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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “New leaders, old ideas”

    We Americans are too self-absorbed sometimes – McCain or Guiliani? Hillary or Obama? – to the point that we lose sight of events elsewhere. Over the next two years, the world’s political landscape will shift dramatically in a rash of high-profile leadership changes, and whoever is elected in 2008 will be dealing with a world far removed from that of 2006.

    That world will be more nationalistic than today’s – especially when the need for cooperation between states on global problems from climate change to infectious diseases will be more pressing than ever.

    In Japan, conservative Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently stepped down to make way for his youngish protǸgǸ Shinzo Abe. Koizumi led Japan in remarkable fashion, deploying peacekeeping troops to Iraq in 2003, the first foreign deployment of Japanese soldiers since the end of World War II. Abe hopes to amend the Japanese constitution and allow Japan to develop a more assertive military – much to the chagrin of historical adversaries China and South Korea.

    In France, the long-winded and uninspiring presidency of Jacques Chirac will end with a whimper in 2007. The two most prominent candidates – Segolene Royal of the left and Nicolas Sarkozy of the right – want to reassert France’s economic and political clout on the world stage. The spoiler in the race, the indefatigable Jean-Marie Le Pen, a relatively popular xenophobe, represents an alarming trend in French politics – a vitriolic form of hateful ethnocentrism.

    In Russia, all bets are off. The 2008 presidential election will likely be rigged, unfair and undemocratic. Whoever is eventually elected will be decided in the opaque halls of the Kremlin by a group of President Vladimir Putin’s loyalists. As is typical in Russia, who actually runs the country may not be the president at all, but an incestuous cadre of businesspeople and corrupt officials, all seeking personal profit over the full integration of Russia into the world economy.

    America’s best friend in the world, Great Britain, also faces a leadership change. Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair will probably leave office within a year, handing over control of his Labour Party to the stodgy and unexciting Gordon Brown. Off to the side is the opposition Conservative Party, with the young, dynamic David Cameron at the helm. Both party leaders will seek to increase Great Britain’s independence from U.S. foreign policy.

    Look at these four changes, couple them with other recent elections – Angela Merkel in Germany and Ehud Olmert in Israel – and a pattern emerges.

    Despite the increasing interconnectedness of our world, the domestic politics of most nations illustrate the rising tide of nationalism over cosmopolitanism. The Japanese are quick to belligerently defend their interests around the world. The French increasingly support anti-immigration policies. The Russians eagerly chase foreign investment out of the country. The British are tired of doing America’s bidding.

    Indeed, the world is more interconnected, but countries are increasingly self-absorbed. Why would these two opposing trends prevail simultaneously?

    In our world, a striking dichotomy is now apparent between the individual as consumer and the individual as voter. Subconsciously, each person enjoys the fruits of increased interconnectedness, popularly referred to as globalization. Prices fall, innovations accelerate and services are more widespread. However, the individual as consumer doesn’t see these benefits clearly and takes them for granted.

    The individual as voter sees an entirely different world. America is being “”invaded”” by illegal immigrants, “”overrun”” by cheap Chinese imports and “”robbed”” of its jobs by (usually) non-white poor people. The natural, knee-jerk reaction is to vote for the ephemeral “”strong America,”” which sounds a lot like walls on the border, tariffs on cheap imports and protests against the United Nations and World Trade Organization.

    The individual as consumer supports the globalized world by driving Toyotas, purchasing Nikes and drinking Starbucks. In fact, every service or good the consumer can purchase is in some way tied to production processes outside the United States. Driving your car ties you to Saudi princes. Drinking lattes ties you to coffee farmers in Indonesia and Vietnam.

    The individual as a voter sees a nation buffeted by the “”malign”” forces of globalization – the same forces that the individual subconsciously supports by participating in economic life – and votes accordingly.

    What to make of it? Nations are increasingly self-absorbed, choosing a bunker mentality over harnessing global trends to their advantage. The shifting domestic politics in other countries illuminate this tendency. The increasing xenophobia and economic protectionism in America embodies the same phenomenon.

    All this while global cooperation is ever more important. Indeed, whoever is elected in 2008 will face voters increasingly hostile to global cooperation. Ultimately, being self-absorbed is not a viable strategy. The economic prosperity we enjoy is dependent upon it.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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