Friday, January 28, 2005

America abandoned


by Michael Lind (Financial Times)

In a second inaugural address tinged with evangelical
zeal, George W. Bush declared: "Today, America speaks
anew to the peoples of the world." The peoples of the
world, however, do not seem to be listening. A new world
order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being
drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which
Americans have not been invited.

Consider Asean Plus Three (APT), which unites the member
countries of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations
with China, Japan and South Korea. This group has the
potential to be the world's largest trade bloc, dwarfing
the European Union and North American Free Trade
Association. The deepening ties of the APT member states
represent a major diplomatic defeat for the US, which
hoped to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation
forum to limit the growth of Asian economic regionalism
at American expense. In the same way, recent moves by
South American countries to bolster an economic
community represent a clear rejection of US aims to
dominate a western-hemisphere free trade zone.

Consider, as well, the EU's rapid progress toward
military independence. American protests failed to
prevent the EU establishing its own military planning
agency, independent of the NATO alliance (and thus of
Washington). Europe is building up its own rapid
reaction force. And despite US resistance, the EU is
developing Galileo, its own satellite network, which
will break the monopoly of the US global positioning
satellite system.

The participation of China in Europe's Galileo project
has alarmed the US military. But China shares an
interest with other aspiring space powers in preventing
American control of space for military and commercial
uses. Even while collaborating with Europe on Galileo,
China is partnering Brazil to launch satellites. And in
an unprecedented move, China recently agreed to host
Russian forces for joint Russo-Chinese military

The US is being sidelined even in the area that Mr Bush
identified in last week's address as America's mission:
the promotion of democracy and human rights. The EU has
devoted far more resources to consolidating democracy in
post-communist Europe than has the US. By contrast,
under Mr Bush, the US hypocritically uses the promotion
of democracy as the rationale for campaigns against
states it opposes for strategic reasons. Washington
denounces tyranny in Iran but tolerates it in Pakistan.
In Iraq, the goal of democratisation was invoked only
after the invasion, which was justified earlier by
claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
destruction and was collaborating with al-Qaeda.

Nor is American democracy a shining example to mankind.
The present one-party rule in the US has been produced
in part by the artificial redrawing of political
districts to favour Republicans, reinforcing the
domination of money in American politics. America's
judges -- many of whom will be appointed by Mr Bush --
increasingly behave as partisan political activists in
black robes. America's antiquated winner-take-all
electoral system has been abandoned by most other
democracies for more inclusive versions of proportional

In other areas of global moral and institutional reform,
the US today is a follower rather than a leader. Human
rights? Europe has banned the death penalty and torture,
while the US is a leading practitioner of execution.
Under Mr Bush, the US has constructed an international
military gulag in which the torture of suspects has
frequently occurred. The international rule of law? For
generations, promoting international law in
collaboration with other nations was a US goal. But the
neoconservatives who dominate Washington today mock the
very idea of international law. The next US attorney
general will be the White House counsel who scorned the
Geneva Conventions as obsolete.

A decade ago, American triumphalists mocked those who
argued that the world was becoming multipolar, rather
than unipolar. Where was the evidence of balancing
against the US, they asked. Today the evidence of
foreign co-operation to reduce American primacy is
everywhere -- from the increasing importance of regional
trade blocs that exclude the US to international space
projects and military exercises in which the US is
conspicuous by its absence.

It is true that the US remains the only country capable
of projecting military power throughout the world. But
unipolarity in the military sphere, narrowly defined, is
not preventing the rapid development of multipolarity in
the geopolitical and economic arenas -- far from it. And
the other great powers are content to let the US waste
blood and treasure on its doomed attempt to recreate the
post-first world war British imperium in the Middle

That the rest of the world is building institutions and
alliances that shut out the US should come as no
surprise. The view that American leaders can be trusted
to use a monopoly of military and economic power for the
good of humanity has never been widely shared outside of
the US. The trend toward multipolarity has probably been
accelerated by the truculent unilateralism of the Bush
administration, whose motto seems to be that of the
Hollywood mogul: "Include me out."

In recent memory, nothing could be done without the US.
Today, however, practically all new international
institution-building of any long-term importance in
global diplomacy and trade occurs without American

In 1998 Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state,
said of the U.S.: "We are the indispensable nation." By
backfiring, the unilateralism of Mr Bush has proven her
wrong. The US, it turns out, is a dispensable nation.

Europe, China, Russia, Latin America and other regions
and nations are quietly taking measures whose effect if
not sole purpose will be to cut America down to size.

Ironically, the US, having won the cold war, is adopting
the strategy that led the Soviet Union to lose it:
hoping that raw military power will be sufficient to
intimidate other great powers alienated by its
belligerence. To compound the irony, these other great
powers are drafting the blueprints for new international
institutions and alliances. That is what the US did
during and after the second world war.

But that was a different America, led by wise and
constructive statesmen like Dean Acheson, the secretary
of state who wrote of being "present at the creation."
The bullying approach of the Bush administration has
ensured that the US will not be invited to take part in
designing the international architecture of Europe and
Asia in the 21st century. This time, the US is absent at
the creation.

The writer is senior fellow at the New America
Foundation in Washington, DC
Financial Times, 25 January 2005

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