I’ll say at the outset that I like Fareed Zakaria. He’s articulate, reasonable, moderate, and optimistic. And he is the successor to George Kennan and Zbigniew Brzezinski in the role of theorist for US corporate imperialism. I will not be surprised if he gets an appointment in the upcoming Obama administration as, for example, Assistant Deputy Director of strategic Analysis for the State Department.
Zakaria takes it as an obvious given that the era of US hegemony is drawing to a close. The US will be overtaken as the world’s largest market by 2040, according to Goldman Sachs (and we have no reason in this case to believe that they are wrong), and we have already lost our position as the leader in technology and manufacturing. But, don’t worry, the US still has a role to play, and can even thrive in the new multipolar world; we just have to make some ‘adjustments’.
Zakaria claims that the US has been a liberalizing and modernizing force, striving always to bring the virtues of democracy and liberal market economies to the world. And this is where the fundamental flaws in Zakaria’s analysis are most obvious. Zakaria continues the western intellectual tradition of portraying history as the interplay of nations, ignoring the class structure within those nations. To claim that the US strives for democracy is contradicted by the facts - in fact there is a high correlation between US support for foreign states and the incidence of human rights violations in those states. Iran 1954, Chile 1973, Nicaragua 1935, 1950s, and 1980s, South Vietnam in the 1960s, Guatemala and Honduras in the 1980s, ongoing support for Saudi Arabia, financial and military support for Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s, the propaganda attacks on Venezuela today - all these are the counter-examples that Zakaria passes silently by. The theory that the US now and in the past has worked for democracy is simply false. An alternative theory, that the US government works at all times and in all ways to advance the interests of US corporations (and now international corporations) fits the facts much more closely and without the obvious and embarrassing counter-examples.
Trade policy, the tail that wags the foreign policy dog, is equally poorly treated by Zakaria’s flawed theory of history. He claims, apparently without irony, that the US has worked tirelessly to teach developing countries the virtues of ‘free trade’. But to sustain this argument one must ignore the fact that ‘free trade’ for the US has always meant that developing countries must give up their indigenous farming and industry in order to form a cadre of virtual slave labor for whatever enterprise is desired by US corporations, whether that enterprise is industrial or agricultural in nature. And, of course, it means that whatever natural resources the developing country has must belong to those US corporations. Any country that sees such an arrangement as unjust, Venezuela for example, is attacked bitterly by intellectuals like Zakaria. Nowhere does Zakaria admit the possibility that US trade agreements are not in the interest of US workers or of workers in the other countries. He can’t admit this possibility because class plays no part in his analysis or in his thinking.
Sadly, as likable as Zakaria is, he has written a worthless book, another in a long line of theoretical tracts by ruling class intellectuals. If you want to understand the world in a more consistent way, in a way more consistent with reality, read Chomsky.