JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you for joining us as we warmly welcome a very, very special person to our Books for Breakfast program, Kishore Mahbubani. He will be discussing his most recent book, Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World.
Rarely has a visit to New York by any ambassador generated as much anticipation, choreography, and excitement as the visit here today by the former Singaporean Ambassador to the U.N., Kishore Mahbubani. To many of you gathered here this morning, the reasons are apparent, for when people—friends and acquaintances alike—speak about Kishore, they always describe him in superlative terms, uttering words of praise, admiration, and respect. It is said that he was a diplomat of daunting intelligence and skill, whose words, while often provocative, were nevertheless insightful; his writing lucid and lively; a cosmopolitan thinker who took on subjects that others were too timid to address and would, in turn, run and back away from. His latest work, Beyond the Age of Innocence, follows his earlier acclaimed book, Can Asians Think?
Although many have written books about America and its foreign policy, few have written about our diminishing prestige and place in the world from such an omniscient vantage point, for in a typical "Kishorean" way, he addresses the most salient foreign policy dilemmas for America today, and once again demonstrates the fierce convictions and ideas of a man who has lived on two continents, within two societies, and captured the essence of two worlds, Asia and America.
Although he spent his formative years in Singapore and part of his university days there as well, he is a self-confessed friend of America, having served two terms as Singapore's Ambassador to the U.N. In his last posting, he served on the Security Council and held the presidency of it in January of 2001 and again in May of 2002.
With a sense of history and a profound understanding of foreign policy as his guide, Kishore gives us his prognostications for the future. As a vigorous thinker and one who cares deeply about America, he writes, "Though American power remains the single most influential force on the globe, many in the world are disappointed with America's leadership and would like to see America take the lead in creating a stable world order. The main question, however, is whether America will be able to revive the kind of leadership necessary to bring this about."
"The essential problem," he writes, "is that today there is no built-in coherence in American policy towards the world, because no major strategic initiative has yet been taken to achieve such coherence." Yet, he writes that the growing disenchantment with America can be remedied, and this morning he will tell us just how to move from beyond the Age of Innocence towards the Age of Enlightenment.
Please join me in giving a very big welcome to your friend and mine, the very distinguished Kishore Mahbubani. Welcome home.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: That is a very generous introduction, and a very dangerous one. I prefer a much more low-key introduction; then I can sort of build up a bit.
As you all know, I left New York six months ago, and I have been living in Singapore since then. There are quite a few things I miss about New York, but I can tell you that one of the things that I truly miss are these wonderful Books for Breakfast sessions that I was a regular participant in. I want you all to know that you are all very privileged people that you have this opportunity to come here and listen to visiting authors. Of all the things I miss in going back to Singapore, this is the one thing I miss most of all.
With that in mind, I hope you will join me in thanking Joanne Myers for launching this wonderful series and for keeping all of us enlightened. If you want to reach the Age of Enlightenment, attend Books for Breakfast.
Let me, first of all, to just give you a sense of the structure of my remarks, state my thesis, state a few qualifications, then elaborate on my thesis, and then hopefully come back with what may be a few prescriptions for what we can do.
My thesis, basically, is that since World War II, America has accumulated huge, huge reservoirs of goodwill all over the world. Many of these reservoirs of goodwill, by the way, were accumulated unwittingly, without any effort. America accumulated these reservoirs just by being itself vis-?-vis the rest of the world.
But, unfortunately, at the end of the Cold War, when there was a massive opportunity for America to take advantage of these reservoirs of goodwill to build a better world, America did the opposite thing: it walked away from the world. In having walked away from the world in the last fifteen years, it has unleashed various forces that can potentially destabilize the world in the next ten to twenty years or thirty years.
Having said that, I hope to make one thing very clear. I am not speaking about the traditional four-year cycles of American history, where you focus on the big changes that happen when you go from the Clinton Administration to the Bush Administration, from the Carter Administration to the Reagan Administration. That is one cycle of human history, but that is not the cycle I am speaking about. I am speaking about a longer cycle of human history that goes over forty years.
Many of you already know me, but I find it nonetheless useful to emphasize at the beginning that I am not anti-American. Those of you who know me well know full well that I am fully pro-American. If not, I wouldn't have married a girl from Morristown, New Jersey, and I wouldn't have three children who are dual-nationals.
I wrote this book not out of anger, but more out of sorrow that a great opportunity was being missed by America. If there is one thing I hope to do with this book, it is to wake up America to the great possibilities it has to create, frankly, a new world order that would be good for America and good for the world, too.
Let me come back to the first part of my remarks about how, exactly, America accumulated these huge reservoirs of goodwill all over the world. I will just cite three or four examples of how America did this, but there can be many others, I am sure.
The first way in which America accumulated these huge reservoirs of goodwill was by building a human society that was frankly better than any other human society created before America came onto the world scene. By this I mean that America created a society which was, in some ways, truly the most meritocratic society in the world, where it did not matter what class you were born to, which lineage you came from; as long as you had ability, as long as you had talent, you could thrive and you could succeed.
By the way, if you compare this against the previous grain of human history, even for the past 2000 years, in most societies of the world—and certainly this is especially true in Asia—your destiny was determined at birth. For example, look at me, my Indian ancestry. If I had been born in India and grown up in India, my destiny, where I would have gone, would have been determined at my birth, what caste I belonged to, and so on and so forth. But America came along and shattered the grain of history, and by shattering the grain of human history, I think, unleashed an enormous amount of human potential for the world. That was a great gift that America gave.
The rest of the world learned about it, frankly, from all the immigrants who came to this country, many of whom came penniless, with nothing, absolutely nothing, and then succeeded, often in the space of ten to fifteen years, thereby becoming shining lights in their own countries.
I have the good fortune today of having an example that I can cite from this room. I hope I don't embarrass my friend, C. Chan Seiv [phonetic], who was a dear friend of mine when I went to Cambodia in 1974. I got to know him and his family well. As you know, Cambodia went through a great tragedy. C. Chan experienced it firsthand, lived through the Killing Fields and through good fortune managed to survive and reach, I believe, the borders of Thailand as a refugee, in 1976 or 1977. If my memory is correct, about eleven years later, C. Chan was working in the White House.
Frankly, if you tell any Southeast Asian that someone could go from being a refugee in a camp in Thailand to, eleven years later, having a job in the White House, that seems like an incredible dream. But that is exactly the sorts of dreams that America creates and, therefore, generates a lot of hope for all of mankind.
The other way in which America has made a huge difference to the world is through the incredible education that it provides, through its remarkable university system. I suppose you all know that tens of thousands of students from overseas have been educated in America. In fact, even today, the latest figures are that there are about 80,000 Indian students studying in the U.S. and 60,000 Chinese students studying in the United States.
If you want to understand why today, by the way, there seems to be this great hope for China and India—if you will allow me a brief commercial, when our school, the Lee Kuan Yew School for Policy, opens on April 4th in Singapore we are organizing a two-day conference called "Managing Globalization: Lessons from China and India." The purpose of that conference is to show the world how much great potential these two countries have.
But in trying to understand how these two countries achieved this great potential and why they are rising after centuries of slumber, there are many factors at play here, but I can tell you that one of the critical factors is the yeast that is provided by the minds that have been trained in North American universities and that have gone back and made a huge difference to their societies. If you travel in China and meet some of the mayors of huge Chinese cites, often you find they are thirty-five to forty-five years old, very young men, and all they are trying to do, basically, is build a better society for their own societies, and often doing so with tools and skills and ideas that they have learned in American universities. In that sense, America has made another huge contribution.
Probably an even bigger contribution was made by the incredible multilateral order that America created in 1945. As you know, at that point in time, America was at a peak of its power. It had more than 50 percent of the world GNP. At the peak of power, it would have been quite natural for America to continue the traditional European pattern of history, which is that when you accumulate power, you go out and colonize the rest of the world and create a huge empire. For reasons that we will never fully understand, America decided to do the opposite. Instead of trying to create an empire in 1945, it in fact reversed the grain of history and encouraged the European powers to decolonize. That process of decolonization liberated, by the way, hundreds of millions of lives. Certainly, in my generation, we felt the sense of liberation from decolonization. If you want to understand why decolonization happened, America played a critical role in that process.
A fourth factor—and I am just going to mention it briefly, but I do want to mention it, because it will come as a surprise to many of you. I just read this morning, as you know, that the United States has submitted a defense budget of $500 billion. This, of course, will mean that the United States will have more than 50 percent of global defense expenditures.
Everyone reacts with shock and horror at the enormous amount of money that is being spent by the American military. That is why I want to mention that if you look objectively at the role played by American military power, it plays a critical role in promoting global stability, because it is the presence of American military power that provides the guarantees for a general sense of order and stability in many parts of the world.
I don't have time to elaborate on this now, but if you look at East Asia and if you want to understand why there have been no great wars between the great powers in East Asia, one of the critical reasons is the stabilizing presence of the American military. This paradoxical result of the American military presence is something that I documented in my book, but I can't elaborate on here.
Having spoken about these enormous positive contributions that America has made since 1945, let me now turn to the second part of my thesis: what went wrong? Again, I suspect that others will disagree with what I have to say. In fact, others already have disagreed with what I have said.
But what I tried to demonstrate in the book is that the critical turning point was the end of the Cold War. That was another moment, frankly, when America was at a peak of its power, like in 1945. The Soviet Union crumbled. America was the sole superpower, and America had another great opportunity to refashion the world and to make it a better place, as it did in 1945.
But instead of doing what it did in 1945, in 1990-1991—I think by then, American society, perhaps understandably, was exhausted by carrying the world on its shoulders for so long—it decided that, having carried the world for so long, it was now time for the world to take care of itself, and it decided to come home. It gradually proceeded to disentangle itself from various involvements it had made throughout the Cold War, obviously with no intention whatsoever of harming the rest of the world.
But the problem was that America had become so entangled, in the last forty-five years, in different rivers of history, that when it tried to disentangle itself, it unleashed forces that have begun to haunt us in the world today. Let me give just one or two concrete examples.
The first concrete example is, of course, the classic case of Afghanistan. I am sure you can all remember that during the Cold War Afghanistan was, as you know, the frontline of freedom. I can still remember vividly seeing pictures on television, seeing pictures in newspapers, of leading American figures—whether it was Brzezinski or the defense secretaries or secretaries of state—who would go out to the Pakistan border, to the Khyber Pass, stand there, and say, "This is the frontline of freedom. This is where we're going to defeat the Soviet Union."
In the process of trying to defeat the Soviet Union, of course, America recruited all possible allies. One of the allies it recruited was Osama bin Laden. Frankly, there was at the time a very active effort to try to create a strong sense of Islamic solidarity. America welcomed, by the way, fighters from all over the world—from Algeria, from Indonesia, from everywhere—to go to Afghanistan to fight the evil Soviet empire.
But as soon as the Cold War ended, having generated this new sense of Islamic solidarity and consciousness among this group, America decided it had done its job and it could walk away. Afghanistan, as you know, collapsed and became a failed state, and in due course was taken over by the Taliban and became the base from which Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operated.
If you want to understand the root causes of what is probably one of the most traumatic events—and I happened to be here, like many of you, when it happened—the root causes of 9/11 was the decision to walk away from a piece of history that America had unleashed in 1990-1991. This is a concrete example of what happens when you try to walk away from forces that you have unleashed before.
I can tell you that probably the most difficult chapter that I had to work on in the book was the chapter on America and Islam. It is very difficult to try to explain why today the vast majority of the world's Muslims feel the sense of anger towards America, when, frankly, if you look back at history, most Islamic societies have, in fact, benefited and thrived when America was dominant. They were all conquered and colonized by Europeans, none of them were conquered or colonized by America, yet today more of them are angry at America than at Europe.
It would be a good exercise to try to understand why this happened. If you want to create a better world for tomorrow, you have to try to address this anger that has been generated in that part of the world. That is the Islamic world.
Another huge section of humanity, as you know, lives in China, another 1.2 billion people. When China emerged once again as a great power—after two centuries, by the way, of slumber or being occupied, invaded, and so on and so forth—when China began to reemerge, it was because of a multilateral order that America had created.
China decided to leave the Communist world to join the free-trading universe. It opened up its markets, participated in global economic growth, and accumulated this huge, as you know, $100 billion trading surplus with America. Today all that China is focused on is trying to become a great economic power.
By the way, when you travel in China I remember when I used to go there in the 1980s and stayed in Chinese hotels—as you know, when you travel in the West, if you open the drawer next to the bed, you get a copy of Gideon's Bible. In China, you used to get the Little Red Book of Mao. Today when you go to China, inevitably, if you open the drawer, you will find this wonderful, beautiful glossy little booklet, "Why You Should Invest in Liaoning Province." That is an indication of how much China has changed.
Frankly, from the long-term perspective of history, the Chinese people know that this is the best time they have had for the last 200 years. The Chinese have begun to believe in the possibility that China can succeed and emerge as a great power and one that will be accepted and respected by the rest of the world. It would have been natural for them to expect that in this new world order, as they emerge and become a great power, America would welcome it and America would work with China, in the same way they worked with a reenergized, revived Japan, a revived Germany, and so on and so forth.
But as you know—and this is the unfortunate part—the opposite has happened. Now the depths of suspicion in China about America probably have never higher. Indeed, there is this great sense of foreboding in China about what America will do when China emerges. This suspicion, I think, is a cause of concern for all of us. If China emerges in an unhappy relationship with America, then we are in for trouble.
If you want a simple proof of the depth of the suspicion, I will just cite a very simple story. This is a story of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999. Every American I have spoken to—including, by the way, some of the leading policymakers who were in office at that point in time, Steward Towser [phonetic], Tom Pickering, Stan Roth—all said to me, "Kishore, obviously it was an accident. Why would the United States want to bomb the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade? We're not stupid. That was obviously a mistake that was made."
But I have spoken to the Chinese, and every Chinese I have spoken to—and believe me, I made an effort to speak to the senior policymakers, the mid-level officials, to the most junior people I know—and it is not 90 percent, it is not 99 percent; it is 100 percent—every Chinese is convinced that that bombing was deliberate and was a signal to China: "Beware of American power."
This happened just five or six years ago. The same event—we saw it all on CNN, the BBC—has exactly the opposite interpretations of two peoples. That is an indication of the divide that we have.
Finally, what can we do about it, in two minutes or less? I think that the doors are still open, that the opportunities still exist for us to prevent this great divide developing between America and the world of Islam; between America and China; and, frankly, between America and other parts of the world, too. But I can't cover the rest of the world. The opportunity exists now.
For us to go back to a more stable global environment America doesn't have to invent something new. Perhaps it should go back to doing what it did in 1945, when it tried to create a world order which allowed not just America to thrive, but allowed other countries to thrive, too. That is basically what the rest of the world wants or expects from America.
If, for example, you could assure China that China's rise is not a threat to the world, not a threat to America, but one that can be accommodated in this new global order, that would send an enormously powerful signal. If you can demonstrate that a few Islamic states can also grow and succeed and thrive in this new world order, you also send a positive signal.
You might say, "But, of course, that is exactly what America is doing. That is exactly what it is trying to do, persuade the rest of the world that it is happy to see them succeed and thrive." The problem is that many in the rest of the world no longer believe it. Many in the rest of the world have begun to develop a darker image of America. That is something that needs to be addressed.
To address it, America has to become conscious as a country of the impact of its decisions on the rest of the world. One of the great features of today's world is that, as you all know, the world is shrinking. The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place. American power is not shrinking. Indeed, American power is growing. So if you have this image of this great force of American power, remaining as powerful as ever, with the world shrinking, the impact of American power on the rest of the world is growing day by day. The rest of the world is conscious of the impact of American power; Americans are not aware of the impact of American power. This creates another contradiction.
So my hope is that, as a result of writing this book, it creates some degree of reflection in the process. In the process of reflection, if Americans can be more aware of how American power influences the world and can make an effort to manage the expectations, manage the impact of American power on the rest of the world, then I think we can create a better place for all of us.
JOANNE MYERS: Kishore, you were a major personality when you left last August, and I am happy to see that you are still formidable. I know that Kishore would be very happy to answer any of your questions or debate any issues you would like to raise.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Kishore, welcome back to Carnegie. One of the great advantages you have is that, standing on that side of the podium, you don't have to take a provocative question from a certain Kishore Mahbubani. Good to see you back.
That was a fascinating talk. I am pleased to say I have read the book, and I commend it to everybody here. It is extremely readable and lucid.
One thing that I would like to question you on, however, is what you had only two minutes to devote to at the end of your talk, and that is your prescription. It seems in some ways that what you are calling for is a sort of altruism that democracies are not generally known for, and that is to take decisions with an awareness of the impact beyond their own borders.
To that I would counter with sort of the law of democratic narcissism: democracies tend principally to be concerned about their own societies. The great exception was indeed what happened in 1945, when this democracy and others came up with this vision for the world. But it took an extraordinary cataclysm—not just the Second World War, but fifty years of war, bombing, genocide, civil conflict, Holocaust, Hiroshima, you name it—before they really woke up and faced the extraordinary need for a global system that would indeed take the impact of world affairs across the world into account.
At the end of the Cold War, what you saw in the 1990s was indeed an election campaign won on the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," and an internal focus, which surely has, as you said at the beginning, transcended administrations.
What makes you think that a democratic American government, accountable first and foremost to its own electorate, without the horrifying glue of a cold war or the prospect of nuclear annihilation or whatever—what makes you think that such a government would find it in its interests or would find it a priority thing to do, to think of its impact on other countries before it takes its own actions?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: I hope that you don't patent the phrase "law of democratic narcissism," because I would like to use it on the rest of my lecture tour.
I completely agree with the premises of your question. In fact, I have an image in the book about how the world has changed. I say the way in which globalization has changed the world is that, whereas in the past we used to live and sail on different boats when we were in different countries, today, as a result of globalization, the world has become fused into one, and we are now all—literally, by the way; not even metaphorically—we are literally sailing on the same boat.
But even though we are sailing on the same boat, we are sailing on the same boat without a captain or crew to manage the whole boat. Instead, what we have are captains and crews who only manage cabins of the boat. If you can imagine setting sail on the sea, maybe on the Titanic, where everyone just took care of the cabins and no one took care of the boat, you can understand the consequences. But that is how we manage the world today. So I don't disagree with your premise.
The only consolation—maybe this is where, in a sense, I fall back on the other great American tradition of being open to new ideas, being willing to listen to ideas that come way out of the box—the goal of my book is to persuade an American audience that it is in the enlightened, long-term self-interest of America to create a global order that is good not just for America but also good for the rest of the world. If America doesn't create such a global order, it allows some of these forces to get out of control. The obvious one, by the way, as you know, is the rise of what we might call radical forces in the Islamic world, in a shrinking world.
One of the most unfortunate predictions I make is that I will not be surprised if ten years, fifteen years from now, you find, even in Manhattan, more frequent examples of suicide bombings. The source of that is the anger in the Islamic world. It is in America's interest to try to calm this anger. To try to calm this anger it has to go outside its cabin, walk into the societies, and find out why they are angry towards us. It is in the interest not just of America, by the way; it is in the interest of all societies in the world to take care of this.
Similarly, it is not in the interest of the world to see the emergence of a China—to use a popular metaphor, to see the emergence of an angry Chinese dragon. That is not good for the world either.
So how do you manage that? Maybe in this sense I am naive, but I am still reasonably optimistic. If we make a big enough effort to convince policymakers to weigh the long-term consequences of their decisions against the short-term consequences, then possibly we will arrive at new policies. But it will take some time.
QUESTION: Kishore, I, too, got to read your book. I want to focus a little bit on the China chapter, because that to me was the most interesting. Having served on the President's Intelligence Board, I have to tell you, when I first got briefed, along with my fellow members, I was astounded—four years ago, and it is true today—to see that the highest-rated threat as far as our military is concerned and our intelligence is concerned is China. It is not the Islamic world, much as we are spending huge amounts on dealing with terrorism. It is China which remains the strategic and military threat in the eyes of our planners. I see very little that will change that way of thinking.
As a consequence, you are going to have continued disruptions, as you see just today with the Europeans lifting the arms embargo to China and so on. While I would sorely like the vision you project, I don't see what is going to take us there, unless you postulate that America is willing, with all its power, to recognize that there will be multi-power centers in the world. That is something that most Americans, and certainly Americans in positions of importance in both parties, are not willing to concede.
So all the exhortation you have at the end of your book, with which I sympathize, strikes me as not likely to happen, unless you get a fundamental change of attitude about American power in strategic centers in this country. I don't know whether you want to comment about that.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Actually, I am very glad that you mentioned that in many internal intelligence documents—this is an open secret, by the way—most American analysts point to China as the next big strategic challenge to America. This is also clearly now well-known to Chinese policymakers.
That is why, incidentally, China is taking some very careful, skillful moves at preventing any kind of potential encirclement of China by America. They have started doing this. This is why, for example, they have proposed a free trade agreement with Southeast Asia, and so on and so forth.
But the critical line that you mentioned was when you said, "how can you expect America to accept a multipolar world? My simple answer to that is that no country, no empire, has ever been able to stop the flow of history. It is unnatural in a universe of 6.3 billion people to have just one sole superpower and be the sole superpower forever.
The lesson of history is that history never ends and history never stops. It is clear, certainly for a start, that China and India will reemerge as major powers. There is nothing you can do to stop it now. It is almost like two huge boulders which have begun going downhill. As they go downhill, they accumulate momentum. It doesn't seem to me wise on the part of America to stop this flow of history. It would be wiser for America to accept the fact that this is going to happen.
The rise of China and India should not threaten or endanger the United States of America. It is not a zero-sum game. In fact, we have seen that the rise of Japan and Germany, for example, didn't upset the world. In the same way, you can have China and India reemerging, as Japan and Germany did, playing by the same rules that America created in 1945. Then we can all live together.
But the problem we have—and this is something that I hope to discuss in some of my future writings—is that when it comes to the field of economics, we use twenty-first century language, but in the field of politics we use nineteenth century language, where everything is zero-sum. Our challenge is to persuade some of the strategy analysts to give up this 19th century language and think of a world order in which several great powers can live together.
QUESTION: Kishore, it is great to see you again. We miss you, the man who continues to provide the affirmative answer to the question, "Can Asians think?"
Kishore, I haven't read your book, and I look forward to the pleasure. But just listening to your summary this morning, I want to ask you about your thesis that underlies the analysis.
There are those who might say, once they have looked at your thesis, that in fact the problem is not that in 1990 America disengaged from the world, but that the issue arose more recently, when America decided to engage differently with the world. Let me tell you what I mean.
1991, of course, was the year in which we had Desert Storm, when the United States led a coalition of the willing, with multilateral U.N. support, and liberated Kuwait from the invader. Throughout the 1990s, there was constructive engagement in Somalia—that didn't work out so well, and there was some intimidation after that—but multilateral constructive engagement. President Clinton encouraged and advocated the membership of China in WTO, an active player on the world stage, a clear vision for development in Africa.
Under President Bush, we have not only a huge investment militarily and politically in Iraq, very much an engagement in the world for reasons of freedom and democracy, but we also have a second inaugural address which proclaims in bold terms a vision of America leading the world toward freedom, liberty, and democracy. We have in the Middle East, as evidenced at the conference yesterday in London, nascent signs that, in fact, democracy is taking hold, that the American vision for the greater Middle East is gaining some traction.
I want to suggest to you that your premise that America disengaged in 1990 doesn't really conform with that chronology; and that in fact what we may be seeing, rather than disengagement, is a different form of engagement, where, for one reason or the other—and I am trying to remain very neutral here, as a diplomat, not a politician—there is a vision in Washington that is being advanced, sometimes not in the 1945 multilateral sense, but nonetheless very aggressively, which is very much America in the world, but in a way that may be engendering some reactions that are not positive; thus the issue with Muslims and Islam.
Are we going to hear those people who respond to your thesis by saying, perhaps, that there is a different way of interpreting the events of the last fifteen years and accounting for the current complexities in the world? In other words, can the rest of us think?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: You are right. I see not two, but three great junctions of human history here. The first one is the end of World War II, the second one is the end of the Cold War, and the third one is 9/11.
It is clear that we have since 9/11 also a new face of human history. I think it is too early to tell what will be the lasting consequences and what will be the lasting directions of this new face of human history.
From the point of view of many in the rest of the world, they do get conflicting signals on what exactly American policy is post-9/11. You have, for example, on the one hand, as you mentioned, this great desire to promote freedom and democracy in many parts of the world. But on the other hand, some of the main allies of the United States—and even though I am no longer an ambassador, my ambassadorial instincts remain; I am very reluctant to name countries. But we all know what the countries are. They are not pillars of freedom and democracy, but they are still very close allies of the United States.
I remember, when America first tried to promote human rights and democracy at the end of the Cold War, there was a greater sense of acceptance globally at that point in time, the early 1990s, because there was this feeling that it was actually, perhaps, the great forces of human rights and democracy that undermined and defeated the Soviet empire. There was a certain interest in those forces.
But today, most people react skeptically, because they believe there is a very selective—the word "crusade," as you know, is used from time to time; it is a very unfortunate use—that this is a very selective crusade that only applies to those who are not friends of America, and those who are friends are exempt from this crusade. This sense of America having double standards is, unfortunately, growing increasingly in the rest of the world.
In response to your question about what America is trying to do, I think the whole world is watching to see what happens in Iraq. It is still uncertain whether Iraq will be a great success story or conceivably end up in flames. If it is a great success story, then America will have achieved a great deal. But if it walks away and things fall apart in Iraq, as they did in Afghanistan, then, unfortunately, the message will be the exact opposite.
QUESTION: Kishore, I wanted to sort of re-ask a piece of the last question. Your answer to the democracy promotion idea, I think, was that so long as you are hypocritical about it, and seem to be hypocritical about it, it will not achieve the results you want.
But are you saying, then, that the engagement you are describing should be that the United States should be willing to criticize Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt—its allies—on this issue and should be willing to be aggressive and overt about the promotion of what we feel are universal values?
Or are you suggesting something much more Kissingerian—that is, a kind of engagement based on realpolitik and the acceptance of undemocratic cultures in China and elsewhere? Should we be like the Bush Administration, but more so? Or is that campaign just inherently wrongheaded?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: What I like about being in America is that you like to pose two clear alternatives: either we support the Bush vision of freedom and democracy or we support the Kissinger vision of realpolitik. My simple answer to your question is that the world is becoming a much more untidy and messy environment, and posing only two alternatives for the world is very dangerous.
You have to conceive of the possibility, for example, that in some cases promoting democracy can result in not just the people of the country being worse off, but even America being worse off.
A classic example—since I discuss it in the book, I can mention it here—is Pakistan. The great irony of Pakistan is that during the Cold War, when Pakistan was an ally, it was run by military dictatorships. It was very close to the United States. At the end of the Cold War, when Pakistan was no longer necessary and was dropped, it became a democracy. America walked away from Pakistan when it was a democracy. Then, when 9/11 happened and America rediscovered the virtue of Pakistan, it again was happy to embrace a military dictatorship in Pakistan.
The whole world, by the way, can see this happening and can see, on the one hand, America preaching freedom and democracy, and on the other hand, embracing military dictatorships in Pakistan.
At the same time, if I would be brutally candid, America is doing the right thing. If you had today any kind of free elections in Pakistan, it is not likely that Musharraf would win. It is not likely that Shaukat Aziz would win. It is more likely that some kind of moderately radical or radical Islamic forces would be elected. Then you can imagine the options for America. Everybody in the CIA would be saying, "What are our options? How do we remove nuclear weapons from Pakistan before a radical Islamic government takes over?"
Do you really want to go about promoting democratic elections at this point in time? Eventually, I assure you of this, all Asian societies also want to become as democratic and as free as American society. But the lesson that Asians have learned is that there are no shortcuts of human history. It takes time. You have to grow. You have to develop. You have to have a stable middle class. You have to have a citizenry that is reasonably well educated, well informed on their choices. Then it proceeds to change and democratize. That has been happening throughout East Asia.
The great story of Asia, by the way, is how the successes of East Asian have begun to ripple westward, into China, into South Asia, and so on and so forth. So allow that process to continue. The problem about much of American language in describing the rest of the world is that it seems to forget that other societies are at different stages of their history. To take a 21st century sort of mold and say, "Here, take it, become democracies overnight"—it cannot be done.
So my response to your question is, don't give the world only two alternatives. Think about the choices.
QUESTION: Kishore, I realize that you have written primarily for an American audience, as your prescriptions are for the United States, policymakers, as well as people. But it strikes me that a great many of your prescriptions for what has to be done should be directed to the other side of the argument—in other words, the rest of the world.
It is quite clear that, whether or not the United States wants to become a benevolent arbiter of the world order, as it was in 1945, and arguably tried to be in 1991, under George Bush I, a great part of the world would not accept that sort of benevolence. Instead, what we see is, whether you look at China or Europe—old Europe, as well as new Europe—there is a great deal of reaction against the United States taking up any particular arbitrary role in world affairs.
The second part of the question is, how does the rest of the world—how does China, how does Europe—is there a responsibility for other nations to change, in many ways, their relationship with geopolitical strategy, as well as the United States, as you argue?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: I agree with you. The answer is yes. That will have to be my next book.
But as of now, there can be no doubt that America's share of global power is incredibly large, and whatever America does has an enormous impact on the rest of the world. That is why the critical factor as of today still is American power in the world.
I can assure you that virtually every country in the world has as the primary goal of its foreign policy how to manage American power, how to ensure that American power does not in any either destabilize or harm the country. They want to ensure that they can work with American power rather than have it work against them. That same priority, by the way, doesn't extend to Europe, doesn't extend to China. It may, in due course, do so. In the next ten, twenty years, the critical factor is how American power is managed.
QUESTION: I am sure that your book is going to be very insightful, and I look forward to reading it very much.
At one point you mentioned that America got tired of carrying the world on its shoulders and so sort of walked away. I want to see whether you have thought of the partnership issue—partnership in peace, partnership in security, and partnership in development, especially. You use World War II as the starting point. That is exactly when Harry Truman founded the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. Also America, as you know, helped rebuild Japan. And all these countries became major economic powers.
The second turning point was when John Kennedy created the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps in 1961.
But the third turning point in the development of partnerships, which not many people have focused on, was 2002, on March 14th, when George W. Bush announced the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account. He said that the United States would increase development assistance by 50 percent, up to $15 billion, by 2006. That is quite an increase in amount.
Partnership in development is very important. Because you mentioned that America got tired of carrying the world on its shoulder, perhaps all these enormous economies around the world—you mentioned China and India—should also be more active in helping develop a more prosperous and safer world.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Thank you. I think in the rest of my books I will use the idea of partnerships. I think the idea of partnerships is a good one.
But the idea of the partnership is based on the premise that you operate as equals, that you are prepared to sit down and work on a level playing field with your partners.
Today, sometimes, America gives the impression, unfortunately, to many countries that it wants to dictate the terms of the partnership, and not necessarily listen to others. That is the perception. It may be right, it may be wrong—I don't know—but that is the perception.
I am glad you mentioned the Marshall Plan, because there is one complete thing, looking at prescriptions, that America could try to do. It would be wonderful if America could launch, for example, a Marshall Plan specifically for the Islamic world, to say that America would work with the Islamic world to try to foster success stories like Japan and Germany in the Islamic world. That would be a fantastic initiative on the part of America.
It would be done on the basis of partnerships, that America would listen to these countries, try to understand what their concerns are, what their problems are, work with them on some concrete plans and try to deliver success stories. If you can create even one or two or three success stories of modern successful Islamic states in the world, then you would have helped to make the world a better place, too.
QUESTION: In your remarks, you marked turning points and spoke with some amazement about the ability of the United States to adopt the multilateral solution in 1945. I think, in fact, the alternative was never on the table. It was the vision of Roosevelt and others that carried the United States in that direction. The veto in the U.N. Charter is a recognition of multipolarity at that time. In those circumstances, democracy didn't arise. The word doesn't appear in the U.N. Charter. The necessity of acknowledging power overrode democracy as an objective.
In 2005, those circumstances are very different. What we have is an overweening interest in democratization. You have dealt with that already by saying it has to be done carefully and slowly. But how do you assess the likelihood of that becoming an acceptable guideline for the development of international relations henceforward?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: I think there is nothing that countries like China and India would like more than the democratization of the world, because China would have 1.2 billion votes and India would have 1.1 billion votes. All the decisions of the globe would be made on a one-man/one-vote system—a one-man/one-woman/one-vote system.
This is not a frivolous point, by the way. The international order, as we know it, is based on several contradictory principles. On the one hand, we would like to create a world order in which you feel that everyone should a have a say in the management of the world. The reality is that only the major powers make the major decisions—you mentioned the veto. That grain of human history has not changed.
That goes to the point about how the intelligence community views the threats to America in the future; the intelligence community doesn't want to see a world order in which China's 1.2 billion votes determine the shape of the world. They want to have a world order in which the major powers, because of the power, make the decisions.
This tension exists. To manage that tension today, in a world where the elite in the rest of the world—and often the populations in the rest of the world—are often as sophisticated, and in many cases more sophisticated, than the American population is, creates a huge challenge for American policymakers.
One of the things, by the way, is to send a message to the American audience: Whatever you do, don't underestimate the intelligence and sophistication of the 6 billion people who live outside America, who are watching America daily, because they can make critical, intelligent judgments, and they can make the distinction between what your words are and what your deeds are and what your real message is. Therefore, be clear what your real message is, because it will get through, and they will get it.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you once again.