Book of the week
The Post-American World

by Fareed Zakaria
(Norton, $25.95)

Americans shouldn’t be gloomy about their nation’s declining international stature, says Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria. The rise of China, India, Russia, and various other economic and cultural rivals may be putting an end to the United States’ nearly 20-year run as the world’s unchallenged hegemon, but this spread of wealth signals a triumph for global capitalism. The world that’s emerging, in other words, is the world America has always wanted. In this new era the U.S. can easily manage the threat posed by terrorism, Zakaria says, and battles over resources and influence need not arise. America’s proper role, he says, would be akin to that of the chairman of a board of directors: an indispensible authority who can’t play dictator but “is still a very powerful person.”

Not all foreign-policy experts share the author’s sunny outlook, said Ian Buruma in The New Yorker. In presenting the landscape created by global capitalism’s triumph, Zakaria proves to be “judicious, reasonable, smooth, intelligent, and a little glib.” Like other instinctive internationalists, he often risks underestimating the influence of fixed hierarchies and tribal allegiances in human affairs. He assumes, for instance, that we can work with Russia and China because both ultimately want to become full participants in international organizations such as the G-8 and World Trade Organization. This overlooks two potential deal breakers. First, an autocratic regime can’t adapt to the rules that govern liberal democracies without surrendering some power. Second, China and Russia might just regard the international liberal order itself as a form of oppression.

Zakaria isn’t blind to the challenges ahead, said Peter Berkowitz in The New York Sun. Even as he plays pitchman for America’s robust economy, its peerless universities, and its tradition of attracting and embracing talent from all over the world, he warns that the United States could squander its competitive advantages if it restricts trade and immigration. Though Zakaria originally supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said Brendan Simms in The Wall Street Journal, he also now prescribes an end to unilateral foreign adventures. The question of when America should use its power isn’t that easy, though. Sure, we need to become a better team player. But even a “post-America” world will suffer without “an American willingness to break the rules in a just cause.”