Here's one view of America circa 2008: The US is a modern-day Roman Empire — overstretched, underperforming, slowly crumbling into history's dustbin. Here's Parag Khanna's view: Nonsense. The geopolitical wooziness Americans are feeling isn't decline. It's realignment.
In his book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, Khanna, 31, describes a planet dominated by a trio of superpowers: the US, China, and Europe. In this tripolar era, America's fate depends on tough national choices, not lame historical analogies. If the US wises up — by tightening trade and energy ties to the rest of the hemisphere, pursuing economic innovation at home, and establishing a “diplomatic-industrial complex” — it can grow stronger even as the globe becomes less red, white, and blue.
Khanna himself is a peripatetic emblem of this post-American world. Born in India, he lived as a child in the United Arab Emirates, and attended high school in the US and Germany. He earned two degrees from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Then he punched his ticket at places that might earn him early admission at the Trilateral Commission: the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, and the World Economic Forum. “I think I'm the only person who went to Davos seven times by the age of 30,” the smooth-talking wunderwonk says. “I'm not sure that's a good thing.”
From Canada to Uzbekistan, Khanna identifies the unexpected flash points, overstated threats, and hidden opportunities the next US president might confront.
Mexico and Canada
Integrate, don't isolate
America's oil comes from a volatile region half a world away. That's lunacy, Khanna says. “An energy partnership with Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, and Brazil could make the US much less dependent on oil from the Middle East.” That's also why building a wall along our southern border is foolish. “We should treat Mexico like Europe treats Turkey — integrating, elevating, and partnering with it.”
Bogotá is as close to Miami as Phoenix is to San Francisco. “We should invest here,” Khanna says. “Colombia now exports mostly flowers and drugs. We can do better than that.”
Make friends fast
Egypt is smoldering. The people are restless after 27 years of the Mubarak dynasty, and the country is ripe for revolt. We should “make friends, quickly, with other power centers in the country, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Regime change will lead to love
Khanna's recommendation: “Make the West irresistible to Iranians.” The US president should deliver a speech directly to the Iranian people that offers them a deal: They can have, in Khanna's words, “everything they want in terms of Western investment in energy, freer trade, diplomatic recognition, and increased cultural and student exchanges — if they oust President Ahmadinejad.”
China and India
The panda matters more
The race isn't even close. “India will never rival China,” Khanna says. “India accounts for less than 2 percent of the global economy. It's not a superpower.” Meantime, China's ever-accelerating “neo-mercantilist” freight train won't be slowed by demands for such democratic niceties as transparency or free expression. “The communist leadership is the most powerful emperor China has ever had. The Chinese people have a preference for stability over another revolution.”
Dangerous — and too long ignored
Khanna says this is the most important country no one ever talks about. Sitting at the heart of the ancient Silk Road, Uzbekistan is the only state that borders all the other -stan nations, whose volatility and strategic significance intensify each day. It's also the most populous and industrialized nation in energy-rich central Asia and pivotal to a stable Afghanistan and region. The challenge: dealing with an autocratic regime that's not especially fond of human rights.
On the surface, Russia glitters: It ranks second only to the US in billionaires; Moscow has a larger Prada store than Milan. And the country's army can still spank the neighbors. But Russia is in “demographic free fall,” Khanna says, and faces alarming rates of tuberculosis and other health problems. Meanwhile, Chinese immigration is blurring the border. In the long run, this bear is going to spend a lot of time in hibernation.
Parag Khanna is Director of the Global Governance Initiative at the New America Foundation.