Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fukuyama on being careful what you wish for

From the Guardian's 'comment is free' Fukuyama suggests that Europeans who not-so-secretly welcome failure in Iraq should beware of what they are wishing for:
"A domestic nationalist backlash against the policies that led to the war is brewing, with implications for how the US will deal with Europe and the rest of the world down the road. Like it or not, American power and involvement are necessary to the proper functioning of world order, and the kind of role that a post-Iraq United States may play is very much up for grabs."
He points to two recent examples of the increasing isolationist trend:
"While one might question the prudence of publishing the cartoons, the violent reaction was a clear case of intimidation, in many cases officially sanctioned, and few Americans criticised the protests or stood up for the right of free speech. Many seemed to feel a certain satisfaction that this time Europeans rather than Americans were feeling Muslim wrath.

The second, and more egregious, case was the successful blocking by the US Congress of the purchase by Dubai Ports World of a British company that operates six US ports."
There's usually much to disagree with in Fukuyama's writing although here essentially his mistake is to merely understate the degree of indifference to American isolation. No, not indifference - rather positive enthusiasm.

Like so many of these issues, I suppose it depends on who you talk to and who you read. If there's such a thing as a recognisably European response, it is based on an ignorance of what American economic and diplomatic isolationism has meant in the twentieth century. That protectionism in the interwar period, combined with diplomatic isolationism - symbolised in the failure of Congress to support American membership of the League of Nations - played no small role in exacerbating* the Great Depression and the subsequent weakness of the international community in relation to the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany: this is of no account to the "Europeans" of this blogger's acquaintance.

Nor are the post-1941 benefits of American engagement in Europe. Military assistance to help defeat fascism, nation-building in post-war Japan and Germany, Marshall Aid and reconstruction and the general role of the US in what Hobsbawm calls the Golden Age of capitalism, the long postwar boom: this barely register with a generation who get more exercised by Starbucks than Saddam Hussein. Fukuyama should really understand that for these, America is Evil, period - therefore their disengagement from the world can only be a Good Thing. For these people, it is as simple as that. Sorry, that should say - these people are as simple as that.

* "Exacerbating" is probably something of an understatement - most economic historians see the Great Depression as originating in the United States and see the subsequent move to protection as having been hugely damaging to world trade, given the sheer weight of the American economy in relation to the rest of the world.

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