Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Warning: "There Won't Be a Third"

I just finished reading Second Chance by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a book I picked up at the recommendation of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. The read richly contextualizes many of the discussions I expect to be “hot” in the coming elections, and it did this by reviewing the Bush-Clinton-Bush presidencies in light the opportunities (squandered and/or redeemed) to realize global American leadership through international and domestic administration.

The book begins with Bush I, the Gulf War, and the fall of the Soviet Union. As the following administrations under Clinton and then Bush II are reviewed, a comprehensive view of what is at stake for America in the next presidential election takes shape. Brzezinski tracks eight “conversations” of presidential focus as they developed over the last fifteen years, and he “grades” leadership quality measured by how effectively each president addressed the needs and opportunities presented in each of those conversations. His scorecard looks like this for Bush I , Clinton, and Bush II respectively

  • Atlantic Alliance A A D
  • Post-Soviet Space B B B-
  • Far East C+ B- C+
  • Middle East B- D F
  • Proliferation B D D
  • Peacekeeping na B+ C
  • Environment C B- F
  • Global Trade/Poverty B- A- C-

Of course Brzezinski makes his case for each of these claims throughout the 250 pages of his book, and I offer you the “report card” only as an overview. As he moves into his wrap-up, Brzezinski outlines what it will take to get this country out of the mess we’re now in as a culminating seven years under the George Bush administration. He writes

America has a monopoly on gobal military reach, an economy second to none, and peerless technological innovation, all of which give it unique world wide political clout. Moreover, there is widespread, if unspoken, practical recoginiton that the international system needs an effective stabilizer, and that the most likely short-term alternative to a constructive American world role is chaos. An intelligent Global Leader IV should still be able to exploit that feeling to tap what’s left of the reservoir of goodwill toward America … an America aware of its responsibilities, measured in its presidential rhetoric, sensitive to the complexities of the human condition, and consensual rather than abrasive in its external relations (in brief, entirely different from its recent emanation)” (192).

In my view (President) Al Gore can step into the role of “Global Leader IV” better than any other person available for the job right now. If the thought has occurred to you as well, you might consider adding your name to any of the online petitions calling for his candidacy. There seem to be a lot of citizens waiting to hear what he is going to do. Any thoughts on that idea from you?

Back to Brzezinski … His closing remarks call for a focus on three complex issues: 1) the need for an American system equipped to formulate and sustain global policy that protects American interests at the same time it promotes security, 2) the need for “responsible self-restraint,” and 3) a grasp of the “novel condition” in the global political awakening now taking place (194).

The second of these ideas seems to play into the potential problem arising with the third if Americans fail to wake up to the reality of their own global citizenship. I often find myself sounding an alarm, particular with young people, about the changed world in which we live. I put myself in check by wondering whether or not I am voicing that “middle-aged” motto bemoaning the loss of better days, but I don’t think that’s the case. This age of new digital literacy is pulling people beyond regional boundaries to measures of awareness that open a view of possibility in such a way as will demand shared global resources. Are we ready for that? Brzezinski asks us to imagine a world where 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians consume as much energy per capita as Americans do. He writes, “Americans must recognize that their patterns of consumption will soon collide head-on with increasingly impatient egalitarian [global] aspirations. Whether through the exploitation of natural resources, excessive energy consumption, indifference to global ecology, or the exorbitant size of houses for the well-to-do, indulgent self-gratification at home conveys indifference to the persisting deprivations of much of the world.” The growing awareness of inequality (global and domestic) is fueled by continuing advances in communication technology; we can see, hear, and know more about each other now than ever before. Do we really believe we won’t ever have to share?

Brzezinski ultimately makes the point that it will go easier on Americans if we come to the table with a good idea for “sharing” the wealth before we are excluded from the conversation all together while others decide which part of our possessions we’ll be allowed to keep. He sees the upcoming election as a "second chance," and he means to soberly warn us that there won't be a third.

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