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Can America compete in the 21st century?

What were you doing in January of 2008? Thinking about the upcoming election? So was Parag Khanna (see earlier post on this author), as he wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine entitled “Who Shrank the Superpower? Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.” If that’s too heavy a read, you can check out the 90-calorie “Life After Bush,” which is equally scrumptious (I had to use that word someday, never going to get better than an anon. blog).

Apologies for the length of this post, believe it or not, I trimmed it considerably…

First, what’s up for grabs here? Unlike the rest of history, Khanna doesn’t see the “loser” of this new global game being burned and looted, but the stakes are serious. Up for grabs is the US lifestyle we all enjoy. It’s access to to natural resources, it’s attracting the world’s top human capital, and attracting jobs.

What exactly is happening?

Well, the “European Union is expanding and building a post-NATO, Euro-centric order stretching from Ireland to Azerbaijan, connecting pipelines to North Africa, signing free trade with the Gulf oil sheikhdoms, and dealing on equal terms with the Chinese.

China, too, is a post-American superpower, constructing a “Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere” across all of East Asia and even Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) [ED: Remember this org., doesn’t get the press it deserves]. All the countries in the middle are building foreign exchange reserves, establishing sovereign wealth funds, and either buffering themselves against the sliding U.S. dollar or buying up America because of it.

Back to Khanna, he begins the Times piece by flashing forward:

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

So now it’s the US, China, and EU competing once again, albeit, more politely. Where do other major players fit in Khanna’s world?

  • Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov
  • An incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars
  • India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite.

Khanna then moves on to identify what these global powers will compete over — the second world. “The cold war, too, was not truly an “East-West” struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle.

While the EU and China are spearheading new collaborative international institutions, the US has only the leadership of fossils like the IMF.

Khanna moves on to write of the major battleground for the big three — the second world, “from Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia,” which Khanna refers to as the swing states. Khanna goes in depth about a few of these states, and while looking at Russia, concludes that “Russia will have to decide whether it wishes to exist peacefully as an asset to Europe or the alternative — becoming a petro-vassal of China.”

He clearly believes that Turkey is already in the European sphere, even if it is not admitted formally as a member to the EU, and writes of the end of the Monroe Doctrine, as Latin America has become a playground for European and Chinese interest, with the US unable to harness the political will needed to secure partnerships with its neighbors, such as Brazil (ED: EU makes all the bickering over NAFTA seem kind of odd, no?)

Khanna emphasizes that the second world is very intelligent nowadays, playing the powers against each other to secure the best possible deal, and then switching loyalties when their interests dictate. The competition between the powers will be tough.

In the final chapters of the article, Khanna addresses the issue of how the world can deal with “transnational challenges from terrorism to global warming. … Globalization resists centralization of almost any kind. … [We need] a far greater sense of a division of labor among the Big Three, a concrete burden-sharing among them by which they are judged not by their rhetoric but the responsibilities they fulfill. The arbitrarily composed Security Council is not the place to hash out such a division of labor. Neither are any of the other multilateral bodies bogged down with weighted voting and cacophonously irrelevant voices. The big issues are for the Big Three to sort out among themselves.

That would be quite a summit, and to be prepared, the US needs to reorganize.

Here are Khanna’s five pieces of advice to the incoming President:

1) No more talk of American national interests, us vs. them, American values; instead, our interests, we, our values, etc. Straightforward stuff.

2) The State Department should mirror the Pentagon’s geographic breakdown, with assistant secretaries of state assigned geographic regions, charged with managing diplomatic relations with nation-states and regional institutions within their spheres.

3) More diplomats! There are “more musicians in U.S. military marching bands than there are Foreign Service officers.” Make the PeaceCorps 10x its size and facilitate more “student exchanges, English-teaching programs and hands-on job training overseas — with corporate sponsorship.”

  • The US has the disadvantage of being less populated than China/EU, but the US has a secret weapon: “American foundations and charities, not least the Gates and Ford Foundations, dwarf European counterparts in their humanitarian giving; if such private groups independently send more and more American volunteers armed with cash, good will and local knowledge to perform “diplomacy of the deed,” then the public diplomacy will take care of itself.

4) The US is losing “control of assets to wealthier foreign funds, our scientific education, broadband access, health-care, safety and a host of other standards are all slipping down the global rankings. Given our deficits and political gridlock, the only solution is to channel global, particularly Asian, liquidity into our own public infrastructure, creating jobs and technology platforms that can keep American innovation ahead of the pack.”

5) “Convene a G-3 of the Big Three. … These are the key issues among which to make compromises and trade-offs: climate change, energy security, weapons proliferation and rogue states. Offer more Western clean technology to China in exchange for fewer weapons and lifelines for the Sudanese tyrants and the Burmese junta. And make a joint effort with the Europeans to offer massive, irresistible packages to the people of Iran, Uzbekistan and Venezuela — incentives for eventual regime change rather than fruitless sanctions.

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