Blogs > Judith Apter Klinghoffer > RACHMAN CRIES US A RIVER

Oct 24, 2010 7:15 pm


The Financial Times published an edited extract from"Zero Sum Game" Gideon Rachman's forthcoming book. In it their award winning liberal columnist bemoans what he perceives to be the unsavory consequences of the post 2008 relative decline of the US. Before becoming an FT columnist, he reports, he has worked for the BBC and the Economist. Three formidable British media outlets which have never hesitated to delight in exposing their disapproval for any expression of American ideological, economic or diplomatic assertiveness. Nor have they failed to celebrate any manifestations of American difficulties especially when Republicans ruled the land or neo-Conservative advocacy of promoting Democracy and Capitalism held sway.

Of course, this elitist disdain of the promotion of liberty, Rachman now admits, was based on the inherent trust in the much maligned power of American ideology as espoused by the Bush administration and disavowed by the Obama one. It is true that the 2008 economic crisis happened on Bush's watch. But it is also true that the the essence of the changed promoted by Barack Obama was away from the freedom promoting policies of his predecessor so well enumerated by Rachman as he explains:

In retrospect, I think there were five key elements to the ideology of the period before the financial crisis.

The first was a faith in the onward march of democracy – expressed most famously by Francis Fukuyama’s essay on the “end of history”, which appeared in 1989, just as the Soviet empire was collapsing.

The second, linked belief was a faith in the triumph of markets over the state. This was also the era of the rise of the personal computer and the internet, and so a third key belief was in the transforming power of technology, as a force driving forward prosperity, democracy and globalisation.

The fourth idea, which knitted all these notions together, was the theory of the “democratic peace”: the belief that in a world in which democracy and capitalism were on the rise, the risk of conflict between nations inevitably diminished.

The fifth and final idea – a sort of insurance policy – was the faith that in the last resort the US military could defeat any power on earth.

As could have been expected, two years of Obama administration ideological retreat, economic mismanagement and military defeatism, have not only led to greater Islamist assertiveness (which Rachman chooses to ignore) but also to greater Chinese one leading to increased tensions between the US and China.

Even if tensions between a wounded west and a rising Asia can be contained, the relative weakening of the US makes it significantly less likely that the world will be able to find solutions to these international problems, increasing the risk of the wars and economic and environmental shocks warned of by President Obama.

Without a dominant power, multi-polar, multinational forums for negotiation are liable to get bogged down and to fail – as the international climate-change talks have amply demonstrated. . . .

The economic crisis has led to a backlash against some of these ideas. But the economic and political gains made between 1978 and 2008 were not a mirage. Hundreds of millions of people are richer and freer because of the spread of democratic and capitalist ideas. Violent conflict around the world has fallen sharply since the end of the cold war. All of these gains were real.

And while some of the ideas that underpinned the Age of Optimism have taken a severe pounding, the alternatives are not particularly attractive. A backlash against free trade, globalisation and democracy promotion is likely to worsen international conflict and to lead to a less prosperous, less free world.

I could not agree more. That is the reason I opposed the election of Barack Obama and the reason I so desperately hope the upcoming Congressional elections will begin to limit the future damage his presidency is bound to inflict on American and consequently on the free world.

But if you expect Gideon Rachman to acknowledge the role he, and his fellow anti-American elites played in undermining the American world leadership, you'd be bitterly disappointed. Indeed, he dares write:

I count myself among them. Throughout the period, both of the publications I’ve worked for – The Economist and the Financial Times – were energetic chroniclers and promoters of globalisation and the spread of liberal economic and political ideas.

And my grandmother had wheels. Not that there is anything unique about Rachman's failure to take responsibility for his failure to appreciate the value of American global leadership and the dangers inherent in the alternative Chinese one. I well remember the heated discussion I had with members of a top Indian think tank. They were criticizing what they considered to be excessive American power and I dared note that a weaker America is bound to mean a stronger China.

Today, they too, like Rachman, are crying the US a river. But should they? Perhaps not. The global elites may have given up on America but the rise of the Tea Party demonstrates that the American people have not. Moreover, if, as I was recently assured, young Chinese still dream of coming to America, freedom has yet to lose its eternal appeal.

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