Book Review: The Post-American World - Fareed Zakaria

May 20, 2008
Ms. Anona

One of the most common complaints about the media is that many journalists do not have the appropriate background to comment on economics and complex political issues in detail. Those who believe this, however, have probably not encountered the likes of Fareed Zakaria, a Harvard grad and well-known American journalist. Lately Zakaria has been stirring up a lot of attention and can be seen shaking hands with Henry Kissinger and other dignitaries as he rapidly rises the ranks from journalist to political advisor. With his latest book, The Post-American World, Zakaria delivers a new twist on a common and slightly menacing message, that America’s hegemony is waning.

'The Post-American World is not a story about America’s fall, but instead about the rise of ‘the rest’, states Zakaria. Countries like China, India, Brazil, Singapore and Indonesia have been ‘catching up’ to the economic status of the United States and for the last twenty or so years America’s status as a sole superpower has been challenged. The innovation and growth coming out of Asian countries has been somewhat surprising and has left America’s monotheistic approach toward globalization and capital in the dust. In a way, the United States can be seen as victim of its own success. America has been forcing open the doors and vexing the constraints of open market forces in untapped economies all over the world since it’s inception, but somehow America has forgotten to globalize itself and allow for the multitude of cultures to penetrate its core.

The new global economy looks more like Bollywood, Zakaria writes, and the United States may be left to grapple for depleting market shares. Surprisingly, Bollywood’s total revenue and number of tickets sold worldwide has actually surpassed that of its counterpart, Hollywood. The film industry is just one of many that signifies the changes in a new world approach to business that is more multi-faceted and not solely dictated by American ideals. Traditional developing nations, in general, no longer feel it is necessary for the West to act as an intermediary in their commerce. Smaller countries in Asia and Africa, for example, have of late formed their own connections unilaterally. This has allowed for profits in these countries to soar. The newly affirmed capitalistic powers of China and India have been the most successful in this way and are most prominently laid out in Zakaria’s book. China has one of the most booming economies in the world with growth that is unsurpassed and India is not far behind. “Indians easily speaks the language of globalization”, Zakaria writes. India is able to prosper in this age because they understand what it means to thrive in the new market economy.

Zakaria’s book offers a historical analysis at the rise and fall of world powers and the reasoning behind each and suggests that the United States acting as the last remaining superpower may go the way of Great Britain in the last century. Britain found itself bankrupt and stretched thin after World War II that resulted in the ceding of its colonies financially, while still regaining political control remotely. America may have the opposite problem, but with the same consequence. Due to its recent preemptions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world has mostly turned away politically but there is something intrinsically valuable in the message it offers to the world in an economic sense. The world can’t rally behind China’s economy the way it can that of the US, Zakaria writes, but these economies are overall threatening America’s long-term viscosity. In any event, the state of the world will not change overnight. “Great world powers are like divas”, Zakaria exclaims. They don’t enter or exit the international stage without great tumult.

Ordinary Americans aren’t normally accustomed to analyzing the world in the way Zakaria has laid out for them here. Americans tend to take for granted their superpower status as inherited and everlasting and are surprised at the towering rate of development seen in places like Dubai or Malaysia when they become aware of it. Zakaria’s book is not meant to alarm, but ends with almost a plea to the American people asking them in essence not to use fear and lack of world knowledge to persuade them from creating the “inviting and exciting” world as it once seemed to Zakaria as a young and emerging foreign student from India.

The state of affairs of the current world is not an easy ground to walk on and writing about it can make even the most conscience writer feel without adequate footing in a land where nothing is ever nearly as cut and dry as it seems. Zakaria is able to explain these things and more with ease. The result is a piece of literature that will shape even the most expansive worldviews while creating a palpable and interesting mosaic of global influences that shape the present state of the world and show us a glimpse of the future as well.

Ms. Anona does not sit well in a small box. After compartmentalizing her personas to avoid the onslaught of impending identity crisis, the result is Angela who deals with things Western, and Malika, her Eastern counterpart. Together they both adher to and discredit all stereotypes and stigma's of a young Caucasion American, at times simultaneously. She is a Muslim convert and married to a Pakistani.
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May 21, 2008
03:06 AM


zakaria is a better wine critic!

though here he is at the head of a wave...proclaiming the slow demise of US is pretty much in vogue even outside of the tora bora caves

ps: check out baithak world may 21 and the two links by Kevin Phillips and Michael Hirsh on the same subject

May 21, 2008
04:01 AM

Ms. Anona,

Thank you also, madame. America is most assuredly headed for a nasty fall, and those in the States and countries dependent on it, like Mexico and Canada, who think that prosperity is theirs by right, will get a very unpleasant comeuppance in the near future.

Indeed, my neighbors who live on American pensions have seen their incomes take a terrible tumble, with $1000 monthly Social Security checks dropping from NIS (New Israel Shekels) 4,500 to NIS 3,400 in the last two years. That's quite a slash in income, coupled with rising inflation, here and elsewhere in the world. George Engdahl and Kevin Phillips both outline the same disastrous future for the States.

These words "Traditional developing nations, in general, no longer feel it is necessary for the West to act as an intermediary in their commerce." are watchwords of sound advice for the too many Israelis who think that the route to prosperity is developing start-ups and selling them to big American firms.

May 21, 2008
06:54 AM

While there is no doubt that many East Asian countries are doing well, America is going nowehere. This demise thing was played out many times is an article (1988) predicting Japan will be a superpower in the 90s,9171,967823,00.html

May 21, 2008
07:06 AM

here is an article from the NYT - "Our Superpower Era Wanes" - 1971

May 21, 2008
11:28 AM

Ms. Anona,

I ordered the book. If it's anything like your review, it should be good reading.

For those predicating America's demise...I guess we're all here temporally aren't we? Or is it "temporal"? ;)

The US has faced much worse.

The civil war: "8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South." Please check my math, but I think that would be equal to 90,595,680 Indian deaths at today's census predictions. But despite the overwhelming odds and devastating affects, the US recovered, rebounded, and eventually prospered.

In 1929 her economy completely collapsed, but again she held together and worked her way forward.

In WWII she fought on multiple fronts and helped free Europe and Asia from tyranny on a scale yet unseen in modern times.

In the late 60's and 70's, it was an unpopular war followed by recession, rising oil prices, and stagnation (sound familiar).

Now in 2008 the naysayers are out with a cyber voice.

What some in their doomsday predictions...and let's face it, desires to see America come tumbling down, always forget to account for is that one immeasurable factor; the American spirit.

Just as Bin Laden, Tojo, Hitler, Hussein, and others miscalculated, so do the "experts", once again predicting her demise.

Here is a fact that I cannot prove, but know to be true. Most American's are good hard working people. They will buck-up and do whatever is necessary to keep the Republic healthy.

Things change....politically, globally, environmentally, financially, culturally, and in every aspect. But one element remains constant and has kept and will keep America prosperous; the indomitable spirit of her people.

Ciao, Guido

May 21, 2008
04:51 PM

The scenario of dramatic rise and fall of particular countries was more tenable in a pre-globalization era. Ok, even though "globalization" is a bit of a hype and it's contours are very uneven, the fact of the matter is that at least at the level of corporations, there are distinctive global entities. Since these corporations are frequently merging, swallowing each other, consolidating, it is hard to see how one can see an entire society such as "America" (or whatever) suddenly declining, in quite the same way as in the pre-globalized world. It is not impossible, but don't hold your breath!

Farid Zakaria is a smooth talker, suave, flashes a good smile and is the eternally congenial guy. As for his analytical acumen.....Methinks he deploys "WE" when talking of Americans, a tad too vehemently, almost as if to push the point, that I may look like a desi, my father might have been a famous desi politician, I may be Muslim....but....(and here I stop before I enter dicey (not DC) territory....)

May 21, 2008
05:11 PM


""those in the States and countries dependent on it, like Mexico and Canada, who think that prosperity is theirs by right, will get a very unpleasant comeuppance in the near future.""

"comeuppance" being the operative term here? comeuppance for what?

May 22, 2008
04:15 PM

"comeuppance" being the operative term here? comeuppance for what?

Let's just apply a little common sense here. The United States, both the government, and many of its citizens, have been living way beyond their means. If we forget all issues of morality and simply apply rules of prudence to all this, we see that Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt - whether it be personal, or that of a spendthrift government.

I will work on the gentlemanly assumption that our readers are not spendthrifts by nature - so therefore they will not be tripped up by their own over-consumption; but they are being tripped up by the over-consumption of their government.

Additionally, they are being tripped up by the greed of the oil and banking establishment that is sucking up every spare dime in the States. Eventually, when you live beyond your means, you wind up paying a lot to the piper for the privilege. And payback is usually a bitch.

Finally, since Mexico and Canada are economic dependencies of they States, they will be sucked down the same toilet - in the same flush.

I'll be very surprised if the U.S. government can pay me Social Security when I'm old enough to collect it.

May 22, 2008
07:20 PM

I have to take exception to this. you do not have to live beyond your means to find yourself in debt in the current situation here in the US. the inflation here is so bad that simply paying for rent, groceries and gas can put one's paycheck to bed. never mind if you have to take a surprise flight somewhere because someone is sick or dies, or if you get laid off, or any number of things that one cannot necessarily plan for.

I am one thrifty woman, and yet after coming back from India I find myself having to budget like crazy... and I make good money!

You cannot sit there and blame some culture of excess at this point. it is not the dot com craze where people were looking for excuses to blow money. very few people have a discretionary cent to their names. those that do are lucky.

you need to rethink here. you're waaaaaaaaaaay off course

May 23, 2008
09:58 AM


I will work on the gentlemanly assumption that our readers are not spendthrifts by nature - so therefore they will not be tripped up by their own over-consumption; but they are being tripped up by the over-consumption of their government.

I purposely set aside the spending habits of readers here as not a cause of sinking into debt.

Everything you have referred to in your comment deals with the fact that where you live, "good money" just isn't enough. When I lived in the States, I never reconsidered moving back to New York with my wife or even before I met her. The price of living was just too damned high. Given all this, I budgeted every penny in a relatively low cost of living zone, St. Paul, MN. And only because I spent hours budgeting "what ifs" into my plans, and watching every penny spent, were we able to live relatively worry free there.

"Budgeting" for me, meant we didn't buy cable; we didn't have cell phone; we bought a car without an air conditioner to save on gas; we had no air conditioner in the summer. We carried only one debt - the mortgage. We paid no other interest fees.

Either one of two things is occurring in the United States. Either you are indeed living beyond your means and do not realize how - or the economy of where you live is in such bad shape that falling into debt is an automatic given, even if one lives frugally. It's been seven years since I've lived there but the news indicates to me that the banks and oil companies are soaking up every single spare dime and many of you, especially those trying to start over, are finding yourselves impoverished.

You cannot sit there and blame some culture of excess at this point.

Yes, I can. You are not at fault - you are simply finding yourself in a lousy situation - but Americans are paying for the war in Iraq and the economic rape of their own country by their own energy companies and bankers. That lousy situation is the consequence of a culture of excess.

As bad as things are for us here, I'm glad we live here, and not there. I'd have had a second heart attack by now, if we had stayed.

Stephen COlbert
May 26, 2008
10:31 PM

What a funny episode of the colberts report it was with that guy

June 5, 2008
08:58 PM

Bill Moyers has come up with his own America "wake-up" book too called Moyers on democracy. Let us face it- america has been an oligarcy for too long in the guise of the "greatest" democracy while India has become an anarchy under the guise of the "largest" democracy. May God bless one and Truth triumph in the other!!

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