Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bread Upon the Waters

From Fareed Zakaria:
The greatest failure of Western foreign policy since the Cold War ended
has been a sin of omission. We have not pursued a foreign policy toward the
world's newly rising powers that aims to create new and enduring relations
with them, integrate them into existing structures of power and lay out new
rules of the road to secure peace and prosperity. If the emerging countries
grow strong outside the existing order, they will freelance and be
unwilling to help build better structures for the future. In that case, the
new world might well be the same as the old -- the 19th-century world, that
is, which was marked by economic globalization, political nationalism and
There's an interesting question lurking in here. If we engage with the emerging powers and further their aspirations to global power, does that have to be done at the expense of US power and, if so, does that ultimately help or hurt US interests? Note that I'm distinguishing between "power" and "interest" here. Power is the ability to throw your weight around. However, ultimate US interests are to live in an increasingly prosperous, peaceful, and yet competitive nation.

It's possible that the proper path forward is intentionally to speak softer while still carrying a very big stick. This ultimately may require divesting from some of our usual soft power tactics and allowing the emerging nations to to set more of the agenda, as Zakaria advocates.

However, there's a catch: This strategy only has a prayer of advancing US interests if we don't wind up in a global competition for resources, especially energy resources. As long as we have to depend on the Persian Gulf to maintain our society, we can't budge on either hard or soft power. Zakaria's proposal is therefore still somewhat premature. That's a shame, because, while the accrual and wielding of power may be close to a zero-sum game, the advancing of interest--both US and global--is a positive-sum game of unparalleled opportunity.

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