Zakaria, expanding on his recent theory of America's relative decline ("the rise of the rest"), has a new cover story at Newsweek: "Wanted: A New Grand Strategy."
After reading through this I was left pretty much blank ... where is this "new grand strategy" that Americans should expect?
Actually, Zakaria's piece is mostly boiled over multilateral institutionalism (which at the U.N. is a poorly disguised shield for anti-Semitic demonizations of Israel). Also included is a few obligatory reminders of the coming multipolar world - and Americas' need to accommodate itself to "the new realities" - topped off with a paean to aligning American "interests and ideals with those of most of the world's major powers"
The payoff, really, in Zakaria's essay, is the conclusion, where he just comes out as a top Obama cultist of Washington's foreign policy elite:
In a world characterized by change, more and more countries—especially great powers like Russia and China and India—will begin to chart their own course. That in turn will produce greater instability. America cannot forever protect every sea lane, broker every deal and fight every terrorist group. Without some mechanisms to solve common problems, the world as we have come to know it, with an open economy and all the social and political benefits of this openness, will flounder and perhaps reverse ....This article was apparently written before the Mumbai attacks (as there's no reference to the barbaric killings), so there's no discussion of where America's future counterterrorism policy fits into this "new" grand strategy.
The United States retains a unique role in the emerging world order. It remains the single global power. It has enormous convening, agenda-setting and leadership powers, although they must be properly managed and shared with all the world's major players, old and new, in order to be effective.
President-elect Obama has powers of his own, too. I will not exaggerate the importance of a single personality, but Obama has become a global symbol like none I can recall in my lifetime. Were he to go to Tehran, for example, he would probably draw a crowd of millions, far larger than any mullah could dream of. Were his administration to demonstrate in its day-to-day conduct a genuine understanding of other countries' perspectives and an empathy for the aspirations of people around the world, it could change America's reputation in lasting ways.
This is a rare moment in history. A more responsive America, better attuned to the rest of the world, could help create a new set of ideas and institutions—an architecture of peace for the 21st century that would bring stability, prosperity and dignity to the lives of billions of people. Ten years from now, the world will have moved on; the rising powers will have become unwilling to accept an agenda conceived in Washington or London or Brussels. But at this time and for this man, there is a unique opportunity to use American power to reshape the world. This is his moment. He should seize it.
But we do, actually, know what Obama's grand strategy is going to be, as he announced it in his own essay in Foreign Affairs in 2007: "Renewing American Leadership."
Like Zakaria, Obama is all about feel-good rejuvenation for America's standing in the world. By "renewing American leadership" those of a multilateralist persuasion primarily propose policies that are anti-Bush: close Guantanamo, repudiate torture, drawdown ongoing military deployments, "repair" our alliances, and abandon liberalism in international trade. It's all about restoring America's "image," and is thus an implicit repudiation of force and moral statecraft.
Unfortunatetly, then, renewing America's leadership looks so far like a grand strategy of retreat.
The fact is - as the full ramifications of the Mumbai attacks sink in - the Obama administration will have Afghanistan - with the corollary of Indo-Pakistan relations - as its Iraq war. That is, in foreign policy, as Iraq was the defining challenge for the Bush administration for most of this decade, Afghanistan will be the Obama's key challenge as this decade gives way to the 2010s.
It will not be an easy or inexpensive transition. Pakistan and India are mortal enemies, and the South Asian continent is the world's contemporary nuclear flash point. Pakistan is a seething hotbed of violence and religious extremism, and to the extent that the Bush administration has accommodated Karachi's foreign policy independence, it has enabled a subterranean and largely unknown role for the regime's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is said to have fostered militants who are waging an under-the-radar campaign against Indian control of the Kashmir, not to mention the likely support of pro-Taliban elements and al-Qaeda functionaries in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands.
How will Obama proceed? It's not unlikely that the Mumbai terror cohorts maintained planning and logistical operations at the border. Will Obama bomb Pakistani camps suspected of launching terror attacks? Will he send in U.S. ground troops to sweep out terror sanctuaries?
What about India? The Indian goverment may be under intense pressure to launch military operations inside Pakistan, reigniting armed hostilities between the two nations. How will the U.S. respond? How will the U.S. restrain New Delhi.
The policy dilemmas for the new administration won't be solved by attracting hordes of Obama cultists to Nuremberg-style tours of Third World regimes (like we saw at Berlin last summer). The U.S. will need to act decisively. Yet, at present there is no "multilateral" framework to make progress on the region's intractable and volatile hostilities.
The U.S. cannot simply throw up its hands and refuse a major buildup of troops to Afghanistan in fear alienating the Democratic Party's clueless antiwar base or the international community's appeasement bureaucracies in Brussels and Turtle Bay - not to mention top U.S. military officials who so far are working the President-Elect like a blob of silly putty.
There will be demands for real action, at some point, even a reckoning, if U.S. and allied intelligence services pin down the perpetrators of the current wave of senseless killings.
In the end, America's "unique role" in a changing world may be a lot like its unique role in the old, unchanging international system of states where a preponderance of power - and the willingness to use it - is the sine qua non of effective international leadership.