If you want to know what the Next World Order will look like, just take a look around. It's already here. The last world order--the one in which the United States served the function of "global hegemon"--was over in less time than it took the American neoconservatives to cook up the idea, due in large part to our disastrous experiment in Iraq.
Our foreign policy aims should now be to land in a position as the first among nations in a fluid, multi-tiered global power structure.
At present, the world's state and non-state political entities are roughly divided into five levels of power. For the sake of creating a common vocabulary, we'll tentatively define those tiers as major powers, balance powers, regional powers, wild cards, and others.
In light of the U.S. military's proven decreased capacity for decisively achieving strategic aims, economy has more than ever become the premier instrument of political power. Hence, at the top of the power tier we have the globe's three largest Gross Domestic Products. According to the CIA World Factbook, these are the United States ($12.4 trillion), the European Union ($12.2 trillion) and China ($8.2 trillion). Combined, these three entities account for 55 percent of the entire worlds gross product ($59.6 trillion).
Following at numbers four and five and six are Japan ($3.9 trillion) and India ($3.7 trillion) and Germany ($2.45 trillion). England, France, Italy, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Mexico and Spain are all under $2 trillion, and everybody else is under $1 trillion. So it's a good bet that the major powers will remain so for at least a decade, and perhaps throughout the 21st century.
In the second tier, the balance powers, I include England, Russia, and Japan. I base balance power status less on economy than on geographical and historical factors. England, Russia, and Japan have all had extensive empires of their own at some point in the previous two centuries, and have a long history of both friendly and belligerent relationships with today's major powers.
Given its economy and potential for growth, India may well become a balance or even a major power by the end of this century, but for now, I classify it as a significant regional power. To date, it doesn't have anywhere near the same experience in influencing global politics as do the entities in the first two tiers. Other regional powers include Brazil, which not only has South America's largest economy but which is developing its own nuclear program.
Wild card number one is the Middle East. America's attempts at getting the region under control have had the unfortunate effect of letting the cat herd out of the corral, and there's no telling where they'll decide to settle down. The best tea leaf reading I've heard is that Osama bin Laden's real goal is to establish a political coalition of Sunni Islamic states, one that would look similar to the pre-World War I Ottoman Empire, and one that would have a working if sometimes uneasy relationship with the Shiite Persians in Iran.
If we can get him to openly admit that that's what he's aiming for, I say let him have a go at it. Pull off to the periphery, as Jack Murtha suggests, and see if the region can pull itself into a cooperative. If it can't, and that part of the world falls into Hobbesian conflict, oh well. We stay on the periphery and contain it, and find other solutions to our energy needs.
If that conflict spreads into hapless sub-Saharan Africa (another wild card), well, it's not like that part of the world isn't already in a Hobbesian quagmire already. And we're not doing a whole lot about that now, are we? And what can we do? Attempts to fix things in Somalia turned into a disaster, what's to think trying to fix things anywhere else in that part of the world--militarily at least--will turn out any better?
Speaking of Wild Cards: we've done what we can in the Balkans, and it didn't do all that much good. And it's really not America's problem. It's the European Union's and Russia's problem.
The geographically immediate Wild Card America needs to concern itself most with is Latin America. And just how wild is that? The worst bad guy in our hemisphere is Cuba's Fidel Castro. How big and bad is he? Not big and bad enough to threaten with invasion, or you can bet the Bush administration would have threatened him with that by now.
Venezuela? For all his bluster, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he'd be content with $50 a barrel oil prices, which is considerably lower than the $70 plus prices we're paying today.
Who are "the others?" Canada. New Zealand. Australia. Switzerland. Netherlands. Singapore. Countries that will always be friendly to the U.S. and its allies of the moment, but that will never rise above the level of regional powers, even though they could become vital geo-strategic allies in the unlikely event of another global war.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
It leaves us in a bad position for as long as the hegemons of Team Bush are in power. Swapping out chiefs of staff and press secretaries won't make a change in the fundamental policies and philosophies that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Perle, Krauthammer, Kristol and the rest of the neoconservative junta has finagled on America and the rest of the world.
Global sanity can only be restored when the philosophical descendants of Alexander, Caesar, Stalin, Hitler, et al are jack booted out of office.