David Rothkopf

Welcome to the Bizarro world…

When I was a boy, in between family readings of von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the secret diaries of Scipio Africanus, sometimes I would sneak up to my room and read a comic book.  Needless to say, DC Comics were heavily preferred over Marvel or other inferior brands because I liked my super heroes dry ...

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When I was a boy, in between family readings of von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the secret diaries of Scipio Africanus, sometimes I would sneak up to my room and read a comic book.  Needless to say, DC Comics were heavily preferred over Marvel or other inferior brands because I liked my super heroes dry and undiluted by irony or wit. (Much as I like my blogs.) Particular favorites were the Legion of Super- Heroes and Justice League of America and when my brother and I would act out the events of the comics, he always wanted to be Superboy (which I considered a trite choice) or Aqualad, which I found hard to comprehend although it did lead to his spending a lot of time in the bath and being a very clean child. My favorite was Mon-El who was a mid-level African American talk show host during the day and then at night would become... Wait, I'm confused. That's someone else. This was a long time ago. No, Mon-El was cool because he appeared to have all of Superboy's powers but didn't have that annoying allergy to Kryptonite. I am telling you this because...well, because I thought he was definitely the best one and he never got anywhere nearly as much press attention as he should have.

But the real reason for bringing this all up was that also in these DC Comics stories of Superman periodically he would travel to the Bizarro world. This was a cube shaped planet where the Bizarro Code dictated "Us do opposite of all Earthly things!" Strangely all the people on the planet were rendered to appear the opposite of normal residents of earth -- like Superman -- by having them appear to be chiseled out of something relatively hard, probably soap or a good English white cheddar.   

When I was a boy, in between family readings of von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the secret diaries of Scipio Africanus, sometimes I would sneak up to my room and read a comic book.  Needless to say, DC Comics were heavily preferred over Marvel or other inferior brands because I liked my super heroes dry and undiluted by irony or wit. (Much as I like my blogs.) Particular favorites were the Legion of Super- Heroes and Justice League of America and when my brother and I would act out the events of the comics, he always wanted to be Superboy (which I considered a trite choice) or Aqualad, which I found hard to comprehend although it did lead to his spending a lot of time in the bath and being a very clean child. My favorite was Mon-El who was a mid-level African American talk show host during the day and then at night would become… Wait, I’m confused. That’s someone else. This was a long time ago. No, Mon-El was cool because he appeared to have all of Superboy’s powers but didn’t have that annoying allergy to Kryptonite. I am telling you this because…well, because I thought he was definitely the best one and he never got anywhere nearly as much press attention as he should have.

But the real reason for bringing this all up was that also in these DC Comics stories of Superman periodically he would travel to the Bizarro world. This was a cube shaped planet where the Bizarro Code dictated “Us do opposite of all Earthly things!” Strangely all the people on the planet were rendered to appear the opposite of normal residents of earth — like Superman — by having them appear to be chiseled out of something relatively hard, probably soap or a good English white cheddar.   

What does this have to do with foreign policy today? Well, currently…

We have a president of France who is pro-U.S., has taken steps to have France re-join the NATO military alliance, and who has played a very active and constructive role in shaping the international response to the global economic crisis.

This same president of France has, with the chancellor of Germany, a woman, led an effort to promote a fiscally responsible response to the crisis, often admonishing the United States about its free-wheeling spending and over-aggressive market intervention.

We have the government of Sweden — who we had been led to believe were practically so communist they were the last surviving member of the Warsaw Pact — unhesitatingly refusing to bail out national auto icon Saab, while the ultra-capitalist U.S. sentimentally coddled the dying carcass of GM in its fiscal arms.

We have the Chinese, lectured by the entire world for gaming their currency not more than a year ago, proposing a new alternative currency and while no one is clamoring to sign up now, they are taking this idea and Chinese critiques of the U.S. economy very seriously. Because China is now the country with the cash and the U.S. is the country on the global dole.

We even have the U.S. secretary of state going to Mexico to discuss drug violence and actually acknowledging that demand in the United States is a principal driver of the problem that is currently such a corrosive force in that nation.

In the midst of this crisis, we also will soon see a G20 Summit convene in London and while it is not sure they will agree on much, the one thing they seem unified about is giving more money to the IMF…an organization that has at best a mixed record, is despised throughout the developing world and which was widely considered to be so irrelevant as recently as a year ago that there were some who thought the best answer might be to just turn out the lights and convert the whole headquarters building into condos. 

The U.S. has finally broken through a wall of prejudice and elected the first African American president, Jaguar and Land Rover are Indian car companies, Japan just beat Korea in a World Baseball Classic Championship Game from which the U.S. was shut out, and the very best basketball player in the world is Jewish.

Ok, of all these things, only the last one isn’t true. We have gone through the looking glass. And as it turns out, reading those Legion of Super-Heroes comics may have been better preparation for today’s world than even our lively family discussions of the Memoirs of Clive of India. Except of course, there are no super heroes anywhere to be seen and we could really use a few.

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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