Book Review:The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria
‘The Post-American World’, is an honest attempt by Farid Zakaria, to draw up the future of the world which he predicts would not be ‘anti-American’ but post-American in the sense that while there would be rise of the ‘rest’- a la Huntington, but US would still continue to be powerful albeit a little less.
This endeavor by Zakaria is aimed at giving US a low down on how to retain its
political relevance in the changed world where countries like China and India would demand increased share while in the economic sphere, he sees US commanding a lot of power atleast in the ‘foreseeable future.’ Thus unlike its predecessor, Britain which lost its economic edge to US while continued to be politically relevant, challenge for US’s influence is not economic but political.Its author Farid Zakaria is an Indian origin American national and a Journalist by profession. He wrote this book while living in New York while he was working as editor of Newsweek International.Zakaria himself points to the culmination of his wide travel experience and extensive reading into this book. Right now the author hosts popular foreign affairs show, ’GPS’ on CNN and is serving as Editor-at-large at Times magazine. He left India at the age of 18 to pursue higher education in US, an experience that he recalls fondly in the book.Author has constructed the future of the world in a narrative comprising seven chapters. Author begins with the stats to show how increasingly marvels of the world are not originating in US but emerging countries like China, India, and Brazil. He goes on to question if the new world would be marked by dominance of non-western ideas followed by looking at China’s rise, how it got there and how it can prove to be a challenger to US if it becomes an “alternative to hectoring and arrogant America” due to its well thought use of soft power. He chooses to look at India as an ally of the US, which can be partly due to his Indian origins, partly due to pro-US sentiments in India lately, and party due to
friendly overtures of US itself towards India. In the narrative Zakaria does not
give much explanation as to why India is an ally. The way he has structured his
narrative to first talk about rise of the ‘rest’ followed by reassertion of US’s might covertly tells that he does not see US as losing on its dominance in the world in the time to come. After he is done with explaining India and China’s rising influence in the last two chapters, he delves on US’s real sources of strength and how those sources would remain unchanged, providing US with a golden chance to retain its relevance in a changed world by altering its engagement with the world a little. Those sources of strength are US’s immigration policy, its edge in technology-especially Nano technology and Biotechnology and its role of ‘global broker’. Zakaria points out that it’s a win win situation for US as all the while that it preached nations to open their markets and practice liberalism, its own hard work is bearing fruits and as the pie gets bigger, US should celebrate its victory.
A key strength of the book is the fair chance Zakaria has given to all the players. While he looks at the unique case of being US with appreciation, he is also quite blunt to condemn the policies of US diplomatic imperialism, arrogance, paranoid about security and intervention in Iraq which has alienated pro-US sentiments in the world and can cost much dearly in a scenario where US can’t take the world to follow it for granted as if earlier there was just US’s way of doing things then there are other ‘narratives’ as well to choose from. He also raises a very valid point of biased-ness in institutions of world politics-IMF, UNSC etc that need an overhaul to look in touch with reality. Zakaria is extremely good with history as he takes readers back and forth in time to sometimes tell gems like “JL Nehru once claimed that he was the last Englishman to rule India” to comparing US with Britain’s fall as a superpower in the twentieth century where according to Zakaria, US needs to be more like Bismarck-forging good relations with all the nations, even better than they share with each other. He is also blessed with a novel perspective which makes him look at history in a completely different light, one which is capable of altering the myths we base our arguments on-Tajmahal according to Zakaria is not a symbol of excellence as with unlimited labour and resources, it stands as just one-off incident in the ancient history of India telling a not so nice picture of Indian backwardness at that time.This book also doubles up as a good guidebook for not just US but for India and China as well. Especially, Indian politicians can understand in depth how the economic rise, they take for granted has a real chance of not helping at all its rise in the world even if it does not leads to a complete reversal of the fortunes.Poverty is indeed a grave problem for India as Zakaria points out-“India has three Nigeria in it.”Book is a good attempt at explaining future by Zakaria but somewhere the book turns out to be more of an American saga then a picture of the Post-American World.Zakaria tries to describe features of the future but as hard he tries, he gets back to explaining the American world our present is so typical of and thus remains nothing ‘post-American’ about it. There lies an explanation to that too in his formulation that China and India can be/ are likely to be accommodated in the present order and that they would not choose to reorder the world when they rise. How true this comes out to be only the future would tell.Book proves to be a good reading even with the perspective of a ‘third-world citizen’ but leveling of blame against India and China for global warming makes me curious as to why Zakaria, so articulate with history did not tell the history of carbon emissions by the west which mastered industrialization, way before we did. Also Zakaria calls India a cow and US eagle. I would prefer India being called an ‘elephant’, as Gurucharan Das, in his Book, ‘India Unbound’ calls it,because for every two steps that we take into future, our size makes us take one back but slowly however that we reach our destination, our this very size would make the world take notice.All in all, The Post-American World is a well-researched and enlightening way to know a possible picture of the future world but don’t expect interesting anecdotes and easy to grasp generalizations, most journalists are known for.