In Defense of Non-Visionaries
Many of the recent tributes for Margaret Thatcher following her death celebrated her as a “transformational” leader who brought about great changes. There were frequent references to her equally transformational American counterpart, Ronald Reagan. But a more interesting comparison is with her other presidential contemporary, George H. W. Bush.
Though often dismissed as a mere “transactional” manager, Bush had one of the best foreign-policy records of the past half-century. His administration managed the end of the Cold War, the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, and the unification of Germany within NATO – all without violence. At the same time, he led a broad United Nations-backed coalition that repelled Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait. Had he dropped any of the balls he was juggling, today’s world would be much worse.
The World in 2030
What will the world look like two decades from now? Obviously, nobody knows, but some things are more likely than others. Companies and governments have to make informed guesses, because some of their investments today will last longer than 20 years. In December, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its guess: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.
The NIC foresees a transformed world, in which “no country – whether the US, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power.” This reflects four “megatrends”: individual empowerment and the growth of a global middle class; diffusion of power from states to informal networks and coalitions; demographic changes, owing to urbanization, migration, and aging; and increased demand for food, water, and energy.
Each trend is changing the world and “largely reversing the historic rise of the West since 1750, restoring Asia’s weight in the global economy, and ushering in a new era of ‘democratization’ at the international and domestic level.” The US will remain “first among equals” in hard and soft power, but “the ‘unipolar moment’ is over.”
Immigration and American Power
The United States is a nation of immigrants. Except for a small number of Native Americans, everyone is originally from somewhere else, and even recent immigrants can rise to top economic and political roles. President Franklin Roosevelt once famously addressed the Daughters of the American Revolution – a group that prided itself on the early arrival of its ancestors – as “fellow immigrants.”
In recent years, however, US politics has had a strong anti-immigration slant, and the issue played an important role in the Republican Party’s presidential nomination battle in 2012. But Barack Obama’s re-election demonstrated the electoral power of Latino voters, who rejected Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by a 3-1 majority, as did Asian-Americans.
Japan’s Nationalist Turn
TOKYO – Japan has been in the news lately, owing to its dispute with China over six square kilometers of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. The rival claims date back to the late nineteenth century, but the recent flare-up, which led to widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, started in September when Japan’s government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he decided to purchase the islands for the Japanese central government to prevent Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them with municipal funds. Ishihara, who has since resigned from office to launch a new political party, is well known for nationalist provocation, and Noda feared that he would try to occupy the islands or find other ways to use them to provoke China and whip up popular support in Japan. Top Chinese officials, however, did not accept Noda’s explanation, and interpreted the purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.
Asian Nationalism at Sea
CAMBRIDGE—Will war break out in the seas of East Asia? After Chinese and Japanese nationalists staged competing occupations of the barren landmasses that China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands and Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, angry demonstrators in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu chanted, “We must kill all Japanese.”
The Obama Doctrine’s First Term
ASPEN—Public-opinion polls in the United States indicate a close presidential election in November. While President Barack Obama outpolls the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, on foreign policy, slow economic growth and high unemployment—issues that are far more salient in US elections—favor Romney. And, even on foreign policy, Obama’s critics complain that he has failed to implement the transformational initiatives that he promised four years ago. Are they right?