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Powers of the Future

Looking back over the turbulent year that is now coming to an end, one is tempted to focus on what American leaders have come to call the Greater Middle East. Such a survey would obviously take us to Iraq, to Israel, and Palestine – and to terrorism.

Lasting peace in the Middle East could lead to greater prosperity and cooperation in the world. But if we take a wider view, the problems of the Middle East appear to be but one aspect of deeper shifts among the powers of the world. Indeed, tectonic changes became visible in 2004. We have begun to see the “powers of the future,” to borrow the title of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s recent bestselling book.

Chancellor Schmidt is certain of two developments. The United States remains the key player, and China’s power will continue to grow. He is less certain about the future of Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

To be sure, 2004 has seen the confirmation of America’s hard power – and its voters’ choice of a politics of values rather than of interests. Americans may not want their soldiers and military hardware in dozens, if not hundreds, of places around the world, but they accept a president who offers simple – often martial – certainties.