the Great Recession turns out, the United States will still be a major global economic power, And the 2020 U.S. military will still be the most capable military on earth.

It is in the global competition of ideas that America’s power position is weaker than most Americans believe, and weaker than we need. Yet this is absolutely central to national power, because the world is entering a new and distinctive age where influence and ideology are linked in a vibrant competition for leadership.

And this is not just about foreign policy. What’s the world to think of a country whose elections are permeated with calls for a return to “true Americanism”, less than subtle signals from prominent media and political leaders for “Second Amendment solutions” a k a gun violence against national leaders, and other toxic discourse and demagoguery against our own as well as so many others in the world?

By Steven E. Levingston  | October 27, 2010; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags:  American foreign policy; U.S. global power; diminishing U.S. power  
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Our decline is being brought about by the greed of the plutocrats and oligarchs that own America and want to perpetuate their control. The American people have been reduced to being ignorant wage-slaves, no better than indentured servants. This explains the rise of our home-grown fascist movement, the "Tea Party".

Posted by: MJR3 | October 27, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

America is and is likely to remain the world's leading military power. But, this power is straining to protect America from the descendants of the nomads of the Middle East and Central Asia who reject the modern world. The rest of the world is happy to let our claim to world dominance be the lure that attracts and occupies these historic enemies of the developed world. Science has been the most important ideology of the modern world and science is deeply intertwined with technology. The global ideological struggles of the twenty-first century will be dominated by the development of science and technology rather than the ideologies of industrial development or the religious ideologies that emerged along with the appearance of written language. The twenty-first century is likely to see the last period of exponential growth in the human mastery over technology. The result is likely to be either a major transformation of human society or a collapse of the world's human population. The discontinuities are likely to be large enough to make any kind of prediction about political processes difficult. But, it is quite possible that the major fault lines will not be between different nations and very unlikely that those fault lines will be focused on superficial ideologies of the industrial age like capitalism. One significant possibility is that the major fault line will divide those intent on exploiting the human mastery over technology from those who remain mired in the still deeply held religious ideologies of the past.

Posted by: dnjake | October 27, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Our decline NOT is being brought about by the greed of the plutocrats and oligarchs that own America, but by incompetent and power hungry politicos more interested in retaining their own jobs then doing what is right for America. Our elected elites from both parties refuse to work together over fear of not getting re-elected. They are the ones that let plutocrats and oligarchs get away with all the chickens in the hen house. They allowed greed to overwhelm the banking system. They allowed massive deficit spending. They allowed a crappy health care bill to get passed. They keep the SEC and the ATF and countless others from doing their jobs because they are being influenced by lobbyists giving them money "for their re-election campaign." It is called BRIBERY! And of course they made this form of bribery legal. The case for term limits is clear. America can never be great again with this much cash chasing our politicians.

Posted by: ksilton | October 27, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

American politics and its antiquated political institutions (including a profoundly undemocratic Senate).

We retain respect for excellent universities, but the most important state universities are being defunded and, to some extent, de facto privatized.

We have possibly the world's best medical research, but waste astonishing amounts of money on second-class health care. That's enough to send manufacturing to Ontario.

While I don't admire Singapore's authoritarian government, the city-state's infrastructure eclipses anything in the US.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | October 27, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

The tenor and gist of the article and responses reminded me of geography classes long past! We the unlearned would look at the continents and say to ourselves mostly "Do you think they might have been once all together?" The world looks at things together today and we look at US! Its not so very far in the future that the nations of the world will see America as truly past its prime, which of cours it is. It's not decline, it's volksgeist, its taking our rightful seat near the door!

Posted by: dave_sheehan641 | October 27, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

I am a psychiatrist and author who was profoundly impressed by what the authors have accomplished here. The truth is that anyone can write a book, and most with social skills can write a book with curb appeal that sells well if they expend sufficient effort. But what is exceedingly rare, is a book that is truly a game changer. A work that is so illuminating that it forever changes the Landscape of Ideas for decades. The last book I read of that stature was "The Clash of Civilizations", I predict this work will be the next. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. I am off to purchase my copy now....
Emanuel H. Rosen, M.D.

Posted by: galitziana | October 27, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

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