The cocktail circuit in Washington has a new vision of the developing world—home to six out of seven people on the planet. In some ways, the vision is more advanced than it used to be. During the Cold War, the prevailing image featured a Third World morass of peasant economies run by a small elite who could be bought off and kept out of the Soviet orbit with aid and weapons. Today, there is a new, bifurcated view. On the one hand are failed states and hopeless cases like Afghanistan and Haiti, breeding grounds for instability and terror. On the other are newly rich countries like China, competitors for our jobs and power.
The three worlds used to be capitalist, communist, and the rest. Now they are the West, the failed states, and the emerging challengers. But that's still too simple a view. A small and declining number of developing countries are charity cases. And none are competitors with us in a zero-sum game. Rather than dividing most of the planet into two threatening classes, we need to see states of the developing world as vital partners—both in strengthening the global economy and in preserving the global environment.
For most of the Cold War, and for all the soaring rhetoric about democracy and rights, the U.S. was happy to support pretty much any regime or rebel group that declared itself anti-communist. It was the continuation of a policy summed up by Franklin Roosevelt’s likely apocryphal quote about the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” The sons of bitches treated as family thanks to their opposition to communism included the apartheid regime in South Africa, the kleptocratic dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the obscenely violent Contras in Nicaragua, and Ferdinand Marcos, whose family made billions from his rule under martial law in the Philippines.