Kishore Mahbubani

If you do not have 2 days to spare on reading an interesting book and you are interested in world politics and would like to know the way the world will be transformed to in the next years, then watch the video of Kishore Mahbubani on Conversation with history from the most famous American university. I did that today for a whole hour and redoubled the vision twice lest I had missed some important issues.

No, ‘ The new Asian hemisphere, the irresistible shift of global power to the east’ is not only a critique to the way the west is seeing the world more importantly it is an appeal to the western powers to change course in their thinking and deeds. For 200 years, the west has controlled and directed the world affairs, time has now come for the East to be reinstalled. The new world order passed the 2nd world war which has worked for decades need now to be reviewed and amended to the reality of today. May the world leaders in the west hear his call and work towards restoring the right place to the East in the affair of the world.

As an avid reader on world politics and geo political the listening of Kishore Mahbubani was a delightful relish. I immediately researched more of Kishore Mahbubani’s writings or interviews on the web. I struck lucky. There were a couple excerpt of Mahbubani’s interviews BBC Hard Talk.

Very enjoyable and pleasant conversations from a cool marcher to Modernity I noted, his choice of words makes his delivery simple and easily understandable. I also observed his very frequent use of metaphors to support his thesis. The story of the looting of Bagdad to illustrate the non considerations of America for the Iraqis as opposed to the consideration of Japanese in their invasion of Singapore in respect of the botanical garden is yet another example of Mahbubani’s depth of thoughts.

The book review of Paul Bracken from the most prestigious Yale University excites me even more and causes me to order a copy of the book.

Reviewed by Paul Bracken, Professor of Management & Political Science, Yale


A number of new books have appeared this year on the world’s shifting

power structure accompanied by the rise of Asian giants China and India. This in

itself is a noteworthy development. Apparently the period of America as sole

superpower, or the American Empire to its critics, is over. Having lasted a very

few short years American power seems not so much in decline as checked by

many realties.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean and Professor of the Lee Kuan Yew

School of Public Policy in Singapore, has written an absorbing account of some of

the consequences of the rise of the two Asian giants, and also of the smaller

countries who are part of this new power system. His perch in Singapore give

Mahbubani, a widely respected observer of international politics, a refreshing

view which is not contaminated by many of the U.S. based accounts of what’s

going on. One may disagree with some of his arguments. But his larger message

is the need to open up and broaden the global dialogue. Here, his book is right on

the mark. Its critique of the U.S. is a friendly one, of someone trying to be helpful.

This is a good thing and is likely to get more sympathy than the more harsh

critiques which come from those lacking this friendly attitude.

His core thesis is that the West which has been running the world for twohundred

years created institutions – organizations and laws – to maintain its hold

on things. The incapacity of these institutions to come to grips with the challenges

of the 21st century is evident, and so Asia must come to the rescue to insert its

own values and interests into the global dialogue. He foresees major transition

problems, largely around the difficulty of accepting the new powers into the

global system by the United States.

Mahbubani offers some trenchant insights into important matters. On

democracy, he describes how it has become an ideological crusade for the United

States, which in the process overlooks many of this form of governance’s

deficiencies. You will not find many American accounts that openly say how the

spread of democracy, pushed by Washington, to Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq has

proven disastrous. Again, Mahbubani is speaking as a friend when he says these

things. On the positive side, he emphasizes how many aspects of Western

democracy have spread around the world. Chinese, Indian, or Singaporean

citizens who start a business, point out environmental degradation, or stand up for

human rights are empowered to do so, in part, because Western democracy points

to just such actions.

Mahbubani’s greatest fear is the reluctance of Western minds to

acknowledge the unsustainability of Western global domination. His critique of

Western institutions in this regard is the best I have seen. In particular, his acidic

comments about the self promotion of the G-7 as the arbiter of everything from

macroeconomic order to climate change, and every other problem in between is

brilliant. I know I won’t ever be able to listen to a G-7 communiqué quite the

same way ever again.

The policies he advances to avoid disaster scenarios follow from his fear.

Openness to the views of others, and consideration of the best of Asian values

(meritocracy, order, competence) rank high here. His comparison of the U.S.

occupation of Japan after World War II and of Iraq is quite telling. He

underscores the sharp decline in simple competence, leaving aside the merits of

the Iraq war. In 1945 the U.S. took the occupation of Japan as a serious matter. In

2003 it did not, with respect to Iraq. He describes American ignorance of history

and culture as inevitably leading to disaster, regardless of the cause. What is

frightening about his observation is not only how valid it is. It is also how general

it is, applying to so many policy arenas that go beyond the war in Iraq. What he’s

saying, I think, is that the Iraqi occupation is symptomatic of a lack of seriousness

that has overtaken the American policy process generally.

His advice on where to go next is centered on pragmatism. But it is a two

way pragmatism. Each has to listen to the other. Asian hectoring of the U.S. isn’t

likely to be any more effective than the West trying to keep its grip on the U.N.

Security Council by pretending that France and Britain are the serious world

powers that they once were.

Pragmatism was once considered a definitive American characteristic. It

was the American positive spin to existentialism. Mahbubani thinks that Asians

have a good pragmatic streak as well. The two worlds could meet on this basis.

This requires the U.S. to give up some of its cherished illusions of recent years.

But it’s a path that offers a meeting ground between new and old power centers

where a more productive conversation could tackle the challenges facing the

global order.


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