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In the May/June 2008 Issue of Foreign Affairs

April 15, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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May/June 2008 Issue:

Is the America Era Over?: Essays by Richard N. Haass and Fareed Zakaria

"The Price of the Surge," by Steven Simon

"Beyond Darfur," Andrew S. Natsios

"The Trouble With Congo," by Séverine Autesserre

"After Guantánamo," by Kenneth Roth

Michael L. Ross on Violence and Oil Wealth

Kishore Mahbubani on Progress in Asia and the West

Is the American Era Over?

Unipolarity Gives Way To Nonpolarity

The era of American hegemony is over, says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. But rather than unipolarity being followed by bipolarity or multipolarity, Haass argues, the next international system will be nonpolar—a world order without much order at all. For not only has the United States lost some of its edge relative to other states, but states in general have lost some of their edge relative to nonstate actors. To succeed in this new environment, Haass concludes, Washington will have to change its ways—but if it does so intelligently and plays well with others, some of the worst potential problems can be kept at bay.

"The United States can and should take steps to reduce the chances that a nonpolar world will become a cauldron of instability. This is not a call for unilateralism; it is a call for the United Statesto get its own house in order. Unipolarity is a thing of the past, but the United States still retains more capacity than any other actor to improve the quality of the international system. The question is whether it will continue to possess such capacity....The United States will no longer have the luxury of a 'You’re either with us or against us' foreign policy."

U.S. Power Can Survive the "Rise of the Rest"

Reports of America’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, writes Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. Growth is indeed occurring around the world, but this is not necessarily coming at the expense of the United States and Americans should welcome rather than fear it. Parallels to the decline of Britain are mistaken because American dominance is longer-lasting and more deeply rooted than Britain’s ever was. The problems Washington does face can be addressed through wiser policies and more creative political leadership. If the United States continues to play to its strengths as an open society, it will do just fine even as other countries rise and thrive.

"The world is changing, but it is going the United States' way. The rest that are rising are embracing markets, democratic government (of some form or another), and greater openness and transparency. It might be a world in which the United States takes up less space, but it is one in which American ideas and ideals are overwhelmingly dominant. The United States has a window of opportunity to shape and master the changing global landscape, but only if it first recognizes that the post-American world is a reality–and embraces and celebrates that fact."

How the Surge Fails By Succeeding

A year after the U.S. administration launched a new strategy in Iraq, a consensus is growing that the “surge” has been a success. But while violence has indeed been reduced and American casualties lowered, this short-term progress has come at the price of Iraq's long-term stability, argues Steven Simon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The surge's bottom-up strategy is creating a time bomb of tribalism, warlordism, and virulent sectarianism. Unless Washington changes its course soon, Simon concludes, it will leave Iraq in worse shape than before the war. The United States needs to make clear to everyone that it intends to withdraw.

"At this stage, the United States has no good option in Iraq. But the drawback and dangers of the current bottom-up approach demand a change of course. The only alternative is a return to a top-down strategy. To be more effective this time around, Washington must return to the kind of diplomacy that the Bush administration has largely neglected....What the United States could not do unilaterally, it must try to do with others, including neighboring countries, European allies, and the United Nations (UN).  In order to attain that kind of cooperation, Washington must make a public commitment to phased withdrawal."

How to Check Africa's Bleeding

Former Sudan Envoy Natsios Warns: Peace Cannot Be Achieved in Darfur If Not Secured Between North and South

Atrocities in Darfur have captured America's attention, but even as the crisis there simmers, Sudan's very survival as a state is in danger. A renewed civil war between Arabs in the north and Christians and animists in the south could bring the country far more bloodshed soon, writes Andrew Natsios, who recently stepped down as U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. Resolving the north-south conflict and defusing the country’s tensions may still be possible, Natsios argues, but it will take active efforts by Washington and engagement with Khartoum rather than simple confrontation.

"The Bush administration can still help avert such a disaster....But Washington's efforts today are misaligned with Sudan's most pressing problems. Washington spends a disproportionate amount of its staffing and budgetary resources on resolving the crisis in Darfur rather than on supporting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This imbalance must be redressed urgently, because peace cannot be achieved in Darfur if it is not secured between the north and south. The best way for Washington to proceed, moreover, is not by confronting Khartoum but by engaging it, even in the face of likely objections form the Darfur advocacy community."

Congo Now Stage for Largest Humanitarian Crisis: Over 2 Million Dead Since Official End of War

A decade ago, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was mired in the world's deadliest conflict since World War II. Over three million Congolese died before a peace settlement was reached in 2003.  Yet over two million more have died since the official end of the war, writes Severine Autesserre of Barnard College. A key reason for the widespread violence, Autesserre argues, is that the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Congo (MONUC) has failed to address the root problems behind the war: local disputes over land and power.

"Congo is now the stage for the largest humanitarian disaster in the world—far larger than the crisis in Sudan....The international community must fundamentally revise its strategy. It must focus on local antagonisms, because they often cause or fuel broader tensions, and regional and national actors hijack local agendas to serve their own ends. Until the local grievances that are feeding the violence throughout eastern Congo are addressed, security in the entire country and the Great Lakes region overall will remain uncertain."

After Guantánamo

Don’t Detain Terrorism Suspects, Try Them

Even George W. Bush now says that he wants to close the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo. But what should be done with the remaining inmates there? The U.S. government favors trying them in military courts or keeping them in a formalized system of preventive detention—indefinite imprisonment without the filing of criminal charges or a trial. But Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, argues that these solutions flout American principles of justice and liberty and may even create more terrorists. Instead, Roth argues, Washington should give the detainees regular trials, putting faith in the ability of the American criminal justice system to handle terrorism cases—even if it means that in the end some potentially dangerous suspects may walk free. 

“Criminal prosecution of terrorism suspects is not a perfect system. Not all suspects can be prosecuted.  Sometimes evidence will be so tainted that it fails to meet even the low threshold of a conspiracy or material-support prosecution, or the government will argue that established court procedures for protecting sensitive intelligence are insufficient. In these cases, the government will have to let the suspects go....But a policy of preventive detention poses greater dangers.”

Blood Barrels

The world has grown much more peaceful over the past 15 yearsexcept for oil-rich countries, says UCLA professor Michael Ross. Oil wealth often wreaks havoc on a country's economy and politics, helps fund insurgents, and aggravates ethnic grievances. And with oil ever more in demand, the problems it spawns are likely to spread further.

The Case Against the West

The West is not welcoming Asia's progress, writes Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. And its short-term interests in preserving its privileged position in various global institutions are trumping its long-term interests in creating a more just and stable world order. The West has gone from being the world's problem solver to being its single biggest liability.

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