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The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria

January 10th, 2009

Zakaria argues though that while the British Empire’s ultimate fall from grace was due to its declining economic power, America’s fall is being caused by crumbling political strength.  America’s unchecked power has led to bad behavior and arrogant missteps.

When George H. W. Bush (Bush senior) led America into the first Gulf War, he did so with a history of ‘competition’ with the Soviet Union.  It was during his political upbringing that the United States had to ‘compete’ with communism and the Soviet Union for the world’s hearts and minds.  This kept the United States ‘honest’ and ‘humble’ knowing that unpopular actions would lead to lost ground in advancing its world view.  Reflecting on the first Gulf War, we know that George H. W. Bush (Bush senior) built a global coalition and completed only the required task of liberating Kuwait. America’s stance in the war was one of quiet duty on behalf of the rest of the world.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the relative collapse of communist ideology, and the uncontested nature of America’s power, the United States has grown careless and clumsy in its global maneuvers.  For the last ten years, it has no longer had to ‘compete’ with the Soviet Union for hearts and minds.  There are no longer a system of global ‘checks and balances’ to keep the United States ‘humble’ and ‘honest’.

America rushed blindly into a disastrous war with Iraq and has squandered its position of absolute economic supremacy. The Iraq war wreaked of hubris and arrogance from the start, with the Bush administration building a case for war with little factual support.  America’s approval ratings are at multi-decade lows and America bashing throughout the world is now in ‘vogue’.  This would have never happened ten or twenty years ago.

These issues are combined by a greater political crisis.  One where competing special interests demand unsustainable benefits from leaders in Washington.  One where policy makers are stymied from taking prudent courses of action from fear of being voted out of office.  One where foreign policy initiatives proceed with little regard for international stakeholders.  And one where the general public can be hijacked by fear to pursue narrow political interests (the Bush administration’s war in Iraq).  This behavior has created a sticky PR problem for the U.S.A.

Nicolas Sakozy likes being called “the American” in France.  He is unashamedly pro-American and he makes it clear that he wants to emulate the United States in many ways.  When he met Condoleezza Rice after his election win in 2007, Rice asked him, “What can I do for you?”. His response was revealing. “Improve your image in the world. Its difficult when the country that is the most powerful, the most successful – that is, of necessity, the leader of our side – is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for you and overwhelming problems for your allies.  So do everything you can to improve the way you’re perceived – that’s what you can do for me.”

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