The United States is ready to lead. Barack Obama says so – in an article in yesterday’s Times. Oh good.
Actually, Mr President, I don’t think we need any leadership right now. The world has been its usual bickering and politically incoherent self while the USA was away, but actually I can’t think of anything that would have been better had it been around to offer its ‘leadership’ since 2000.
After all, what have the US government and its eager allies been up to all that time on the global stage? Iraq. Afghanistan. Radical disregard for climate change. Creating the sub-prime housing disaster. Deregulating finance to the point where the entire global economy was dislocated, millions thrown out of work and tens of millions of the already poor in developing countries were pushed down even further. The Washington Consensus thrust down everyone’s throats by the IMF, World Bank and WTO. I can’t say that American leadership is likely to lead us anywhere I would want to go.
Or perhaps it is American example closer to home we should admire. Gun crime. Banal culture. Corporate greed on a staggering scale. Untrammelled capitalism that, left to its own, would do it all all over again.
Meanwhile, who do they think they will be leading? The toadies in London, maybe. But France? China? Russia? India? Anyone at all in the developing world? No, not only do they not want American leadership but they would be deeply – and rightly – suspicious of anything the US government thinks is a good thing. With Russia as a neighbour and our energy supplies at Putin’s mercy, we Europeans have every reason to look for allies wherever we can find them. But leadership from the USA? No thanks. You may have the power – or at least, lots of guns and a proven enthusiasm for using them – but the authority leadership presupposes? What on earth makes Obama think American presidents have any of that left?
I like President Obama. He seems like a decent guy. But I still have problems with three things. Firstly, apart from his immediate reaction to the current economic disaster (largely created by allowing the American interpretation of capitalism – with which, as far as I can tell, Obama agrees – to have its reckless head), I have no real idea where he would lead us. Yes We Can? – Yes We Can What, exactly?. Secondly, until I see different, I will assume that American leadership will, as ever, assume that what is good for America is good for the world. This has not proved to be a very helpful policy in the past. And finally, I just don’t want his or anyone else’s ‘leadership’. I would be more than happy if the USA would just join in for once. Climate change in particular is far bigger than World Wars One + Two, so it would be nice if you could just show up on time for this one. If it isn’t already too late.
Meanwhile, I really think it’s time Americans stated thinking seriously about the whole End of Empire thing. As we Brits know, it’s a long, slow, painful process that makes you do and say all sorts of dumb things. Ah, Suez… I have no idea how the Americans will handle a multi-polar world over the next few decades – no better than we did, I suspect. But as a word of advice, can I suggest that, every time an American president is tempted to say something especially fine and resonant, they stop and have a long think about it? It will probably turn out to be a lot of pretentious tosh that will just bore or exasperate the rest of us.
Source: We are ready to lead. Are you ready to join us? The Times. March 25, 2009.