The world is in transition, and informed experts help you keep up

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.)

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