Among the guests of the annual Forum 2000 conference on global issues, organized by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, was US political commentator Fareed Zakaria, well-known for his journalistic career, the “Global Public Square” weekly show on CNN, and also his books on contemporary politics. The latest contribution to his bibliography is The Post-American World published in 2008, in which he discusses the growing influence of regional powers such as India or China.
Fareed Zakaria agreed to the interview by Aktualne.cz. The first part of the interview was centered on the US domestic issues such as Tea Party, populism, economic problems and prospects of reform.
Today, we bring you the second part of the interview, which focuses on the decline of US influence in the world, rise of new powers such as Russia or China, and also the importance of optimism.
Aktualne.cz: In your last book you argue that the biggest challenge for the US foreign policy is to reach the balance between accommodation and deterrence. How do you rate the Obama cabinet in this regard?
On foreign policy, I think that Obama has done a pretty good job. The most important thing Obama is trying to do is to re-balance American foreign policy away from what were essentially imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to scale them back to a more manageable level, so that they are in keeping with the level of US interest there. Afghanistan has now 100 members of Al Quaeda, which do not require 150,000 troops, with the cost of about USD 140 billion a year. This results in falling into an imperial trap where anywhere in the world we see instability, we must go to and impose order. Obama is trying to pull back from those and engage with the whole world, trying to develop walkable relations with the major powers in the world.
A.cz: What do you think about the rising influence of big international players such as Russia or China? Isn’t Obama too benevolent towards them?
I realize that in the Czech Republic there might be some fears about the reset, but it is fair to say that so far, Obama has achieved a better working relationship with Russia, than the previous administration had. There are huge benefits in the nuclear arms deal and cooperation on Iran sanctions. I understand the concerns of people in Central Europe, but the Obama administration has showed that it will not allow Russia to do anything adventurous in Central Europe. There would be a very strong American reaction.
A.cz: You are not worried about the regime in Russia?
I do not think there is any imminent danger of some Russian hostility. I believe, frankly, that Russia’s regime is a nasty regime, but it is not trying to reclaim the old Soviet imperial sphere. To miss that means to fall into paranoia. Putin is a bad guy, but he is not Stalin.
A.cz: Still, Obama has been criticized for not doing enough to counter the growing Chinese influence.
Obama has achieved a good strategic relationship with the Chinese, but at the same time maintaining strong relationship with Japan, India, Indonesia. And that is the balancing act the president has to do. To have a good working relationship with countries like China or Russia, but at the same time it should be clear that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed, certain things on which we will simply disagree. I don’t see anything right now that makes me worried, in the sense of that there are too many carrots and too few sticks.
A.cz: If we speak about the relative of decline of US power, has Obama slowed down or accelerated the process?
It is not in the president’s power to slow it down or accelerate it, because it is a very long term structural readjustment within the global system. What is making this happen is that China is growing at 9 percent a year, and the US is growing at 2 percent a year. Can Obama really change that in a long-term perspective? Not in my opinion. There are things we can and should be doing to revive growth in America, but there is still this fundamental shift of global power. It can be slightly moderated, but the whole world will have to adapt to this changing reality. We don’t know where it will lead. I am not one of those who say that the Chinese will dominate the world, but the reality right now is that there is a significant growth differential between China and Asia on the one hand and the West on the other hand. And Obama cannot accelerate or slow down those underlying realities – Marx would have called them “the base”.
A.cz: Obama can be likened to Ronald Reagan, who assumed his post in difficult times as well. However, Reagan managed to radiate optimism and transmit it to US citizens. Isn’t the current lack of optimism in the US society Obama’s main problem?
The main problem is that we are losing competitiveness in the world. We have to figure out what it is that the US economy can do better than anybody else. So we can find again our dynamic place in the world economy. But a big problem is that we have become very pessimist, cynical, gloomy about the future. And the funny thing about the economics is that optimism is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are optimistic, you tend to invent more things, spend more money, be more generous towards outsiders, and that brings immigrants, growth, economic vitality. I wish there could be a greater sense of optimism and generosity of spirit that has always characterized America. It’s worth remembering, most Americans were very gloomy and pessimistic when I came to America – it was the depths of the 1982 recession, the Soviets were seen as being on the march everywhere from South-East Asia to Central America.
But I still believe that if we get a few things right, we would find ourselves in a very different place. In foreign policy terms, I think we are actually quite safe. The big problem we face is that Americans are scared. They are frightened by the war on terror, by the new global economic landscape, and in that atmosphere, it’s hard to be optimistic.
A.cz: In your books, you have analyzed main global problems. What will be the topic of your next book?
To be honest, I don’t know. You are exactly right, I try to think about what is the main theme that people need to be thinking about. My dissertation adviser, Samuel Huntington, used to say to me: People already now that the world is complicated. Your job is to make it simple. So I have to think through that carefully, and my biggest deterrent right now is the three young kids. I am giving them a little bit more time than to the book.