In a recent interview with Tagesschau.de, Tasos Telloglou, a Greek journalist, shared his thoughts on his country’s recent, and controversial, elections. Early on in the interview, Mr. Telloglou made an interesting observation about Greek voters. He said, “They cannot look ahead, only in the past. Many confuse cause and effect. They believe the austerity measures to be the cause of the economic downturn. The factions that have been empowered by the elections have sold them this.” Now, the concept of a people in dire straights confusing the cause of their plight with the effect of it is certainly an interesting topic, one that deserves further deliberation. However, I want to focus on the first point of this quote, on the Greek people’s inability to look towards the future.
It seems that this particular handicap is one that is shared with a great deal of the American voting public as well. It is perhaps more pronounced in the most right-wing of American conservative ideology, with their calls for a return to so-called traditional morals and values. But the truth is it permeates throughout all ranks of our political culture. Many of us, citizens and politicians alike, have grown accustomed to America’s role in the world since the end of WWII. During the decades of the Cold War, the dichotomy of geopolitics allowed the US to act with impunity in the western world as the only counter balance to Soviet aggression. Since the dissolution of the USSR the United States has enjoyed its status as sole hegemon, and its citizens have become accustomed to this consolidated power.*
The obvious problem that this presents is the difficulty with which American culture (social, political and economic) will adjust to the rapidly changing geopolitical climate. I recently finished the book The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria (yes, I realize that I am about 4 years behind). The thing that impressed me most about this book was that it did not disregard America’s former global status and it did not attempt to make the reader fearful for the future. Instead, Mr. Zakaria does a fantastic job of laying out how America got to this point of power, how the circumstances (within and without of the country) are changing, and how to use those changes to our advantage. The truth of the matter is that the US is still, and will for a long time remain, the sole global superpower (politically, economically and militarily), but that status will not longer come with the same perks that it used to. Established industrial nations are demonstrating more power, along with the ability and the will to wield it, in global organizations and their own backyards. And developing nations are making huge gains politically (think Brazil and Turkey handling negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago) and economically.
In other words, it is becoming quite clear that the US can no longer rely on its superpower status in the way that it used to. While there may not be any one nation that will truly rival the US in the foreseeable future (China may come close, but will not hold all of the cards in the way that the US has done for so long), the rise of status in so many global and regional powers is a game changer.
But this new global dynamic is one that the US can use to its advantage. Many of the established powerhouses on the world stage are friendly towards the US and the economies of today’s rapidly developing nations are being built on the back of western capitalism. All of this bodes well for the US if we willing to accept it and look ahead to a future in which global cooperation will play a greater role politically and economically. To do this we must learn what we can from the past, but also realize that to pine for it and to ignore the impossibility of returning to it will be disastrous.
*I’m obviously speaking in generalizations here and I do not doubt that there are certain instances that may refute the absolute that I present. Bear in mind that this is done for brevity’s sake, as I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to present a fully researched thesis as part of a blog.