Morning Reading

In The New York Times, Thom Shanker analyzes Condi Rice’s whirlwind tour. The main point: “As Ms. Rice enters the autumn months of the Bush administration’s tenure in office, she dropped early administration mantras — like other nations are “either with us or against us” — on this trip, and instead repeated at each whistle-stop, “I did not come here, nor will I go anyplace else, to try and dictate to governments what they ought to do in response to Resolution 1718.”

In the Financial Times (subscribers only), Lawrence Kaplan of the New Republic questions whether the Bush doctrine is dead, suggesting that in the rush to condemn the failure in Iraq, critics might jeopardize the survival of principle that the US should use its power to promote the spread of its ideals.

There is, of course, ample room for disagreement on the question of how to promote democracy, particularly in Iraq, where Washington applied a cartoon version of democratisation that equated the absence of oppression with the existence of democracy. What is being debated after Iraq, however, is not the mechanics of democracy promotion but its very desirability. Yet Iraq does not disprove the fact that democracies have a taboo about launching wars against one another, their thin history of exporting terrorism or their congeniality toward the US. For these reasons alone exporting democracy still falls squarely in the realm of America’s grand strategy…

That the lessons of Iraq should be heeded in policy deliberations makes sense. But such lessons, by themselves, provide no adequate response to a menacing international scene. Rather than offer a lucid analysis of the mismatch between the Bush doctrine’s objectives and accomplishments – refining or discarding its most controversial elements – critics on the campaign trail have offered a formula for virtual ­disarmament.

Meanwhile in The Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby has a gloomy column about the ebbing of American power. Two paragraphs in particular caught my eye. He wrote:

In fact, it’s hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. Is anyone serious about tackling the crazy tort system, which consumes more than a dollar in administrative and legal costs for every dollar it transfers to the victims of malpractice? Nope. Is there any prospect of allowing the millions of immigrants who come here to do so legally? To be honest, not much.

Instead, the right and left are pushing policies that are marginal to the country’s problems. The right wants to make its tax cuts “permanent,” even though the boomers’ retirement ensures that taxes will have to go up. The left wants to raise the minimum wage, even though this can only help a minority of workers.

This is a problem that I’ve noticed in recent months; indeed, it is the fundamental problem of our age. The leadership classes in the US and throughout Europe are completely unprepared for the tasks facing the entire developed world. (I hesitate to include Japan, because I think that leaders in both the LDP and the DPJ realize how Japan needs to change in order to adapt itself to the age of globalization.) The G7 (leaving out Russia, because its problems are of a different order) is completely unable to execute its agenda. The left and the right throughout the developed world seem spent, bereft of ideas for how to adapt their societies to the changes that are already underway. Mallaby is exactly right: both “tribes” in Washington are completely clueless, distracted by trivial issues. No one should think that a Democratic victory in one or both houses will change anything. What is needed is a revolution in how we think about policy, because the wall that has divided foreign and economic policy — if it ever existed in the first place — is breaking down. The decisions a government makes about taxes, pensions, health, and education will matter as much to its country’s position in the world as a government’s overt foreign policy decisions.

It seems that nothing short of a generational change will provide a leadership class in the developed world that is equal to the challenges of the new century — and even that might be overly optimistic.

One way not to think about how the developed world should go forward can be found in an essay in the international section of Der Spiegel Online. In an essay adapted from his forthcoming book, Gabor Steingart calls for TAFTA — a trans-Atlantic free trade area. Sounds unobjectionable, no? The problem is that he views TAFTA as a way of walling off the West economically in the face of competition from rising Asia. I believe his argument rests on a wholly mistaken view of Asian societies. He writes:

What looks like a market economy in Asia, actually follows the rules of a type of society which former German chancellor Ludwig Erhard liked to call a “termite state.” In a termite state, it is the collective rather than the individual which sets the agenda. Tasks that serve the aims of society’s leaders are assigned to the individual in a clandestine manner that is barely perceptible to outsiders. It is a state that encourages as much collective behavior as possible but only as much freedom as necessary. We don’t know what they feel, we don’t know what they think and we have no way of guessing what they are planning.

Does China, which is called the “Wild East” and characterized by massive corruption, really fit this profile? Does Japan really fit this profile? I don’t believe so; more priority may be given to the collective, but that does not mean that tasks are handed down from on high. It simply means that Asian societies have different priorities than Western societies. A clash of civilizations is not foreordained simply because of these differences, and to throw up an iron curtain around the North Atlantic would halt global economic growth, including in the West. The rise of Asia, after all, is helping to propel Western economies forward into the post-industrial age.

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