Special Reports




Following the disillusioning experience of six years of the Bush Cheney administration, the tacit understanding that the USA is and will remain the leader of the Free World - as far as the imagination could see - is now questionable. This was a process where the US President was regarded as the leader of all the former western allies, and many more nations since the end of the cold war - an acknowledgement not unwillingly given, until this current president and vice-president debased the currency of such leadership and alliances.

What was beyond dispute since America's highly effective Cold War leadership role is at least now up for re-examination. But given that the US has by far the leading economy - albeit of questionable long term health; is by a wide margin the leading military power on earth; its culture both popular and academic alike, has permeated the world; and its science is supreme, how could it be otherwise?

It is cheering news that the Congress has passed from the control of the president's party, which can now be clearly seen to have enjoyed a deeply unhealthy concentration of power with the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, particularly added to the preponderance of republican nominees to the Supreme court. That was an historic clean sweep! For a period following 9/11, almost all of the media were giving uncritical support as well.

Such power, as we have seen, leads to hubristic arrogance as exemplified in the run-up to the Iraq war. This president in his public appearances looks more than ever as though he is performing for his speech and posture coaches, and voicing the collected work of his team of writers, but he does not appear to be an evil man. One can seldom recognise through the well-tailored facade, the rather unsophisticated brush-cutting man he yearns to be beneath. On the other hand Vice-president Cheney, we have learned after six years, is not as nice as he looks - indeed now that the cartoonists are on to him, he certainly does come across as sinister.

This team has whatever else, drastically reduced the number of the US's admirers in the world, given a fixation on their standing with their Republican core vote - the base as it is called, to the detriment of international good opinion, of which they seem at the least to be disdainful. It may simply be that they just do not care about the world's good opinion. That would indeed be hubris! Cheney in particular, who has always seemed to have his own agenda, has spoken of the 192 member United Nations in terms comparable to those of his man John Bolton, who represents the US there as ambassador. They both, on separate occasions speaking of the UN, have said dismissively that it is useful, only in so far as it serves US interests.

Donald Rumsfeld was famously dismissive of the ever-faithful British, indeed of all of the allies, when prior to the Iraq invasion, he was asked by reporters if he was concerned that notwithstanding British government support, the opinion polls at that time in the UK showed half the British population were against an invasion. Instead of some diplomatic bromide, saving the face of Tony Blair, he undercut him, by snapping back that he didn't need the British, he had enough resources to need no-one to successfully complete this operation; (which of course had people in the UK promptly asking, why then were their young men being put in harm's way?)

Power in Washington thankfully is no longer untrammeled, and for the next two years we can hope for the possibility that the US will to some extent row-back in terms of the esteem that they have forfeited. But the present White House evokes no confidence. There is to be no new president until January 2009. Unless at that time there is a new president with both a world-view with the necessary vision - and deploying the congressional power to implement what can be seen to be necessary, then this question of world leadership remains open, or worse as now, in a vacuum. Also, after the process of getting out of Iraq, a period of relative isolationism in the US is not improbable, particularly with the US presidential elections clearly at that time at least on the horizon.

The fact is that as we show below, the world is not getting leadership in a whole raft of areas and it becomes more and more clear that on certain issues, it is urgently needed

There are now many issues in increasing need of resolution

The international criminal court is one example, backed by most of the world - the US prefers the non-accountable Guantanamo Bay approach, more appropriate to a police-state Not only is this incompatible with the status of being the worlds leading democracy, as President Putin has wryly observed, but it runs counter to the way other nations deal with their international suspects, because it is effectively outside the constitutional law. Its very existence could be seen as an open invitation to other nations to do likewise. Could Moscow now be criticized by Washington, if it chose to reopen the Soviet Gulag network, for unspecified 'enemies of the state', and without benefit of trial?

Theoretically, if foreign suspects snatched illegally by foreign agents off say, American streets were to be hauled across the world to confinement in an look-alike offshore prison using similar rules by which Gitmo runs. Say an uninhabited and largely forgotten island, left over from European empires, or off any third world littoral state, where legal quirks might provide a facade of extra-territoriality (it works for banking), then that is a recipe for international anarchy.

Kyoto is another open sore in the world. Since the White House looks unlikely to accept that there is global warming, until the Potomac is overflowing the White House steps, virtually any other country looks like a better leadership bet. Currently the USA is the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases, but fast growing India and China with a third of the global population will at some stage overtake the USA.

Because the US is not prepared to accept there is a problem, nor take the politically unpopular steps to restrict emissions for itself, it is hamstrung, it cannot provide the necessary leadership in terms of restraining these two population giants, or any other nations, in terms of harmful emissions. 180 countries have just signed up to a deal, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2008, excepting only the USA (and Australia). They know what to do, they are pushing in the right direction, but the greatest malefactor in creating noxious emissions who should be out there leading them in this crucial campaign - one of the most obvious things that all the world's nations should agree upon, is hunkering down with evasive and unconvincing alternatives to just cutting back on the filthy poisoned air.

The UK government's chief scientific advisor has recently said that, "Climate change is the biggest challenge that we face in the world today....glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover are declining. Global warming has already driven up mean sea levels by 4 to 8 inches during the last 100 years and this is forecast to be up by 35 inches by 2100. It is a sobering fact that around 100 million people globally live less than 35 inches above sea level"! For example, none of the inhabited 29 atolls that make up the Marshall Islands, home to 57,000 people, are more than two metres above sea level. The government there fears that unless global warming is reversed evacuation is inevitable and the nation and its culture will disappear. The fact that this threatened island group, or the Maldives, or Bangladesh, [Large parts of overcrowded Bangladesh with a population expected to be 243 million by 2050, is in grave danger] are far away from the USA, should give no comfort to the White House because that same sea level will once again put New Orleans in the front line of the ocean's assaults. New York will have to take lessons from the dyke builders of 'old Amsterdam', as will Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Long Island may become Short Island and logically all other low-lying coastlines worldwide are under this same threat.

The US like many countries has the security of its energy supply at the very pinnacle of foreign policy. That is understandable, but has led to all manner of hypocrisies, for example Condi Rice at her Congressional confirmation hearings, identified for special treatment, six carefully selected, and indeed appropriate "Outposts of Tyranny," the single oil state amongst them being Iran, with whom the US has been bad friends and done no business since the 1980's. Important hydrocarbons suppliers, countries such as Azerbaijan, Libya, Saudi-Arabia, Nigeria, Sudan, which are also tyrannies are ignored. People notice such things! Double standards certainly, but the very fact of identifying these 'Tyrant States' (Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Belarus, North Korea, Zimbabwe) was to give notice of dealing with them and their evil ways. Good - but why stop there?

The area of safeguarding the US environment is always going to be subject to predatory lobbies of the US oil and gas industries and others, permanently on the lookout for opportunities. Washington, in such circumstances, is not regarded as an effective leader in protecting the world's environment against the trepidations of international energy exploration and exploitation. There, as with other legislation, the enormous funds available to US lobbyists can apparently buy the decisions they seek from the Congress, all of which then dilutes any world leadership role for the US.

Probably the most immediate of all the many problems to which we refer, is the urgent necessity to come up with a successor to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the current one clearly having failed. That has to be initiated somewhere and leadership is absolutely needed. The problem is that the US, the really big boy on the nuclear block has no moral authority to lead this campaign to persuade non-nuclear powers to stay that way. It is also now reaping the whirlwind, in that in negotiating as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, it agreed to systematically reduce its nuclear weapons stocks (as did the other nuclear powers) as the quid pro quo for non-nuclear powers to stay that way.
But what has actually happened? Having dropped the only two A- bombs ever used in combat, killing a quarter of a million people, the USA has conducted over 2000 nuclear test explosions since WWII, and refuses still to absolutely confirm that it will never again test. Just weeks ago, the most recent development is that the US has announced a new generation of 2200 'deployed' nuclear weapons and new designs for warheads, which "should be effective for the next forty years". We repeat, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was predicated on agreement that those nations that had them, would progressively dismantle them, in return for which a substantial number of countries with the science and other capabilities to make their own, would refrain from doing so. At that time there were just five members of 'the nuclear club,' now there are nine, and with Iran seeking to join. It has been suggested that as many as forty more countries have the capability of becoming nuclear weapons powers.

What is to be done? Economic sanctions against those who persist in new development are rather meaningless if that nation, like Iran, has already been sanctioned for so many years. Pre-emptive military strikes? We have long warned that in the absence of an adequate international solution, Israel will, unilaterally if necessary, go that route - they say so quite openly! After all, the president of Iran has many times threatened them with being wiped off the map, and they don't intend for him to have the means to do so. A few moments reflection will illustrate what that would mean in terms of any hopes of a middle-east settlement, and international terrorism, in current lifetimes.

If North Korea becomes openly aggressive, or even more truculent, now that they have demonstrated having a bomb - and the means of delivery, then neighbours like Japan and South Korea, who are offering considerable self-restraint, may not continue to do so indefinitely and develop their own arsenals.

Many, including ourselves, believe that peace in the Israel-Palestine disaster is a sine qua non if there is to be any winding-down of the islamic confrontation with the west. Yet as we detail elsewhere (ISRAEL: POWER & INFLUENCE) it isn't happening, partly because the USA has not shown the necessary leadership but allowed Israel effectively to determine its policy in the conflict.

The spread of democracy is a fine and necessary ideal in a future world, but it won't come just from exhortation, least of all from the USA of Bush/Cheney after the 'Florida election' of their first term; their ignoring of Geneva conventions, the strong-arm methods of arresting and 'disappearing' suspects in foreign countries, the use of torture in interrogations, et al. The spread of democracy can only follow the emergence and encouragement of democratic institutions like a genuinely free media and the seperation of powers giving an independent judiciary. There is little point in giving first time electors a choice between the rock of a military dictatorship and the hard place of a religious-based party that seeks to turn back the clock by twelve centuries.

The Europeans or some others could collectively be the grouping to show the way forward, but the real solution should be to reinforce or better, to reinvent the UN, giving it the authority to speak and act for all. Logically the leadership baton in all of these issues should ideally pass from the distorting influences of any single nation state towards that direction.

The UN of course first needs to become more effective but it can only be what its members will allow it to be, and that is largely dependent on its most powerful members, grouped in the UN Security Council.

It is of course absurd that the five permanent UNSC members, each with mind-boggling veto powers are in that position, not because they are the finest, the most able or the most admired, but because sixty three years ago their nations emerged as the winners of a war in a world in which most people alive today, even some prime ministers, were not yet born.

Perhaps an intelligent or at least interesting solution to raise the action level, and avoid sterile circular debate with little achieved, would be for some of the topics (illustrated by the selection above), to be raised by a group of nations in the General Assembly. There they would seek the power to second one of their number to lead in devising an action plan, with an invitation to all nations to take part in its implementation. Perhaps the US could be shamed into acquiescence and reassert its ability to lead, not to go even further out on a self-indulgent limb.

Thus upright UN members with special expertise (and sometimes also the moral authority), could lead in formulating the policy required, to be placed on offer to all nations to opt in, or earn the scorn of their peers by staying out. Our nominees would include Japan on Nuclear Non-Proliferation; Norway on Environmentally careful Oil exploration; Switzerland on spreading Democracy; Global warming - Brazil or Sweden; Netherlands on 'offshore' Extra-judicial Penal Colonies; the European Union collectively to address the problem of Tyrannical Nations; an agenda, with benchmarks, to restart the Middle-East Peace Process, perhaps to be devised by Canada, Ireland, or any other respected democratic nation that has loaned troops to peace keeping-duties there, and has no significant domestic pressure groups, to seek to skew the process.

The US under new leadership in the congress may well return to putting more weight on international concensus, but with two more years of this presidency and a mountain to climb, and with a powerful domestic right-wing media always undercutting foreign 'liberal' influences, that cannot be presumed. (Europeans find it difficult to understand that in the US, the term 'liberal' is part of the right-wing lexicon and used as a denigration). The levers of power are only for those who get elected in any democracy. Neither Republicans nor Democrats may be prepared for example, to increase the taxes on gasoline to reduce consumption, for fear of being punished by the electors - even though to now deny global warming is like those tobacco companies that used to field white-coated doctors on the media, assuring the world that smoking was safe for health.

The essential fact is simply is that in today's world, with the cold war only a memory, a leader may lead but his followers are free and stalwart volunteers, not a group of frightened individuals sheltering beneath his superior power. Unless leaders constantly consider and address the concerns of their followers, they will look around one day and find that they are effectively alone. Iraq was a powerful example of that experience. The nations that regard themselves as the US's friends and allies, who had loyally backed the call to Gulf War I; and in 2001 rallied to the US (within 24 hours of 9/11, NATO invoked the treaty article that called on all members to come to the aid of any member that is attacked). But the same world that widely understood and supported the intervention in Afghanistan, declined to follow into what was regarded as a neocon colonialist adventure in Iraq, unrelated to 9/11. Australia and UK, in this instance earned themselves not admiration, but that particular contempt reserved for the 'brown-noser,' from many who partner them in other fields, but would not themselves go that sycophantic route. Most of the minor nations who sent token forces to help the illusion of a coalition, did so to curry favour with the US, or like some of the former Warsaw-pacters, were unable to resist the bullying of the US ambassador in their capitals, who impressively worked double-time to secure recruits to the coalition of the 'willing'.

The ultimate sin for many, was that the US took unilateral action and went into this war, not as the only remaining alternative after exhausting a series of options, but as a deliberate act of demonstrating military 'reach,' no doubt with calculations about displaying their incomparable military technologies - and the message: let all nations beware!

The long-term damage to internationalism and their own leadership was that they ignored the United Nations (whose WMD inspection teams in Iraq were doing a fine job, as it turned out). This is the very world institution which more enlightened earlier presidents had largely engineered after WWII, precisely to prevent further war. Bush/Cheney brushed aside contrary advice from their own hitherto well-admired State department; they rejected initial evaluations from the most costly intelligence-gathering apparatus the world has yet seen, until eventually they arrived at the formulations they wanted for their political purpose. Perhaps the Bush /Cheney perspective of war, since neither of these men had ever done any war service, enabled them to remain personally detached and to treat death and casualty statistics as just 'stats', not as the measurement in blood of this unequal superpower attack on a wretched third world nation, with no air force or navy, and a mainly poorly-armed conscript soldiery.

It is too soon for the judgement of history, but the way things are lining up, the evidence is that the whole invasion project was wrongly conceived, since there were no shortage of warnings about how al Qaeda, denied Afghanistan to train its volunteers, would rush into an embattled Iraq. The predictions from Mr Ahmed Chalabi (remember that fine leader for Free Iraq, celebrated by V-P Cheney), of rose-petals in the streets for the conquering heroes, like Paris on liberation day, were always nonsense and State must have, or should have told the White House this. It would, it is true, have taken some expertise to realise that the predictable urban resistance to an occupying force would turn into a full scale Shia - Sunni civil war, with deliberate provocative murder and mosque bombing on the horrific scale that it is on. But the US has at its call, some of the finest experts in the world on all such issues, including ambassadors in all the Arab countries and the former foreign affairs officials of President Bush senior, which implies that their collective advice was ignored as inconvenient.

There is another question that historians will ask. In Gulf War I the allies deploying half a million troops defeated the forces of Iraq after a conventional, if short war. Apparently, at one point French Foreign Legion armoured cars outflanked the Iraqi defensive line, as cavalry seek to do, and were racing with little opposition towards Baghdad, when they were called back by the High Command, only twenty miles from the capital. The question was asked then and many times since, particularly in France - why didn't the allies go on and take the capital and change the regime of the hated Saddam? The answer given then was that half a million troops were enough to defeat the Iraqis but it would have taken another half a million to occupy the country. How was it then that the invasion arithmetic of Rumsfeld's Pentagon changed so dramatically? Could it have been that no provision (rose petals et al), was made for an occupying force in this invasion?

The issues in Iraq were not comparable with previous US wars. In retrospect, the calculations that led to Vietnam were wrong, but in the context of the cold war the domino theory at the time looked plausible. Korea was probably inevitable, as a territorial shake-down, a proxy war in the post WWII stand off between 'East and West.'

Historically, war has sometimes been seen as inevitable. In US history, Pearl Harbour must count as that. At other times there have been the confrontations forcing the choice between a democratic world with that of militarism, fascism and of communism.

But the US had no previous history of so casually entering a war.

Most Europeans in any way interested, knew that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Cheney trotted out a story at election times - he was still retailing this in 2004 -about Czech Intelligence observing a 2001 meeting in Prague, between the leader of the 9/11 suicide team and a senior operative of Iraqi intelligence, even though it was known to be false, except in the Ohio Bible belt, it seems. The story had appeared in the international press and within a day, President Havel, then in office in the Czech Republic, 'phoned President Bush to tell him not to touch it, there was no truth in it. Perhaps GWB forgot to mention this to his V-P?

Therefore it appeared to many that Bush/Cheney were using this false prospectus to get general support from the less internationally well-informed American-in-the-street, to many of whom, as New York taxi drivers, (including the bemused Sikhs), soon found out to their cost after 9/11 - a 'towelhead' is a 'towelhead'.

The reasons advanced for the war changed in mid-course, but the rift that in its brash self-confidence the White House made with the other established democracies still remains, not in terms of daily business, but in the unresolved matter of the future leadership of the world community.

This bypassing of the UN, the only world forum, was simply because the US wanted to take out Iraq and yet knew its case was not good enough, quite unlike the forerunner of Afghanistan, to secure the support of other key nations in the UNSC. There is another open sore internationally in the US policy of always backing Israel, right or wrong (shades of 'my mother drunk or sober'). It has much to do with US internal politics and the US Israel lobby. Many, including us, believe that this long drawn-out crisis has had a massive influence on the upsurge of Islamic terrorism and has prevented the peace process going forward at any speed, other than that which the Israeli leadership approves - a sure recipe for stasis, or so it was in the recent days of the Cheney -Sharon nexus.

Whilst it is true that no other single nation state has the standing to provide unique world leadership, it is not unreasonable that a group of nations may at least collectively provide this in areas in which the US will not, or for other reasons, does not engage.

In this context, next month we will look at who are the Europeans, how cohesive are they and what are their qualifications to collectively provide leadership, beyond their own sub-continent. The world is changing fast. Europe shows no perceived ambition to dominate any other nation, nor is it 'against,' nor yet feels threatened by any others. But more major national and economic groupings are emerging, with an East Asian Economic Community on its way; a South Asian equivalent based on India will one day happen. Russia is resurgent, newly redefined as an energy superpower, sustained by its massive oil and gas reserves, its vast territory and more, its powerful and in the last analysis, ruthless influence over other territories, once entirely under its control. Russia has every intention of remaining a player at the top international levels. On global issues, other blocs, or respected nations (like Japan), as we have illustrated might develop the capacity to lead the way in specific areas. But Europe is to an extent a known quantity and democratically organized with a broad national constituency- the EU combines twenty seven nation states with a combined population around half a billion.

It seems quite likely that, violent hiccups apart, serious competition between the world's nations has moved decisively away from resolution by warfare, to that of the economic arena, and it is in the nature of that activity that interdependence is the inevitable consequence. In the US, news of some Chinese economic or scientific advance seems presented by their media at least, in a combative sense, to carry the embedded notion that this is somehow threatening to the US, rather than that it could be good for everybody.

It is true that the USA is a giant, economically, militarily, culturally and scientifically but all of this does not make it a leader of free nations, who since Iraq, no longer look to the US for their defining policies and attitudes, indeed repudiate many, just as the US dismisses world opinion. It wasn't always like this. There are many fine examples of American presidents who were outstanding leaders of the free world, but it will take an outstanding replacement for Bush/Cheney to get that show back on the road, and maybe such talent is not available, or if available may not convince an American electorate of the essential world role.

But if the urgency of the issues and America with 5% of the world's population for the reasons outlined, continues to fail to provide the necessary leadership - has effectively abdicated - then the other 95%, the rest of humanity, cannot be so feeble that it is unable to come up with an alternative. Future generations demand it of us. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley