U.S. Faces New Challenges in a Post-American World, But Can Overcome Obstacles

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Monday
June 23, 2008

Noted author and political scientist Francis Fukuyama said this weekend that the United States must adapt to a world in which military might is no longer enough, and needs to address its problems at home if it wants to continue to have global influence.

Fukuyama was the featured speaker this weekend at the Pardee RAND Graduate School commencement ceremony Saturday at the RAND Corporation’s Santa Monica campus. A total of 26 doctoral degrees and 42 master’s degrees were awarded during the ceremony, which was attended by about 200 people. RAND is a nonprofit research organization.

“The problems the United States faces are ones of our own creation,” Fukuyama said. “None of the problems and challenges are insoluble. They are mostly political and institutional ones.”

In his speech, "Is the United States Ready for a Post-American World?" Fukuyama noted that the world has changed dramatically since the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, when the common assumption was that “the United States was the absolute dominant power in the world, and that power would be sufficient to shape outcomes all over the world.”

But today, other nations are catching up economically and the world that is emerging calls for a different set of skills. American foreign policy now has to have a certain amount of social work and nation-building, because improved trade and democracy has only limited appeal to the poor populations that are at the center of the struggle for power and influence in the world, he said. Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Latin American leaders like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have gained power by offering social services to the poor people in their countries.

But Fukuyama stressed that he does not think that the United States’ problems are insurmountable.

“I do not believe in the inevitable American decline. America has enormous advantages and assets: in technology, in competitiveness, in entrepreneurship, flexible labor markets, strong -- financial institutions that in principle are strong, but are having a little bit of difficulty at the present moment…” he said, drawing laughter.

“I think one of America’s greatest advantages is its ability to absorb people from other countries and cultures,” he said, adding that virtually all developed countries are facing a demographic crisis, with shrinking populations because of falling birth rates.

But Fukuyama listed three areas of weakness facing the United States that must be addressed: the diminishing capacity of the public sector; a certain degree of complacency among Americans about understanding the world from other than a U.S. perspective; and a polarized political system that is incapable of even discussing solutions.

He listed a number of policy failures that resulted from the inability of public officials to implement policies, including what he called the failure to adequately plan for the occupation and subsequent counter-insurgency war in Iraq.

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, America responded by ramping up investments in science and technology that restored American technological leadership. It should have done a similar thing after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by trying to gain a greater understanding of complex regions of the world like the Middle East, he said. But today, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

The deadlock in the American political system has “taken off the table the serious discussion of how to solve some of these long-term and very challenging problems,” Fukuyama said, noting that neither the left nor the right has suggested raising the energy tax, which he said was the obvious way to deal with foreign energy dependence and encourage development of fuel alternatives.

Noting that many of the graduates were from other nations, and that some might return to pursue public policy analysis in their home countries, Fukuyama said, “Everyone will benefit from better public policy analysis. But I don’t think anyone around the world will benefit from an America that is inward-looking, incapable of executing policy and too divided to make important decisions. That hurts not just Americans, but the rest of the world as well.”

Fukuyama, a political economist who serves on the RAND Board of Trustees, is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the school’s International Development Program. He is the author of “The End of History and the Last Man,” and also is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest magazine. Fukuyama was a political scientist at RAND during parts of the 1980s and 1990s.

The Pardee RAND Graduate School, which offers doctorate studies in policy analysis, holds commencement exercises every two years.

Honorary degrees also were awarded to Frank Carlucci, chairman emeritus of The Carlyle Group, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and former vice chairman of the RAND Board of Trustees, and Alain Enthoven, professor of Public and Private Management (emeritus) at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

The Ph.D. recipients are: Kamiljon Akramov; Tatiana Andreyeva; Alexis M. Bailey; Gordon Donald Bitko; Abigail Bugbee Brown; Arindam Dutta; Kateryna Fonkych; Brent D. Fulton; Arkadipta Ghosh; Owen J. Hill; Sai Ma; Mohammed Rehan Malik; Brian E. A. Maue; Amber Linea Moreen; Arnab Mukherji; Christopher Ordowich; Nishal Ray Ramphal; Hilary J. Rhodes; Oleksandr Rohozynsky; Lu Shi; M. Teresa V. Taningco; Haijun Tian; Anga Raj Timilsina; Khoa Dang Truong; Eric Jerry Unger; and Katia Vlachos-Dengler.

John Graham, dean of the graduate school, noted that PRGS awards Ph.D.s in a relatively new field, that of public policy analysis.

“They have earned this degree at one of the most innovative programs in higher education, one that combines classroom education from several disciplines with on-the-job training in applied research for real-world clients in the public and private sectors,” Graham said. “The result is 26 graduates who are now prepared to tackle the world’s most pressing problems: health care, counterterrorism, education and sustainable development, to name just a few.”

The Pardee RAND Graduate School was founded in 1970 as one of America’s original eight graduate programs in public policy. It remains the only one based at a research organization. The interdisciplinary doctorate in policy analysis offered by the school is designed to train creative thinkers to play important roles in solving major problems facing the world.

Students work alongside RAND researchers on a broad range of projects as part of their on-the-job-training. Graduates have moved on to leading positions in government, academia and the private sector.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.

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