The standard going around now is that America needs to be deeply afraid. China and other countries are on the rise, the terrorists are waiting to get us, and the world is, basically, about the end. This is a scary, scary poison, whose effects can be felt throughout the political world.
The Next American Century: How the US Can Thrive As Other Countries Rise presents a calming antidote to this draught of fear. Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen have combined forces to create an excellent primer on the present international climate, and argue convincingly that this present moment is actually pretty goshdarn great. The text encompasses a concise overview of terminology, a brief history of US relations with the countries under discussion, and a thorough analysis of the present political climate nationally and internationally. Hachigian and Sutphen offer a clear discussion of several complex issues. Their ultimate conclusion – that we’re existing in a moment of great potential — emerges from their years working within the field, and their assumption that the people over there aren’t that different from the ones over here. Sutphen is actually one of Barack’s foreign policy advisors. I find this reassuring, since she and Hachigian present a careful, well-thought treatment of the present international moment.
The five pivotal powers these authors identify (Japan, India, Russia, the EU, and China) aren’t threats to the US, so we’re no longer in a Cold War moment. The things we’re afraid of (terrorism, nuclear war, massive pandemics) are all things they’re also afraid of. We’re not having massive ideological conflicts, and our economies are so intertwined that no one actually wants anyone else to crash. Hachigian and Sutphen are suggesting that the US has a lot to look forward to – as long as we respectfully approach our foreign partners, we have a lot less to fear than Fox News may suggest.
That’s the present. What about the future?
Well, Sutphen and Hachigian suggest that it’s not the OTHER powers we need to beware. Right now, the US’s paranoia is making everyone else a wee bit nervous. Plus, we’re spending so much time on nebulous threats that we’re neglecting our home-front. The reason China and India feel like such competition is that we’ve been systemically neglecting our school system and healthcare system, and have been letting our “innovation engine” (math and science programs in public schools) go to shambles. We’ve also been scapegoating. As the authors note, ‘[S]capegoating a foreign country for a largely domestic problem is one of the oldest tricks in the book’ (215). Their final conclusion points out that blaming the Other for the troubles of the self is a common, but flawed, bit of political rhetoric.