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June 05, 2007

Best Of Zakaria

I've been trying to think of what to say about Fareed Zakaria's think piece on a post-Bush foreign policy. Problem is, I agree with so much of it that there's no real place for my commentary. The utility of Zakaria's piece is that it brings problems back into scale, and opportunities into focus. It's impressively untouched by both the hysterias and political pressures of the moment. So, since I don't believe a link will send enough of you to read it, I'll just post what I clipmarked from the article, in the hopes that it'll compel folks to read the whole thing:

Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But the atmosphere in Washington could not be more different from 1982. We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed.
We must begin to think about life after Bush—a cheering prospect for his foes, a dismaying one for his fans (however few there may be at the moment). In 19 months he will be a private citizen, giving speeches to insurance executives. America, however, will have to move on and restore its place in the world. To do this we must first tackle the consequences of our foreign policy of fear. Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.
The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?
Such overreactions are precisely what Osama bin Laden has been hoping for. In a videotaped message in 2004, bin Laden explained his strategy with astonishing frankness. He termed it "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... [and] raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses." His point has been well understood by ragtag terror groups across the world. With no apparent communication, collaboration or further guidance from bin Laden, small outfits from Southeast Asia to North Africa to Europe now announce that they are part of Al Qaeda, and so inflate their own importance, bring global attention to their cause and—of course—get America to come racing out to fight them.
The competition to be the tough guy is producing new policy ideas, all right—ones that range from bad to insane.
The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100 percent sure we prevent the attack, but rather how we respond to it. Stephen Flynn, a homeland-security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that our goal should be resilience—how quickly can we bounce back from a disruption? In the materials sciences, he points out, resilience is the ability of a material to recover its original shape after a deformation. If one day bombs do go off, we must ensure that they cause as little disruption—economic, social, political—as possible. This would deprive the terrorist of his main objective. If we are not terrorized, then in a crucial sense we have defeated terrorism.
For the right, illegal immigrants have become an obsession. The party of free enterprise has dedicated itself to a huge buildup of the state's police powers to stop people from working.
Perhaps the most hopeful sign for the United States is that alone among industrial nations, we will not have a shortage of productive citizens in the decades ahead. Unlike Germany, Japan and even China, we should have more than enough workers to grow the economy and sustain the elderly population. This is largely thanks to immigration. If America has a core competitive advantage, it is this: every year we take in more immigrants than the rest of the world put together.
"If we leave Iraq, they will follow us home," says the president. Can they not do so now? Iraq's borders have never been more porous. Does he think that Iraqi militants and foreign terrorists are so distracted by our actions in Iraq that they have forgotten that there are many more Americans in America?
The primary challenge we face in the Middle East is the rise of Iran. No country has caused greater panic among American elites—of both parties. There are many influential voices arguing for military attacks on Tehran. But let's keep in mind that this is a poorly run, internally divided oil tyranny that is increasingly antagonizing the rest of the world. It is insecure enough to have arrested Iranian-American civilians and warned its own scholars never to talk to foreigners at conferences abroad. These are not the signs of a healthy system. Iran is a serious and complex problem, but it is not Hitler's Germany. Its total GDP is less than one third of America's defense budget. A nuclear-armed North Korea has not been able to change the dynamics of global politics. A nuclear-armed Iran—and we are still far from that point—will not bring about the end of the world as long as we keep it tightly contained.
the strategy we have adopted against so many troublesome countries over the last few decades—sanction, isolate, ignore, chastise—has simply not worked. Cuba is perhaps the best example of this paradox. Having put in place a policy to force regime change in that country, we confront the reality that Fidel Castro will die in office the longest-serving head of government in the world. On the other hand, countries where we have had the confidence to engage—from China to Vietnam to Libya—have shifted course substantially over time. Capitalism and commerce and contact have proved far more reliable agents of change than lectures about evil. The next president should have the courage to start talking to rogue regimes, not as a sign of approval but as a way of influencing them and shaping their environment.
There could not have been a worse time for America than the end of the Vietnam War, with helicopters lifting people off the roof of the Saigon embassy, the fallout of Watergate and, in the Soviet Union, a global adversary that took advantage of its weakness. And yet, just 15 years later, the United States was resurgent, the U.S.S.R. was in its death throes and the world was moving in a direction that was distinctly American in flavor. The United States has new challenges, new adversaries and new problems. But unlike so much of the world, it also has solutions—if only it has the courage and wisdom to implement them.

June 5, 2007 | Permalink


goddamn do your job Ezra, you lazy bum

Posted by: Korha | Jun 5, 2007 11:57:18 AM

A person with a background like Zakaria's would have been perfect for sane pre-Iraq-war advice to the neocons.

Unfortunately, Mr. Zakaria was too involved with his own career at his time to play that role, what with his undisclosed behind the scenes meetings with the architects of the Iraq fiasco. I hope he redeems himself with articles like this.

Posted by: gregor | Jun 5, 2007 11:58:45 AM

"We must begin to think about life after Bush—a cheering prospect for his foes, a dismaying one for his fans (however few there may be at the moment). In 19 months he will be a private citizen, giving speeches to insurance executives."

Of all the marketable skills Bush may have, post-White House, surely we can't imagine people actually paying to hear the man speak? Unless this is some new gimmick where you pay to be locked out of the room he's in.

Posted by: John | Jun 5, 2007 12:32:27 PM

It's interesting that of the 11,000+ responses to the Newsweek poll (on the page with Zakaria), only 58% believe we can restore our international image.

It will take much more than Reagan's combination of domestic optimism and foreign challenges (and obviously, a more sane Iraq/Iran policy). Underlaying the hyped-up fears of terroristm by Bush is a creeping sense that we have lost our economic future due to globalization. Not one candidate is addressing that globalization challenge.

Zakaria speaks well in this piece, but we need, very badly, and optimistic and foresighted leader to help us restore our belief in ourselves as a nation. Obama comes closest to this, but he speaks hesitantly. Hillary could do this, but she hasn't, for whatever reasons - probably caution, her hallmark.

Who will speak those immortal words again: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 5, 2007 12:52:34 PM

Thanks, Ezra, but I already read it. Good piece, though as usual from Zakaria, too cautious.

Posted by: beckya57 | Jun 5, 2007 2:37:31 PM

Do you agree with him that we should keep 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely?

Posted by: JackD | Jun 5, 2007 7:07:41 PM

if zakaria's piece runs in newsweek, i'll read the rest of it there. i have a subscription.

btw, i found it funny --not funny ha-ha, but funny peculiar -- that giuliani's quotes are so xenophobic. a hundred years ago, some white people (ie, wasps) would've said the same things about italian catholics.

but that's the newbies for you -- more american than george washington eating a hot dog and a piece of apple pie between games of a double header on the fourth of july.

Posted by: harry near indy | Jun 5, 2007 7:52:07 PM

The piece is good. But I have problems with such essays. I feel Zakaria forgets that he is not competing for Presidential Election. His essay is way too ‘motivational / inspirational’ for a political commentator. For God’s sake he is not in the election to ask for votes as like say Obama is doing. With Obama ‘lofty style’ of political rhetoric is back. We see here the excess of it, same way Tom Friedman also exceeds line on so many occasions.

The job of the political commentator is to comment on narratives of political actors, to find gaps in their rhetoric and in clinical fashion – primarily based on facts – to point a right path. And of course critique of political judgments of actors with respect long term interests of the public. In this essay it seems Zakaria is taking on himself to motivate American people.

His case has merit – America needs to be more liberal in the immigration policy and needs to have much broader view of ‘war on terror’ instead of jingoistic, narrow style of Bush and Rove. For the latter Brezenski and school of Realists have been making solid arguments. For the former part – immigration – we need much more precise commentary than hand waving what Zakaria undertakes in this eassay.

Posted by: Umesh Patil | Jun 5, 2007 9:10:59 PM

Well, if Fareed Zakaria is going to be the posterboy for liberal bloggers, I guess liberals really are out of ideas.

Not implementing disastrously bad policies is hardly the same as implementing good policies.

Oh well, let's hear it for a kinder, gentler dysfunctional plutocracy, and its prophets.

Posted by: faux facsimile | Jun 6, 2007 5:32:22 PM

"...But the atmosphere in Washington could not be more different from 1982. We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed. "

Bullsh*t. In 1982 we were in a deep recession, coming off the second oil shortage in a decade. Japan was eating our lunch, manufacturing was bleeding jobs and money like a severed artery.

The USSR was running amok (or so we thought), numerous countries in the Middle East were eager to tell us to f*ck off, and we weren't slapping them around like we were used to. The USSR supposedly had enough nuclear weapons that a first strike by them was now thinkable.

It was a time of fear, dread and suffering.

Zakaria was is an alway shall be a neoconman.

Remember - those who lied to us about the war will continue to lie to us.

Posted by: Barry | Jun 7, 2007 9:41:12 AM

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