By PARAG KHANNA
Whoever is elected president of the U.S. in November will surely proclaim a "new world order" in one form or another in January 2009. But what America wants for the world and what the world wants for itself have diverged in a way no U.S. president can repair.
For the past 20 years, globalization has relentlessly diffused power and technology into the hands of rising powers like China and India, while control over energy resources has propelled Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia into the tier of pivotal states as well. The axiom at play is as familiar to historians, economists, and realists as it is shocking to those who cling to American exceptionalism: The one with the money makes the rules. Today it is Arab, Russian, and Far Eastern currency reserves and sovereign wealth funds that have all but marginalized the old, American, Cold War order created by the International Money Fund and World Bank. Instead, regional and bilateral preferential trade agreements mean new rules are being built from the ground-up: Gulf Cooperation Council rules for the Gulf, Chinese-Asian rules for the Far East, and Euro-zone standards and regulations attracting an ever-greater following. These macro-financial trends go hand in hand with geopolitical patterns. Will the election of the next U.S. president change Russia's use of Gazprom and its military to muscle around Ukraine and Georgia? Or China's extension of military aid, investment and diplomatic lifelines to every country America labels a "rogue state"? Or Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon? Or Venezuela's strategic ties with China and Russia? Likely not. The 21st-century world has to tolerate America but not necessarily accept everything it does. Until the U.S. understands that the new world order is one in which the interests of others are better nudged and accommodated than confronted, it will continue to repeat old mistakes. Iraq today, like Iran under the Shah, wants American military technology in order to protect its own independence, not to remain subservient. The U.S. will not be welcome there nearly as long as the Bush administration hoped, and should adjust its strategy accordingly. Saudi Arabia and Egypt won't pursue political reform on America's timeline, only on their own. Meanwhile, these historical American allies are aggressively courting European and Chinese investors and arms manufacturers. The geopolitical marketplace is evolving rapidly, and it features multiple sponsors and suitors. This does not mean America is vanishing. Realignment doesn't mean irrelevance. The East is not replacing the West; the Pacific is not overwhelming the Atlantic--there are a plurality of powers and constellations in the complex 21st-century landscape. To stay ahead, America will have to earn its reputation and leverage. What the next American president can do is first and foremost not pretend that he has any power to call the shots globally, either alone or through traditional American-dominated institutions. He can reject superficial efforts to restore the trappings of hegemony such as the so-called "League of Democracies" proposed by John McCain, which would only further underscore divisions among the U.S., Europe, India and others on how to transform emerging and unstable nations into liberal societies. America need not triage foreign policy priorities, as some suggest, but rather should substantially retool its diplomatic arsenal on all fronts. This includes increasing the focus on long-neglected areas such as Latin America, which represents a low-cost industrial manufacturing partner and, more than any other region, the potential for energy independence. In the Middle East, the U.S. needs to be identified with enabling fair succession in states with ailing rulers like Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, rather than with coddling dictators past their decent limit, as it has done in Pakistan. Steps like these could make the American president matter again--not just at home but abroad. In 2009, George W. Bush said America should be a "humble nation." It's not too late to learn that humility is the path to success.