Excellent pie by Fareed Zaharia in, of all places, Newsweak, international edition here. Hat tip Bruce H
The ball is in everybody's court, which means it's in nobody's court. This free ride can't last. The global system is not self-managing.
Feb. 5, 2007 issue - Two things were missing from this year's world Economic Forum at Davos: snow (which arrived eventually) and America-bashing (which did not). There were, of course, lots of American businessmen, activists and intellectuals filling the panels and halls of the conference. There were even a few senior American officials—though no star speaker. But, for the first time in my memory, America was somewhat peripheral. There were few demands, pleas, complaints or tantrums directed at the United States. In this small but significant global cocoon, people—for the moment at least—seemed to be moving beyond America.
"And in the past, people eagerly anticipated who that would be—Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice. This year, almost no one inquired. We expected disappointment. But there was none. No one even noticed."
Part of the reason is that people are moving beyond George W. Bush. Europeans and Middle Easterners in particular used to rail against Bush. Now they think that their views about him and his policies—whether on Iraq, global warming or unilateralism—have all been vindicated, so why keep ranting? Besides, he's a lame-duck president, his weakness on full display in last week's plaintive State of the Union address.
But there may be a larger phenomenon at work here. This year's conference theme was titled "Shaping the Global Agenda: The Shifting Power Equation." The emphasis, and some of the talk at the conference, focused on that shift in power, with speakers foretelling the rise of Asia (and implicitly, the decline of America and Europe).
We are certainly in a trough for America—with Bush in his last years, with the United States mired in Iraq, with hostility toward Washington still high almost everywhere. But if so, we might also be getting a glimpse of what a world without America would look like. It will be free of American domination, but perhaps also free of leadership—a world in which problems fester and the buck is endlessly passed, until problems explode.
On the other hand, France, that eloquent critic of U.S. unilateralism, has refused to budge on its lavish subsidies for farmers. As a result, the European Union is fractured and paralyzed. For their part Brazil, China and India speak of flexibility in the abstract but have made no new proposals. The ball for every problem is in everybody's court, which means that it is in nobody's court.
The world today bears some resemblance to the 1920s, when a newly globalized economy was booming, and science and technological change were utterly transforming life. (Think of the high-tech of the time—electricity, radio, movies and cars, among other recent inventions.) But with Britain declining and America isolationist, that was truly a world without political direction. Eventually protectionism, nationalism, xenophobia and war engulfed it.
In a provocative essay in Foreign Policy three years ago, the British historian Niall Ferguson speculated that the end of American hegemony might not fuel an orderly shift to a multipolar system but a descent into a world of highly fragmented powers, with no one exercising any global leadership. He called this "apolarity." "Apolarity could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age," Ferguson wrote, "an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism, of economic plunder and pillage in the world's forgotten regions, of economic stagnation, and civilization's retreat into a few fortified enclaves." That might be a little farfetched. But for those who have been fondly waiting for the waning of American dominance—be careful what you wish for.