The post-American world order scenario

The genius that makes Herodotus, Ibn Khaldun, Gibbons, Spengler, Nibeshr and Toynbee immortal is that their analyses of the geopolitical paradigm and the history of civilisations borrowed insights from the world of ideas, culture, economics, religion and even psychology.

By Matein Khalid (At Home)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Fri 1 Aug 2008, 11:57 PM

Last updated: Tue 14 Nov 2023, 2:16 PM

Yet while several millennia or centuries have passed since the rise and fall of ancient Athens, the Roman Empire, Umayyad Andalusia or Byzantium, we do not have such eminent historians to provide us with a retrospective compass to make sense of the real life chaos, complexities and contradiction of our own times.

The closest to a Herodotus or a Toynbee available to us in 2008 are international journalists whose ruminations on the Lexus, the olive tree and the flatness of the world provide us with some insights on history's first draft, the extraordinary transformations across the planet that satellite TV and the Internet enable us to view in real-time. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, has written a book that attempts to chronicle the embryonic international order that will replace the Pax Americana of the Cold War era and its immediate aftermath. I enjoyed his fascinating new book The Post-American World Order (Norton 2008) all the more because I read it on vacation in my hotel room in Venice, a stone's throw from the Rialto bridge which was once the epicentre of the East West trade in gold, silk and grains, the Wall Street of the Renaissance. Venice was once a world power until its navy and vassal states were vanquished by the Ottoman Sultanate, its existence as a fabulously wealthy republic crushed by Napoleon's armies. The rise and the fall of civilisations was all too poignant as the shadows of the sunset danced across the marble palazzos on the Grand Canal.

The most notable feature of Fareed Zakaria's book is that its title is a misnomer. Fareed does not believe that the United States will surrender its role as the world's sole superpower and military colossus to China, India or Russia at any time in the foreseeable future. He himself explains that his book is "not about decline of America but about the rise of everyone else". In essence, much as the Roman Empire fought border wars with the Franks, the Judeans and the Parthians to preserve its status as the sole imperial superpower, America will remain top banana in a multipolar world.

As Fareed writes, "Americans see a new world is coming into being but fear it is being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people". The American malaise is all too real. The Pentagon is mired in two unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has even lower approval ratings than Nixon in the depths of Watergate, America's biggest banks and investment houses have been gutted by the trillion dollar daisy chain of the subprime mortgage crisis, the US economy is in recession, America's global reputation for liberal, humanist values has been eviscerated by the grisly realities of Abu Gharaib torture chambers, the new Orwellian police state bureaucracies born from the war of terror. Waterboarding and CIA Predator aerial assassins are now as integral components of the All American idea as Mom and apple pie, Coca Cola, jazz, Hollywood and the NFL.

Fareed summarises the psychological unease of an America at odds with a world it so long defined in its own image. "The US globalised the world but forgot to globalise itself" and became "a global rule maker that does not always play by the rules.... to continue to lead the world we will first have to join it". It is difficult not to agree with Fareed, living as we do in Dubai, that the rise of everyone else is the defining theme of our times in international politics, finance and culture. The world's largest buildings are in Taipei and Dubai, no longer Chicago and New York. London is the world's financial capital, not Manhattan. Al Jazeera, India's NDTV, Telesur and Xinhua News Agency are as powerful global media as the old Madison Avenue networks or CNN/ Fox. The largest movie industry in the world is in South Mumbai, not Southern California. The largest sovereign fund in the world is owned by Abu Dhabi. The world's richest man is a Mexican telecom billionaire. The world's largest casino is in Macau, not Las Vegas. The world's largest factories are in China, whose central bank also owns $1.8 trillion in US Treasury and agency securities, meaning the fate of the dollar is decided as much in Beijing as in Washington D C.

Fareed identifies America's unique strength as its ability to change and adapt, attract the world's best and brightest in its quest for innovation, in the safeguards against concentration of power even in a legitimate democratic government enshrined in the US Constitution, surely the most enlightened document in world history. So he notes with approval the rise of Barack Obama's globalist ethos as an antidote to Bush's neocon instincts, that half of all Silicon Valley start ups were founded by immigrants or first generation Americans, that dozens of countries in Europe, the Arab world, and the Pacific Rim rely on America's military umbrella and therefore obey its diplomatic diktat.

Fareed examines the threats of Iran, Al Qaeda and even the resurgence of Putin's Russia. Iran is surrounded by states that are pro-American with US troops on their soil. Turkey, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. He notes that all the GCC countries and Egypt cooperated with President Bush in his decision to invade Saddam's Iraq. He calculates that the US economy is 68 times bigger than Iran and the Pentagon military budget is 110 times that of the Iranian mullahs. He also discusses Al Qaeda's jihadists as a spent force in the post 9/11 world. "They used to do terrorism, now they do videotapes". I must disagree with the author on both counts. Sarajevo 1914 was an economic pygmy but it still triggered a world war. Iran's economic weakness and lack of conventional military power has lead it to seek nuclear capabilities, a quest that begun under the pro-US Shah, not the anti-US mullahs.

Fareed also ignores the threats of Islamist revolutionaries not just to the West but to the stability of Arab and Muslim regimes allied to Washington.

Surely Fareed understands that the terrorists bombs that maimed and slaughtered hundreds of people in Casablanca, Bali, Islamabad, Kabul, Riyadh, Sharm al-Sheikh and Baghdad prove that post 9/11 Al Qaeda sends a lot more lethal messages to its enemies than just videotapes?.

Matein Khalid is a Dubai-based investment banker and economic analyst

More news from OPINION