Frenemies and Swing States
My dear American friends, your political process confounds me. Fascinating and entertaining, sure, but I mean it’s completely, utterly, ridiculously baffling and, to this outside observer at least, not sensible or constructive in the least. Seemingly random caucusing (which is?), primaries in some states before others, campaigning in some states but not others, delegates and superdelegates, the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars spent, and of course campaigning measured in years rather than weeks. Really, how on earth is any mere mortal supposed to emerge from such a marathon of a race and then still have the energy to actually be president for four years? That might be an important thing to consider. Same goes for the mass distraction such a drawn out campaign casts over the country. Did you watch the State of the Union address on Monday? Some real leadership and a reality check are needed – and fast.
That last bit ties in with the main gist to Parag Khanna’s outstanding essay, Waving Goodbye to Hegemony, in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine. It’s my favourite kind of essay – it’s articulate, it’s balanced, and most of all it seamlessly weaves a number of very various subjects together into a compelling argument.
Khanna steps back and observes how the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, “both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them.” Current and rapidly changing geopolitics being what they are, the US now finds itself sharing superpowerdom with the European Union and China. He writes:
Europe’s influence grows at America’s expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past. More broadly, America controls legacy institutions few seem to want — like the International Monetary Fund — while Europe excels at building new and sophisticated ones modeled on itself. The U.S. has a hard time getting its way even when it dominates summit meetings — consider the ill-fated Free Trade Area of the Americas — let alone when it’s not even invited, as with the new East Asian Community, the region’s answer to America’s Apec.
The East Asian Community is but one example of how China is also too busy restoring its place as the world’s “Middle Kingdom” to be distracted by the Middle Eastern disturbances that so preoccupy the United States. In America’s own hemisphere, from Canada to Cuba to Chávez’s Venezuela, China is cutting massive resource and investment deals. Across the globe, it is deploying tens of thousands of its own engineers, aid workers, dam-builders and covert military personnel. In Africa, China is not only securing energy supplies; it is also making major strategic investments in the financial sector. The whole world is abetting China’s spectacular rise as evidenced by the ballooning share of trade in its gross domestic product — and China is exporting weapons at a rate reminiscent of the Soviet Union during the cold war, pinning America down while filling whatever power vacuums it can find. Every country in the world currently considered a rogue state by the U.S. now enjoys a diplomatic, economic or strategic lifeline from China, Iran being the most prominent example.
Khanna describes the US, the EU, and China as the ultimate “frenemies” and then discusses at length the increasing role that neighboring “second world” countries play as swing states. “The second world,” he argues, referring to places like Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Malaysia, and Libya, “will shape the world’s balance of power as much as the superpowers themselves will. It’s an insightful journey to bounce from region to region with Khanna (whose book comes out in early March) considering how and why.