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3:12AM

Great Powers Preface: The Shape of Things to Come

Lately, we are being told that this is no longer our world. America is in decline, and the rest of the world has caught up to us. Wars may be won, but the peace belongs to others--we just have to get used to it. 

And it is true that in the tumultuous times since 9/11 sent our world spinning that much faster, America has searched for a grand strategic vision to animate our spirit and guide our actions, and it has failed. When we should have inspired hope, we have stoked fears, and where we should have built bridges, we have erected walls.

So I won't tell you the critics are wrong--just that their own vision is too limited. This is still America's world, and if we have the will to step up to the plate, we can make things right--right now. 

America's journey back to where we once belonged begins with one simple realization: This is a world of our making. Neither accident nor providence, this "flat world" is fundamentally our design--a template of networks spreading, economies integrating, and states uniting. It's so damn competitive merely because that's our natural habitat; we don't know how to make it any other way. 

In this world we find no strangers, just younger versions of ourselves, who are prone to all the same sins and manias we once suffered, even as they teach us magnificent new ways to improve our lives and secure our tightly shared future. We must neither fear nor dismiss them, but encourage their pursuit of happiness, and in doing so, we'll find their main goal is one very familiar to us--the attainment of a middle-class existence. 

This looming achievement will put the planet under great duress in coming decades, much as it once did these United States. For this path to remain sustainable, compromises must be made and great technologies found. Some may see only billions of mouths to be fed, but in reality it is billions of minds to be harnessed. The one resource we will never deplete is our collective imagination. 

But imagination requires confidence, which both spreads and dissipates with the velocity of a virus. Here America plays a special historical role, not as the only great power--because there are so many great powers at work in this complex world--but as the power with the greatest opportunity either to extend or to sabotage globalization's stunning advance around the planet.

We are modern globalization's source code--its DNA. As the world's oldest and most successful multinational economic and political union, we remain the planet's most communicable ideology--its most potent insurgency. Those thirteen colonies may have begun--quite implausibly--as the world's original anti-imperialist league, but our international libe-ral trade order now encompasses the vast majority of the planet's population.

If we own up to our past, we can command our future. We can re-align ourselves immediately to a world transforming. Some will see great compromise on this path, but it is really great consistency.  America's grand experiment has always balanced the needs of the many against the needs of the few--or the one. Our main challenge today--indeed, our main opportunity--is not those superempowered few seeking to do us harm but those unprecedented many seeking to do us one better.

Yes, we have displayed the temerity to bring the mountain to Mohammed, extending our American System-cum-globalization to the most traditional civilizations still thinly connected to its networks, and we have triggered great friction with the power of that force. But in obsessing over that friction, we have lost all perspective on the forces we have created--the great powers unleashed.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 challenged America to redefine the international security system. It was a challenge that the Bush-Cheney administration took up with a vengeance, sensing in that moment a chance to reposition both the presidency and the United States in terms of leadership--even primacy. In this bold quest, the White House's sins of omission and commission were many. Recounting the most grievous ones (Chapter 1, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Bush-Cheney") is essential to America's successful reengagement with a world left more unnerved by our government's counterterrorism strategy than it was ever perturbed by actual terrorists. But our recovery doesn't stop there. Fences need mending and relationships require repair. We'll cover that gamut in Chapter 2, "A Twelve-Step Recovery Program for American Grand Strategy."

Before we can go on to explore the handful of major but necessary realignments that lie ahead, a bit of history is in order--specifically, American history. Citizens of this great country need to better understand its seminal role in constructing our current world, an environment that quite frankly too many of us today find frighteningly alien, when it is--pure and simple--the result of a conscious grand strategy pursued from the earliest days of our republic right through Bush's decision to invade Iraq. And so, in Chapter 3, we'll speak of great men and great powers and how each shaped the American trajectory and its impact on world history.

Then we come to the hard part: recognizing where and how America lost its way in the years since 9/11. Since we're talking about a world transforming in a dual sense, both from an American-engineered globalization process (ongoing) and Bush-Cheney's decision to launch a "global war" (we'll see where that takes America next), we need to approach this complex issue from a variety of storytelling angles--Rashomon style. So in Chapters 4 through 8, we'll explore what I have come to realize are the five essential realignments to be made in America's grand strategy going forward.  We'll start with economics, then expand into diplomacy and security, before branching out further into global networks and all the larger global equations (e.g., our planet's increasingly fragile environment, heightened spirituality and religious identity, rising immigration rates) that must likewise inform America's strategic realignment following Bush.

The next few years will constitute the first true test of globalization.  As our globalized system continues processing its worst financial crisis ever, President Barack Obama encounters an international order suffering more deep-seated strain than at any time since the Great Depression. If there was any remaining doubt that the world's great powers either all swim or all sink together in this interconnected global economy, then this recent contagion has erased it.  Globalization is no longer a national choice but a global condition, and at this seminal moment in history it demands from its creator renewed--and renewing--leadership. President Obama's opportunity to--as he has so often put it--"turn the page" could not be greater, for history rarely offers such made-to-order turning points.

The United States isn't coming to a bad end but a good beginning--our American System successfully projected upon the world. Our Rome wasn't built in a day but constructed over many decades of struggle, our governing rules subject to constant revision and improvement. "These truths" may have seemed "self-evident" from the start, but self-actualized they were not. That the same is now true for this globalization-of-our-making should not cause us despair. We have been down this path before, taming both a wilderness and the market forces we later unleashed upon its settled lands. We are simply blessed today by a global economy whose expansion has already surpassed all past hopes and dreams for a connected, superempowered world. So many frontiers, so little time.

Let us begin this journey of integration, not with a vague sense of foreboding but with a firm grasp of the possibilities. America has done a world of good to get humanity to the point where wars are disappearing and networks are proliferating. Where we need to take it next is well within our grasp. As long as we can remember what got us here, trust me, we'll recognize the shape of things to come.

Reader Comments (2)

Now anyone who has not bought the book and wanted to checkout the reading group can read this preface and join in.
February 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhistoryguy99
How would you deal with the ideology that is the muslim extremism when this country is to Politically correct?
February 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Manuel

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