22 May 02003

After the War: Bush's America and World Order

The indispensible Prospect magazine organised this debate at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1, with a strong selection of speakers:

  • Michael Lind, a senior fellow at the Washington based New America Foundation and author of Made in Texas: George W Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics;
  • Robert Harvey, former Conservative MP and author of Global Disorder;
  • Shirley Williams, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords;
  • Philip Bobbitt, Director of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

My notes are sketchy as I was just getting used to my Palm handheld!

Michael Lind

FDR was looking to develop post-imperial world order. US could have become an imperial power in 1945 (it had relatively more global power then than now), but decided not to. Replace with power base in UN. Colonialism and mercantilist control of other economies were discredited. Now complaint that Germans and Japs too pacifist, which is exactly what Marshall plan set out to achieve!

What we see now is regressive. Americans citing younger Churchill, and C19th European precedents for global power - they never refer to previous US power! But ultimately they haven't got stomach for long-term involvement.

Robert Harvey

US has been a beneficent superpower for 50 years until 9.11. Now pre-emptive deterrence. This represents the first serious departure from Westphalia treaty that recognised sovereignty of states in C17th. Pre-emption is not a wise precedent or a wise general policy.

US has not allowed impartial UN inspectors back in. Governments have fallen for lesser lies than Tony Blair's. We need to hope this is a one-off and that US has had its catharsis from 9.11.

Shirley Williams

Global leadership by US after 1945 was unprecedented in history and its successes have been profound. But the scary thing is that the break with this tradition began before 11.9. It was planned by conservatives and 11.9 was a catalyst. Neither was Clinton an angel. Congress is insufficiently internationalist, and prone to lobbying from other states (Israel only the most obvious example). US is generally very bad at sticking for the long haul.

Philip Bobbitt

The first break was when Bush administration pulled out of North Korea agreement, Kyoto etc, right at start of his term - a series of decisions that came back to haunt him. Don't demonise dim people in Washington. Al Qaeda is a very different kind of terrorist organisation: globalised, networked, intangible; it is not monolithic. If Saddam had developed nuclear capability, it would have deterred us from doing anything more to restrain him. The problem is not that US has wrong theory of intervention, but that it has no theory. Generally the world needs more intervention, not less.

Q&A Session

Eric Hobsbawm: what strategic difference does Al Qaida make? None at all: it's just an excuse.
PB disagrees.

SW: Bush has made EU wake up and start getting its own agenda together. The American political system is indeed shot through with questionable influences.

What reaction do you think Bin Laden expected and wanted? Was it perhaps just to remove US influence from Saudi? Why no attention to this?

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Politics on 22 May 02003 | TrackBack
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