Note: I wrote this review before Zakaria’s troubles with accusations of plagiarism–that he lifted a passage from an article in The New Yorker and used it in a piece he wrote for Time.
An obvious rule of reviewing books is to let the author speak.
Here is Zakaria, hot now, a go-to guy, a Media Think Person, a popular speaker, a fashionable geopolitical/policy-analysis pundit, writing in his preface to the 2009 edition of his The Post-American World composed post the original edition of 2008 and most certainly post his perception of the global recession, that Recession apparently underestimated by Zakaria during his writing of the 2008 edition, and diminishing of the crescendo of that book, the quotes taken from three pages I’ve chosen randomly from the 23 pages of his preface:
“International cooperation is a tricky animal.” “Even where there is a will, there is often no clear way.” “Narrow isolationism trumps enlightened internationalism all too often.” “The lesson of Afghanistan suggests that multilateralism is neither easy nor always effective.” “Consider almost any serious problem we face today, chances are it implicates more than one country.” “…the world that confronts President Barack Obama (is) a messy and contentious one, with few easy answers.” “Everyone is, in a deep sense, in this crisis together.” “We cannot come out of the present crisis with real strength unless the major countries of the world work together on a massive and sustained scale.” “The great challenge for Barack Obama and this generation of leaders is to create a new system of international relations, one that produces genuine and effective global cooperation on the great common issues that plague us all.”
The rest of his book, that is to say, the main edition out early in 2008, it is my reading, says this: One of the two great themes of our time is “the rise of the rest.” (I do like the clever phrasing here, the obvious takeoff on “The Rise of the West” you’ve heard about, especially around 1999 when books came out saying the twentieth century is the American century [though some were indignant that such an idea found print and some currency]).
Zakaria’s “the rest” on the rise largely consist of China and India and several other countries. (“China’s growth is overseen by a powerful government….” “India does not have a government that can or will move people for the sake of foreign investors.”)
The second great theme of our time, says Zakaria, is the last sentence among those quoted above from his preface: “The great challenge for Barack Obama and this generation of leaders is to create a new system of international relations, one that produces genuine and effective global cooperation on the great common issues that plague us all.”
The rest of The Post-American World–292 pages–lectures us strenuously that the present world wouldn’t seem to Truman, Marshall and Acheson much like their world. They would have to react differently today. That’s what Obama must do. The US won’t have the “unipolar” position it’s enjoyed in the not-too-distant past. It must walk a tightrope it hasn’t walked before. But it will still be powerful. It must lead. That would be a good thing. Not to do so would be a bad thing.
Honestly, this Zakariana is–can we avoid the word?–utterly trite.
We’ll characterize “trite” here as “obvious,” “familiar,” and so general as to be of little help. And we’ll ask: Do we need 292 pages of such Commencement Address advice?
And we’ll ask mordantly: What accounts for it?
Well, we know the answer to that last question. Lets recall a two-part story typical of today: Part One: During the 2008 presidential campaign, a young Obama aide was almost insultingly challenged on CNN by one member of “the best political team on television” to spell out Obama’s economic policies. The young campaign staffer eagerly set about it. Part Two: By the time she got to Point Two out of (I think) five points, she was laughingly cutoff for misunderstanding that she was in a soundbite culture.
Zakaria, it seems to me, is presently caught up in soundbites; he’s mastering the art, including being able quickly to formulate the happy generality about Things Dire that comforts yet can’t be pinned down: relax, enjoy life, things are going to be OK. Nothing bad is imminent. There is coming a Pax Globality. America must be the maestro. Terrorists are on the wane. Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists? It’s not as easy as we might fear for such to happen. Reign in America’s horns a little. But not too much. (Details not to follow.)
I decided, after laboring through The Post-American World, to see whether I could find videos of Zakaria undergoing contested punditry. Sure enough I did. The time frame was after The Post-American World had come out. He was being pummeled by Barney Frank on the realities of the buccaneering disaster during the Great Recession in the largely unchecked, strikingly unregulated, financial sector. You know, all those millions of Americans really hurt by the excessive risk-taking on Wall Street. Zakaria seemed to be saying there was enough regulatory activity before The Badness. He talked about AIG. Frank had to explain that merely a few dozen people in AIG’s Product Development Division in London were crucial to the utter insanity of the massive CDSs. Maurice Greenberg, the CEO who seemed to know what everyone at AIG was doing, was gone. Now apparently hardly anyone in AIG knew what was going on in AIG’s Product Development Division. (You can see this exchange via Google and YouTube.)
The Recession, at least in its seminal dynamics, was a long way from “globalism.”
Any chance of at least some forms of trouble ahead in this old world which enormously predate Zakaria’s “globalism”? What do you think?