Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fareed Zakaria's "The Post-American World 2.0"

This book is a fast read looking at America's relationship with the rest of the world. It focuses on two up-coming competitors, China and India. Zakaria says interesting things. This is a solid book. There are no big surprises and nothing controversial.

He takes the US to task for failing to live up to its ideals in the post-9/11 world. There is too much fear, too much security and too little civil liberties, and too much fear of "the other". He gives some solid advice. Again, pretty mainstream stuff.

Here's a bit to give you a taste of the book:
As it enters the twenty-first century, the United States is not fundamentally a weak economy, or a decadent society. But it has developed a highly dysfunctional politics. An antiquated and overly rigid political system to begin with -- about 225 years old -- has been captured by money, special interests, a sensationalist media, and ideological attack groups. The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia -- politics as theater -- and very little substance, compromise, and action. A "can-do" country is now saddled with a "do-nothing" political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving. By every measure -- the growth of special interests, lobbies, pork-barrel spending the political process has become far more partisan and ineffective over the last three decades.
And this:
To foreigners, American officials seem clueless about the world they are supposed to be running. "There are two sets of conversations, one with Americans in the room and one without," says Kishore Mahbubani, who was formerly Singapore's foreign secretary and ambassador to the United Nations. Because Americans live in a "cocoon," they don't see the "sea change in attitudes toward America throughout the world."
The book is a pleasant read. It won't startle you, but it does give a perspective on America that most Americans don't have. Zakaria was born in India and came to the US for college and never left. As an American with a unique background -- and a day job at Time magazine and CNN that lets him monitor the world and think about politics -- he has some useful things to say which other Americans should listen to.

As a Canadian I find it startling that not only is the average US citizen ignorant of the outside world, they are even poorly educated about their own history and political system. Every American needs to spend more time thinking about the role of America in the world. Turn off the political demagogues and read something thoughtful and get a broader understanding. Zakaria's book is a good place to start.

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