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The year 2012 may go down as a watershed year in world affairs.

There are a number of indicators of significant trends that have surfaced recently that are well worth examining. Unfortunately, the national political debate is so focused on domestic issues such as high unemployment, huge federal deficits, the weak housing market and the rise in poverty rates that foreign and defense policy is being largely ignored.

Here are a few examples of significant developments on the world scene:

• For the first time in decades, the United States has become a net exporter of petroleum products such as jet fuel, heating oil and gasoline.

• China has raced past Japan and is now the second-largest national economy in the world – yet China’s economy is only one-third the size of the American economy.

• Brazil, the giant that is no longer sleeping, has passed the United Kingdom and is now the world’s sixth-largest economy. Soon it will pass France and move to No. 5. Other countries on the move up the economic ladder are India and Indonesia – two very large democracies with fast-growing economies.

IF YOU HAVE time for reading and reflection, you may wish to read some of the best providers of strategic analysis of major challenges, opportunities and trends. Fortunately, there are some new books that are really worthwhile. Here are my favorites.

The World America Made, by Robert Kagan. Kagan grabs the reader’s attention from page one. Like it or not, America is the indispensable nation. We have played that role for more than 70 years, and the world is a much safer place as a result. In the 1940s, America led a coalition of nations and defeated fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan. But America accomplished much more than that. We played a major role in putting the Axis powers on a course to working democracies.

Defeating Soviet communism took much longer than defeating fascism. But this major undertaking was accomplished without a war between two superpowers with radically different philosophies. What may be even more remarkable is that most of the allies that we lined up in the late 1940s are still supportive more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War. With the rise of China, our alliances in the Pacific region actually have grown stronger.

Kagan makes a powerful point: If America were to make a serious effort to disengage in world affairs, the world quickly would devolve into a much more scary and dangerous place.

That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum.

Friedman always is interesting, sometimes provocative and very willing to call a spade a spade. He and his co-author identify problems and suggest some answers. Well worth reading.

Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, by Zbigniew Brzezinski. The former national security adviser to President Carter outlines the issues well. He is a bit short on recommendations, however.

It you have time to read just one book, I suggest Kagan’s.

IF YOU DON’T have the time to read books, please consider reading the magazine The Economist every week. It probably is the best magazine published in the English language that covers both international and domestic issues. Foreign Affairs and The Futurist are two other journals well worth reading on a regular basis.

Recently, the importance of lifetime learning and a reading program was stressed in a wonderful speech by Ruth Knox. Ruth, who is a native of Thomson and who serves as the president of Wesleyan College in Macon, made her talk to an ideal audience. Assembled in the beautiful River Room at St. Paul’s Church were the Richmond County STAR Students, their favorite teachers and their family members. Hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Augusta, this annual salute to the best and the brightest students in our midst meant the room was full and the audience of all ages was receptive to her powerful and well-crafted message.

Lastly, two great quotes about books: Erasmus: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” And an anonymous quote: “Read ’em and reap.”

(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – earned a Ph.D. in international relations from Columbia University and taught at the Air Force Academy and the National War College. His email address is genpsmith@aol.com.)

Comments (14) Add comment
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seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/19/12 - 05:07 am
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Lastly, two great quotes

Lastly, two great quotes about books: Erasmus: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” And an anonymous quote: “Read ’em and reap.”

Sir...you are someone I would like to meet....:)
Great Letter.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/19/12 - 05:08 am
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I am going to get the

I am going to get the book...The World America Made---thanks.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/19/12 - 08:15 am
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Sure to all that, Gen. Smith.

Sure to all that, Gen. Smith. SeenIt, I did have the pleasure of meeting the General once, even if it was only during an elevator ride. (Now don't throw that elevator humor at me.)

But, Gen. Smith, I'll tell you this. You missed the biggest change in the world and local matters. The Internet has absolutely made everyone the equivalent of store bought commentators in whatever field they want. The Internet has changed the world and Augusta. You would be amiss not to spend lots of time using it.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/19/12 - 08:27 am
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River you sure spend a lot of

River you sure spend a lot of time in that elevator...:)

Of course you are right...the internet is changing the world...but I still can't let go of my books..nothing like curling up with a good one!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/19/12 - 08:37 am
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SeenIt, maybe I make the

SeenIt, maybe I make the elevator a metaphor, kind of like a river.

allhans
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allhans 02/19/12 - 08:42 am
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"Unfortunately, the national

"Unfortunately, the national political debate is so focused on domestic issues such as high unemployment, huge federal deficits, the weak housing market and the rise in poverty rates that foreign and defense policy is being largely ignored...'
I see this not as unfortunate but a priority. We need to clean up our own house before we become even more concerned with "globalization".
I also disagree with your choice of reading material. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/19/12 - 08:49 am
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SeenIt, I'll be honest, I

SeenIt, I'll be honest, I read very little that's not on my monitor. That also goes over to my job. Everything I need and people need for me to see is online. They email me. I haven't received a real letter since the Pony Express gave it to me.

What I do read now and then is poetic prose by certain authors I like. I mean their writing is like poetry. I read some of the passages over and over. Jack Kerouac hooked me like that decades ago and I still go back and reread his stuff.

Bob Munger
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Bob Munger 02/19/12 - 08:56 am
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Thomas Friedman has been a

Thomas Friedman has been a leader in writing about the need for the USA to develop sensible energy policies that lead to energy independence and address climate change. He is a good choice.

There is another article in today's paper about record oil prices. Get used to it. At the rate that oil demand is growing in China, India, Indonesia, etc. we are in for a tough decade.

allhans
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allhans 02/19/12 - 09:06 am
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Record oil prices and yet we

Record oil prices and yet we are exporting more than ever. Go figure.

Bob Munger
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Bob Munger 02/19/12 - 09:48 am
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We are also importing more

We are also importing more than ever, in terms of our trade deficit. Oil accounts for roughly half of our foreign trade deficit.

JohnRandolphHardisonCain
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JohnRandolphHardisonCain 02/19/12 - 10:26 am
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Robert Kagan is a

Robert Kagan is a neoconservative. He urged the U.S. to invade Iraq. That did not work out as billed by the influential neocon cabal at AEI and inside the U.S. government. The neocons' blueprint "Project for a New American Century" which calls for unchallenged U.S. hegemony in every theater on earth is moribund. Many neocons are Jewish Americans who have strong ties to right wing forces in Israel that are currently pushing for Israeli and/or U.S. military strikes on Iran. Their loyalties to say the very least are highly divided between United States and Israel. Neocons should not be allowed to determine U.S. foreign policy. The best interests of United States are not always identical with Israel's desire to remain the unchallenged hegemonic military power in the Middle East. 7 million Israelis do not have the right to dominate an entire region which has a population in the hundreds of millions. That is an unsustainable situation.

IMO, there is no stopping a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East as the influence of Turkey, Iran, Egypt,and Iraq surge despite the efforts of Saudi Arabia to maintain the status quo and marshal Sunni forces against Shiites in widespread sectarian conflict. Israel does not have the military, economic, or demographic might to maintain its hegemony as the sole nuclear power in the region. Israel's military might and nuclear arms are sufficient as deterrents but insufficient to project dominating power throughout the region.

I counsel Americans to think for themselves. Do not gobble up neoconservative propaganda urging unwise U.S. military action which has repeatedly been proven to be wrong, has weakened the U.S. economy, and has degraded U.S. political influence on the world stage.

Bob Munger
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Bob Munger 02/19/12 - 10:32 am
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Interesting thoughts,

Interesting thoughts, JRHC.

Back on the oil situation, we imported 279,000 barrels in Dec. 2011, at a cost of $29B. That is an annualized amount of $348B. Considering that prices are now higher (and likely to set records in 20012), expect record trade deficits.

This a prescription for economic problems, and a strong reason that we need to support sustainable transportation, as advocated by the Augusta Greenway Alliance.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/19/12 - 11:08 am
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bj...You are on a roll this

bj...You are on a roll this am..:):)
wee folks

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