Zakaria's Alternate Reality

February 3, 2012 Topic: ElectionsGreat PowersThe PresidencyRising Powers Blog Brand: The Buzz

Zakaria's Alternate Reality

Writing in the Washington Post, foreign-policy writer Fareed Zakaria touts his own book, The Post-American World, in a column addressed to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He suggests Romney should rethink is oft-expressed criticism of President Obama for believing “that this next century is the post-American century.”

The theme of America moving into a less hospitable world less subject to American power is getting a lot of attention. And, based on Zakaria’s past writings, it’s safe to speculate that his book makes a worthy contribution to this literature.

But he pulls from the book a quote that should give any geopolitical analyst pause: “This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else.”

This can’t be. While societies can generate new wealth through wise economic policies, they can’t generate political power. A fundamental rule of politics, as ironclad as the law of gravity, is that every polity has a finite quantity of political power. The only question is how it will be distributed. This is true of the local school board, the Vermont legislature, the United States of America and the world of nations.

An appreciation of this fundamental power reality is a prerequisite to understanding the workings of politics, including the workings of the geopolitics of the globe. If Zakaria’s “everybody else” is on the rise, that means this “everybody else” is gaining power. That can only happen at the expense of some other entity that inevitably will have to lose power. That other entity most likely will be the United States. Theoretically, it could be, say, Switzerland, but Switzerland doesn’t have much power to relinquish.

So Zakaria can seek to swaddle his analysis in these niceties of concept as a way of shrouding the stark realities of our time. But those realities won’t become any less stark as a result.

Zakaria is a smart guy, and his Post column did a good job of bundling up the elements of an effective argument. But the quote from his book reflects an outlook that misses reality—and hence is flawed.