Review: The Second World–Empires and Influence in the New Global Order

5 Star, Change & Innovation, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Future, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class

Second WorldTour of the world in concise but precise terms,March 30, 2008

Parag Khanna

This is an extraordinary book, a tour of the “real” world where the future is being defined. While I respect the reviewer’s that have difficulty with inaccuracies or inconsistencies, on balance, in all of my reading as reviewed on Amazon, I would rate this one of the top 20 books, perhaps even one of the top 10 (let’s go with that, making it one of the top 10 on reality, while my other “top ten” would encompass world changing, social entrepreneurship, the Tao of democracy and other solution-oriented writings).

My notes must of necessity be cryptic. I will start with the bottom line and urge the Amazon reader to take my notes as a strong incentive to buy and read the book cover to cover.

Bottom line: US has screwed up big time, and is taking third place to China’s achievement of globalization on its terms, using consultation, incentives, and efficient/effective agreements to propel itself past Europe, which has consensus model that has displaced the US but cannot compete with China’s global juggernaut. The US is gently tarred with confusing “security” for prosperity or legitimacy, with preferring single-party strong-arm partners, and with being generally clumsy, inept, ignorant, and hence losing on all fronts.

+ Second World is internally divided between rich and poor sectors

+ Second World is the tipping point domain that will determine the tri-polar (China, Europe, US) outcome

+ Author covers five regions 1) east of Europe including Russia and Turkey; 2) Central Asia; 3) South America with little attention to Caribbean; 4) Middle East; and 5) Asia and the 4 Chinas.

Early on the author states that the Americas are terribly ignorant of both the old and new geography, and I would agree while emphasizing that the “expert” advisors to Presidential candidates are themselves as ignorant (or biased)–from those that are state-centric to those that are ideologically unbalanced to those that believe their ego and social network are sufficient in and of themselves. Not a single one of them knows how to lead a nation-wide conversation, much less a regional or international conversation–they are the “walking dead” of the pyramidal era, and any contender that listens to them and allows them to exclude the iconoclasts and the avant guarde is destined to be neutered, so to speak, before their time.

+ According to the author, America is now viewed as destabilize, in an era when the Second World judges legitimacy on the basis of proven effectiveness (one could also add: sustained effectiveness, not a US forte). Further on the author drives this point home by saying that success trumps ideology, and across the Second World, democracy is not considered practical (nor credible as a US claim for access).

+ European Union is the standard bearer for both technology and regulation (another book I have reviewed pointed out that USA has become a “dumping ground” for products from China Europe will not admit–thank you, Dick Cheney).

+ USA, EU, and China have no common culture, and (combined with the distinct cultures of the other four emergent regions), this is cause for concern about future misunderstandings and over-reactions.

+ The world is demographically blended and so increasingly inter-dependent that the day of major war is indeed likely to be a thing of the past.

+ In the early focus on Europe, the author quotes a European to the effect that Europe is expanding, each time getting poorer, but each time delivering and buying priceless stability. This is one reason why Eastern Europe is skyrocketing and at the same time, displacing the USA as a source for many exports to Europe.

+ He tells us that Europe is confident, incentivizes its partners, has a generation in charge that is transcendent, and is disdainful of the US for its ineptness.

+ Russia is described as a “Siberian Saudi Arabia” but with an insecure nuclear arsenal. ¾ of the wealth is centered in (controlled from) Moscow while 2/3 of Russians are living at the poverty line or below.

+ Russia is being emptied of Russians as they vote with their feet and move west, at the same time that Chinese are moving north into Siberia, which global warming is making more hospitable.

+ In the Balkans instability threatens Europe, but European agro-technology is making a huge difference, as is the European penchant to support multiple parties rather than any single dictator. Still, “lurking tribalization” is of concern.

+ Turkey is a key player in saving the Balkans, and in the author’s view, is powerful, democratic, secular, and Muslim, and also responsible for ten times more trade with Europe than with the US.

+ Black Sea is creating its own unified region.

+ Georgia does not have a single decent road.

+ Caucasian Corridor is a Balkans waiting to happen.

+ While Brussels is central, London, Ankara, and Moscow each have their own key role in the region.

+ Central Asia benefits from the re-creation of the Silk Road for East-West trade, while also suffering from being the “laboratory” for imperial excess seeking to play the Great Game (not something the US is at all qualified to “play”)

+ The author points out Central Asia is at the intersection of Russia, China, Europe, and the US, to which I would add Iran as well.

+ Mongolia is militarily aligned with the US (and from my own knowledge, has one of the finer peace keeping training programs as well as an ideal pre-Afghanistan mobilization training environment)

+ According to the author, China, in sharp contrast to the US and Russia, is making huge gains in Central Asia because of “swift settlement” of all outstanding border issues, its promotion of shared development strategies, its “massive charm offensive” and its role as a “consultative leader,” and its being the “standard bearer for business practices” which is code for no-strings attached loans nearing one billion. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is now called the “NATO of the East.” China is winning Central Asia through strategy, trade, and co-development. [See also my online memorandum “Chinese Irregular Warfare oss.net”]

+ Kazakhstan has energy and retained its own language, shows promise.

+ Kyrgystan a mess, Tajikistan a bridge for revival of Sino-Iranian trade routes.

+ Uzbeckistan and Tajikistan are Islamic targets.

+ American failure to reconstruct Afghanistan has left Karzai neutered, perhaps soon to go.

+ South America has been suffocated by US hegemony, and US sponsorship of 30 years of “Dirty War” pitting authoritarian rightists against [liberation theology and populist] leftists.

+ Unlike other regions, South America simply wants US to live up to its rhetoric about free trade and democratization, “without exceptions.”

+ US threatened by crime, drugs, migration from the South, does not seem to appreciate the value of South American integration and self-sufficiency in energy and food sectors.

+ Four Mexico’s–northern, central breadbasket, indigenous destitute isthmus, and very poor Mayan Yucatan.

+ Chaves in Venezuela is a spendthrift and has quadrupled Venezuela’s debt, but he actually has a serious strategy that includes China to offset US, a pipeline to Argentina, state to state barter of commodities, modernizing Caribbean energy sector, and welcoming Iran and Europe.

+ Colombia is the key to the future of the region, unique for having Pacific and Caribbean coasts while also being the entry point for a Pan-American highway of greater potential.

+ US is losing the drug war and screwing up the alternatives of trade and economic accelerators.

+ Brazil is the USA of South America, and has formed a trade axis with China. It is multiracial, with the largest populations of Arabs outside Nigeria, Lebanese outside Lebanon, Italians and Japanese outside their own countries. Crime is the wild card, the Achilles’ heel.

+ Argentina is a basket case (the author does not tell us that Argentine is also being seduced by Chinese men and is likely to be majority Chinese by 2025).

+ Chile, despite US mis-deeds, benefited from German farmers and is today’s success story, focused on stability, pragmatism, and profit.

+ Arabs are redefining themselves in the Middle East in a manner not seen in the past 1000 years. They remain central, and the author anticipates Arab economics will triumph over Islamic radicalism. Later in the book he concludes that the Arabic opinion and sense of self is solidifying.

+ North Africa is Europe’s southern shore, and part of the Mediterranean culture, but suffers a massive disconnect between unemployable poorly educated youth and jobs without qualified applicants.

+ Libya (I learn for the first time) is a huge success, with major gains in education, advancement of women, and per capita income over $7000 a year.

+ Egypt as the Arab cornerstone and the difficult blend of Arabia and Islam. This government, the author tells us , “provides neither moral leadership nor public services” and therefore is “a perfect target for Islamist groups well-equipped to provide both.” He believes an Iranian-style revolution is possible.

+ The Mashreq–Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, he sums up as “Iranian interference, Syrian intransigence, Lebanese weakness, Israeli aggression, and Palestinian desperation.” I was surprised to not see “American idiocy” in there, since my taxpayer dollars are funding the Israeli genocide against the Palestinians.

+ He anticipates the death of Iraq and the emergence of Kurdistan, and here I quote two gifted turns of phrase: “Wars are like a geopolitical reset button.” and “The Iraq war exposed the United States as a superpower whose intelligence does not match its aspirations.” As an intelligence professional, I must clarify this: both the Army leadership and the CIA professionals, that is to say, Charlie Allen, got it exactly right–no weapons of mass destruction, kept the cook books, bluffing for regional sake. It was George Tenet who parked his integrity on the same shelf as Colin Powell and Mike Hayden, who allowed Dick Cheney to hijack the US Government and send the US military to war on the basis of 935 explicitly documented lies to the public and Congress and the UN, and 25 explicitly documented high crimes and misdemeanors.

+ Iran does not get enough coverage, but that is insufficient to undermine my very high regard for this book.

+ Gulf will provide 40% of the energy for the foreseeable future. Oil windfalls were mis-directed by the leaders, who funded luxuries for themselves, and militaries, rather than seeing to the public good.

+ Wahhabist reckoning is coming–they teach selected elements of the Koran by rote, not Islam. However, they correctly evaluate the Saudi Royals as the near enemy and the USA as the far enemy, joined at the hip.

+ United Arab Emirates is where Las Vegas meets Singapore, with Dubai as the icon. He notes with studied understatement that Chinese goods and Chinese whores are half price to any competing goods or whores, and the former “designed to disintegrate.”

+ Malaysia and Indonesia have huge Chinese Diasporas. Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam not as well covered as I would have liked, especially Vietnam which is totally independent of China.

+ There are four Chinas–the southeast quadrant with Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (I was surprised to see no mention of Macau, through which China is aggressively wooing all former Portuguese colonies including Brazil); the Beijing centered northeast, and the far edge of Tibet and Xinjiang, which the author tells us earlier in the book are as vital to China as the Rockies and West of the Rockies are to the US.

+ He says that China is “blending” Asia, and that from Malaysia and elsewhere there is broad recognition that a form of Chinese “Monroe Doctrine” is being established. He specifically points out that US offers of “security” are losing out to European offers of “capacity” that nurture prosperity (as well as Chinese offers of co-development).

+ I grew up in Singapore, finishing high school there, and I am in total agreement with the author’s admiration for Lee Kuan Yew and the manner in which communitarian trumps democratic when it comes to producing more stability and prosperity. I recently learned from my step-mother, who just left Singapore after decades of being the leader of English education for the government (and Chinese teachers) that one cannot run for Parliament in Singapore without first earning a Masters in Business Administration.

+ Uniquely, Asians want to stay in Asia while visiting everywhere else.

+ He plays down India and I completely disagree with his dismissal of them. India has made more progress than China when one considers the totally divergent and conflictive situations they must handle across tribes, religions, classes, and environmental challenges.

In his conclusion, the author suggests that a tri-polar world now exists, but one read what can only be a list of indicators of USA suicidal tendencies: lousy education, no investment in technology, as many gang members as there are policemen (roughly 750,000 he tells us). The USA can learn to co-exist and co-develop with the rest of the world, and abandon its military “big stick” paradigm, or it can be relegated to third place forever, and gradually go down even further.

I am very worried. I see no one that has strategic perspective, a holistic understanding of the ten threats and twelve policies, nor an appreciation of the urgency of creating an alternative development model for Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, among others.

See also:
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
The Future of Life
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace