America in the new world order
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?
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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