This is an early draft of a piece I'm preparing for some woebegone segment of the mainstream media. I've pilfered many of these ideas from "real" political science guys. Some of them are semi-original. Please feel free to critique, suggest, castigate, what have you…
There is no miracle solution in Iraq. If there were, Rumsfeld and his generals would have stumbled across it by now. Come civil war or high water, Iraqis need to ratify their constitution in October and hold their elections in December. And America needs to bring its troops home so we can get organized to face the next new world order.
Another tectonic shift in global power is already taking place. American's days as a "hegemon" are over. We must take prudent steps to ensure we emerge as a "first among political entities." To do so, we need to have a basic grasp of the coming redistribution of power.
A quick look at global gross domestic products suggests we'll soon live in a world with four distinguishable but interconnected tiers of state, super-state, and non-state players: major powers, balance powers, regional powers, and wild cards.
The major powers will be the United States, the European Union, and China. They will establish (reestablish) geographic spheres of primary influence that will look much like the ones that existed prior to World War I. America, for instance, will exert direct influence over and area similar to the one it dominated after the Spanish American War.
England, Russia, and Japan will be key balance powers that exert influence globally, but usually in loose alliance with one or more of the major powers.
Regional powers like India, South Korea, and Malaysia will be the third tier. Their main influences will be somewhat limited to the geographic spheres of their nearest major power, but they too will have effect on certain aspects of the entire global scene (as witness the "brain drain" of American technology jobs to India).
The wild cards will include The Middle East, North Korea, and Africa.
The Middle East is a veritable herd of cats. Post-U.S. Iraq occupation, it could fall into a serendipitous age of relative peace at one extreme or a decades long era of "third world war" at the other. How the Middle East evolves will determine the extent to which the other tiers can coax it into the 21st century or will need to contain it until the region matures sufficiently.
The North Korea situation will likely remain much as it is. The major and balance powers will play a containment game of stick and carrot until North Korea matures and stabilizes.
Africa, I don't know. Henry Kissinger called it "the loaded gun pointed at the South Pole." Barring some truly unexpected phenomenon (like the discovery of extra-terrestrial intelligence), the subcontinent will remain the world's orphan. It may be the best the tiered powers can do to keep it from becoming the annex to a chaotic Middle East.
The major and balance powers will compete and cooperate in the economic realm. Arms races and conflicts among them will be rare; not necessarily because of a breakout of international brotherly love, but because as America's Iraq experience has illustrated, modern symmetric warfare has become an utterly counterproductive means of pursuing national aims.
Economy will be the primary instrument of power for the regional entities as well, though they may cling to armed force as a way of coping with neighboring wild cards.
Though economy will be the primary engines of the major and balance powers, they will also maintain a modicum of military force as a means of keeping the wild cards corralled. And given that the United States presently outspends the rest of the world combined on defense, it will retain the lead in "armed diplomacy." But America will need to cut its arsenal to a realistic minimum in order to stay competitive economically.
"Expert" opinions to the contrary, we do not need to build a bigger Army. We would only need a larger land force to fight more wars like the one in Iraq. And if the Iraq war taught us anything, it's that we don't need to fight any more wars like that one.
For the time being, we'll need to maintain sufficient land power to deter or repel an invasion of South Korea from the north, and keep enough air and naval power to dissuade or interdict a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Keep in mind, though, that we won't have to do these things alone. Both South Korea and Taiwan have built up defense forces over decades for the sole purpose of countering the specific threats they face.
America will also retain the bulk of the nuclear deterrence arsenal. Ballistic missile defense may prove a fiscally superior alternative to deterrence at some point in the future, but not before significant technological breakthroughs are achieved.
The next new world order will depend on the major and balance powers resolving two key issues, and resolving them fairly quickly.
First is their dependence on Middle East oil. Unless the big powers wean themselves from this energy requirement, they will find it difficult to tame or contain this wild card region.
Second--and this is important to everyone in the upper power tiers--America must transition to a peacetime economy. We have been on a fiscal war footing since Pearl Harbor. Given the ubiquitous influence and power the military-industrial-congressional complex has consolidated over the past sixty some years, changing the economy will be a daunting task. But I'm convinced it’s a necessary undertaking, and an achievable one.
If America truly is dependent on a half-trillion dollar annual input from the federal government to run it's economic engine, there are plenty of things we can pour tax dollars into besides weapons. Rebuilding our national infrastructure (particularly along the Gulf Coast) and undertaking a complete makeover of our energy system are two good places to start.