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Martin Varsavsky

Martin Varsavsky

Posted April 20, 2009 | 10:49 AM (EST)

The Age of the Unthinkable Explained by Joshua Cooper Ramo


What I like about Joshua Cooper Ramo's book, the Age of the Unthinkable, is that it it starts with the premise that complexity in world affairs is here to stay. Maybe it is Joshua's background in physics that has made him see foreign policy as an area where Heisenberg's uncertainty principle also applies. That in human affairs also we can never know where things stand that we can only speak in terms of probability. That when we oversimplify our policies backfire and we end up in the Age of the Unthinkable where financial markets, world peace, the environment all blow up in our face.

So who are the winners in this era? A minority of unlikely candidates that range from Sergey and Larry at Google to China as a nation, to Hezbollah as an organization. The losers however seem to be mostly in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere where they stick simplistic models (i.e. Bush/Cheney Middle East approach) and fail to tackle the diversity of inputs that may lead to a certain outcome.

A good example of Ramo's challenge of the status quo is his criticism of Joseph Nye's soft power theory. Soft Power theory says that if the "enemy" likes our culture he will stop being our enemy. As Ramo shows, it is possible for terrorists to listen to our music, watch our movies, dress like us and still...want to blow us up. And what makes the book more interesting is that Ramo's past as the Foreign Editor of Time magazine made him meet many "despicable" characters such as the head of information of Hezbollah and surprisingly, learn from them. In a style similar to that of President Obama, he shows us how talking to the enemy and learning from the enemy can be a better strategy than spending trillions trying and failing to destroy it.

But before getting carried away here is my advice: Buy the book and come up with your own opinion. It's worth it. Here's a good video interview with the author who also happens to be a frequent TV commentator and was the key US TV journalist covering the latest Olympic games.