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The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria

January 10th, 2009

For the roughly two decades since 1989, the United States has defined the international order.  All roads have led to Washington.  American ideas about politics, economics, and foreign policy have been the starting point for global direction. But this situation is starting to change.

Not since the the British empire has the world seen such an uncontested power as the United States.  Zakaria draws some interesting parallels between the height of American power following the events of September 11, 2001 and the height of British power at the Diamond Jubilee on June 22, 1897.

In the Diamond Jubilee celebration a military procession of fifty thousand soldiers including hussars from Canada, cavalrymen from New South Wales, carabineers from Naples, camel troops from Bikaner, Gurkhas from Nepal, and many others was an magnificient display of British supremacy.  At the time, approximately four hundred million people, nearly one-fourth of humanity, were overseen by the British empire.  At the time, the Kreuz-Zeitung in Berlin, which usually expressed anti-English views, described the British empire as “practically unassailable”.  The New York Times submitted, “We are a part, and a great part, of the Greater Britain which seems so plainly destined to dominate this planet.”  India, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, New Zealand, Iraq, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Singapore, and many more modern countries were controlled by the British empire.

However, Britian’s power faltered.  It became mired in small wars, such as the Boer War, and settling petty conflicts, and its economic leadership was overtaken by Germany and the United States.  World War II sealed Britain’s fate.  Although Britain, along with the United States and the Soviet Union, emerged victorious, Britain was badly damaged and more or less followed American leadership in the ensuing decades.

The analogy today is obvious.  The United States is Britain, the Iraq War is the Boer War, and the emerging economic powers are Brazil, India, and China.  America’s uncontested power is no longer a given.  Rogue states like Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela are taking advantage of the United States’s inattention and bad fortunes.  The familiar history of imperial decline is happening all over again.


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