Federalism in the post-cold-war era

George Soros (picture Jeff Ooi)

By John Williams

A review of:

“Tony Blair: the making of a world leader” by Philip Stephens (Viking, 2004)

“The Bubble of American Supremacy” by George Soros (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004)

“Allies: The US, Britain, Europe and the war in Iraq” by William Shawcross (Atlantic Books, 2003)

In their respective ways, all three of the books under review bring into focus the increasing relevance of federalism in the post-cold-war era. Focusing on the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq and the consequent fissures within the Atlantic Alliance, they implicitly draw out the rapidly developing incongruities between the logic of European integration and the logic of Atlanticism.

Philip Stephens’s book on Tony Blair aims to analyse his commitment to the Bush Administration and is aimed at an American audience causing Stephens’s style to have a somewhat awkward simplicity on occasion. In consequence one senses he sacrifice analytical depth for the sake of his target audience.

As exemplified by the Iraq war, Stephens perceives Blair essentially as a moralist. He illustrates this by analysing the religious and political inter-action underlying Blair’s politics. It is an analysis that shows how Blair converted the traditionalist Labour party into a party of the centre, drawing far more from its implicitly religious roots than from its overtly political roots. Such a context explains the development of Blair’s Third Way.

Stephens’s analysis of Blair’s international perceptions and consequent orientation is somewhat uninspired. Inevitably such an analysis is based upon a cursory questioning of the Special Relationship, an analysis in which Britain’s post-second world war relationship with Europe is pivotal. Blair’s clash with Clinton over Clinton’s reluctance to commit American ground troops in the Kosovo intervention brings out this uninspired quality. Rather than focusing on the inevitability of Clinton’s reluctance, namely his domestic constituency, Stephens just refers to the clash with significant little comment. His column in the Financial Times, where he borders on questioning his Atlanticist commitment on occasion, is far more perceptive.

His analysis of Blair’s relationship with President Bush, accepting it as being based ultimately on realpolitik, is questionable. This is not to question the element of political realism in Blair’s commitment to developing the Anglo-American relationship; rather, it is to question the degree to which that sense of realism is central to that relationship in actual fact. Stephens implicitly acknowledges this by describing how Blair’s influence on Bush got diluted due to military pressures within the White House.

In so far as Stephens’s analysis of the motivations underlying Blair’s commitment to develop the Anglo-American Special Relationship is inadequate, it is an inadequacy stemming from a failure to grasp the significance of the subconscious carer role that British diplomacy perceives itself as performing in this relationship. It is a role, crystallised by David Marquand in The Guardian, that the British political establishment adopts at the cost of geo-political realism. Given that Stephens is virtually part of the British political establishment, however, his failure to fully grasp this is perhaps inevitable.

Describing the Bush doctrine as pernicious, George Soros states in the preface to his book, The Bubble of American Supremacy, that it is based on the contention ‘that the Bush administration has deliberately exploited September 11 in order to pursue policies that the American public would not have otherwise tolerated’. Despite the contention ostensibly being based on political realism, the political realism that perceives total US global supremacy as jeopardising actual US security, one senses that it overestimates the American public.

Rather than focus on the causes of 11 September, namely America’s provocative global role, Soros focuses on how Bush responded to it, ignoring the fact that Bush is himself a symptom of the American political system. Quoting at length the Statement of Principles adopted by Bush and his allies, Soros argues that Bush is the exception that proves the rule of balanced US foreign policy. Bush probably responded to 11 September in a more bi-partisan manner than Soros acknowledges. In fact Soros indicates this bi-partisan character of Bush’s foreign policy by referring to its Democratic Party support.

Soros is most convincing when arguing against the invasion of Iraq in the context of his support for the war against terror. Thus his main objection to Bush’s intervention in Iraq is that it was based on military might rather than on international legitimacy. He justifies international intervention in terms of preventing either national government abuse of national sovereignty, which Soros perceives as stemming from the people of a given nation state or national government action that disrupts international order. Given that Bush himself would probably accept such a definition, Soros undermines his own case.

Whether or not he realises it, Soros’s analysis has a large element of global federalism in it. This brings itself into focus when he analyses the inadequacies of the United Nations as the body exercising supreme global authority. Thus he observes:

‘the preamble [of the UN Charter] is couched in terms of “We the People, ” but the charter itself is based on the sovereignty of the member states, and it is clear that the interests of states do not necessarily coincide with the people who inhabit them’.

Soros concludes from this that such expectations from should be scaled down rather than aiming at their fulfilment. Stating that he favoured Nato’s intervention in Bosnia, not the UN’s, Soros’s political tendencies are multi-nationalist, not federalist, without question.

William Shawcross has produced a classic cold-war defence of the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq based around an analysis of the Special Relationship. Analysing the relationship between George Bush and Tony Blair, he perceives the relationship to be based on their shared depth of religious conviction. It is a sycophantic analysis, as when he describes the Queen’s message of sympathy to Bush for 9/11 as ‘exquisite’. Inevitably it is a strictly Atlanticist analysis, viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as a positive development without question. So-called old Europe is seen as pathetic. Shawcross’s blatant subjectivity makes it hard to take him seriously. This is so despite his acknowledgement of the Bush Administration’s malfunctioning. He takes for granted that the European opposition to the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq was wrong

Even so, however blatant in its subjectivity, Shawcross’s case cannot be ignored, representing the political establishment’s outdated and consequently maladjusted perceptions of international order as it does. Whilst paying lip service to United Nations supremacy, the rationale behind the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq undermined international order as embodied in the UN. As such, Shawcross’s analysis, concluding in the advocacy of United States global hegemony, underlines the increasing relevance of a federalist global perspective.

This article was contributed by John Williams, who may be contacted at j.hw@btopenworld.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

More information

The British-US axis no longer makes any sense – David Marquand (in the Guardian)

Tony Blair: the making of a world leader – Philip Stephens

The bubble of American supremacy – George Soros

Allies: The US, Britain and Europe in the Aftermath of the Iraq War – William Shawcross

After Iraq: America and Europe – a letter to William Shawcross – 11 April 2003

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