Hello all - so as you can see, I have been sparse on the content recently at Radical Second Things besides the Stars of Courage series. This is my second interview with Mohamed Zeeshan, a researcher and student from India who is currently studying International Relations at Columbia University. I originally met him through Rabbi Larry Bernard ( :P ). Zeeshan is whip smart with politics that lead politically and religiously conservative (albeit largely in an Indian context versus American) but he has such an analytical brain that his thoughts could go any direction. He was nice enough to answer a few questions for me. Enjoy and be sure to donate so that I can do more like this.
A bomb blast at a major concert in the United Kingdom heightened the tension in Europe to the worst since World War II. On top of that, Rodrigo Duterte is now saying that ISIS has invaded the Phillipines. Are we seeing a global conflict?
I don't think we're in a "global conflict". Terrorism has been around for several years. But the proliferation of media and the internet means that these gruesome images are being flashed across our screens much more quickly and frequently than before.
When you think about it, ISIS is really in a bit of a rough phase in Syria and Iraq. It has lost a lot of territory, many of its fighters have had to flee into Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, and some of its fighters have even defected. That's part of why they're trying to launch these sorts of attacks in different countries. I think that much of ISIS's core strengths as a terrorist group would come to an end if it loses its territory in Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, it could find itself locked in a battle for supremacy with Al Qaeda in places like Yemen, Libya and Mali. Both of them could even compete for authority over each other's affiliates. So there's a fairly legitimate case to be made that ISIS is becoming weaker with time.
You are a Muslim and living in the United States on top of that. Have you encountered any weird perceptions or prejudice?
Not really. But then again, my exposure is limited to just New York City. I've found this city extremely welcoming.
I remember us having some friction on whether or not America was in decline. Angela Merkel seemed to imply that Germany has to look beyond the US and the UK. What do you see as the role of America in the world or in the future? Do you think we are in decline?
Well, yes. I think that US global leadership is in a serious crisis now. Its authority would be even more seriously eroded if the US decides to pull out of the Paris accord. The US could end up being isolated on climate change - the one thing everyone else in the world seems to agree on. And certainly, I think that the eccentric and unpredictable nature of the present administration has seriously eroded US authority around the world. I think there is strong concern among America's allies - both formal and informal allies - that Washington cannot be fully trusted any more to act in the manner in which it has traditionally acted, in defence of the current world order. What is difficult for countries around the world - especially US allies - is that America's foreign policy is now entirely unpredictable and unhinged. That makes it difficult for countries dependent on the US. That is why folks are trying to "unpivot", so to speak, from America - and the space being created by the US on the global stage will likely see many contenders, whether Germany, Russia, China, India or somebody else.
You said you liked staying in New York. Do you hope to stay here after you have finished your education?
Well, that really depends on whether I get an opportunity to work in New York. If things work out well enough, I'm certainly open to staying!
China unveiled its One Belt, One Road initiative, which will be the biggest infrastructure initiative since WW2 and certainly China's biggest in millenia. China will now be sending by freight all sorts of goods from Kazahkstan to Germany to Laos. What implication do you think this has for the world?
I think it's really hard to tell. China's foreign policy goals are rather mysterious. Does China want to upend and replace the existing world order, along with its institution, or does it simply want to take over America's position as the superpower in those institutions? Does it have its own ideas of what the world should look like - and what are those ideas? It's quite hard to judge, because Chinese foreign policy has traditionally been known for pragmatism and Machiavellianism. Beijing holds its cards close to its chest, but its intentions are never too clear. Let's be clear though - these infrastructure projects are not charitable. Apart from the economic reasons which many Chinese economic analysts offer, I think there would inevitably be political motivations behind the OBOR. China is not going to build highways, railways, stadiums and hospitals in Kenya and Kazakhstan, unless it expects to gain some sort of political influence in these countries somewhere down the line. But what China might do with that influence - no one can really tell.
Pope Francis has called the conflict in the world "a piecemeal world war." Do you think this is accurate?
I'm not really sure which context he meant that in, but I highly doubt that we're heading towards a world war. I think the world is rather too interconnected and globalised to allow for something of that sort. There are far too many powerful lobbies and interest groups that would stand to lose from violence and protectionism. But I think that rising protectionism and nativism in the West is certainly a threat - although I think it will be short-lived, because folks are going to soon find out that protectionism and paranoia is not going to solve the problems they have or the threats they face. Politics is often a cycle, and we presently seem to be running from globalism to nativism - at least in the West. But that wheel will turn again, sooner rather than later.
After WW2 ended, Pax Americana reigned. After whatever is going on is finished, that order will likely be even more depleted than it is now. What order of power do you think we will see in the world?
I think this is a very interesting and relevant question - and it's in fact at the heart of the research I'm currently undertaking on Indian foreign policy. I think the most likely short-term outcome of the decline of US leadership would be a more multipolar and chaotic world. Global institutions will continue to function, because they have what one could call institutional inertia. But the makeup of their leadership could change. Different countries will start to pull strings. And I think one of the fallouts of the decline of US leadership is that many global powers are going to find out that they'll have to take up greater responsibilities on the world stage - in order to protect their own interests and make sure that the present world order (or global power distribution) does not fall apart to give rise to something that could be detrimental to their national interests. I think that is part of what Merkel meant when she said Europe would need to take fate into its own hands; Europe can no longer trust that the US would continue to secure European interests, as it has done for so many years, by playing its traditional role on the world stage.