Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Martin Wolf

This is a forum for economists. But I think we should agree that foreign policy is too important to be left to the "experts". As citizens, if not as economists, we should be willing to add our mite, which is why I have occasionally dared to write on foreign policy questions. Larry has himself shown what is possible, by providing an excellent analysis of the mood behind what he describes as a "repudiation election".

The point I would make is that the way in which the post 9/11 world was framed by this administration has been a catastrophe. There is no "war on terror". Military might cannot deliver durable security against an idea. Even in the case of the cold war, the victory was ultimately won because communism was seen as unsuccessful in delivering the good life. What we are engaged in is, in essence, a complex global policing operation, combined with a war of ideas.

We should have the confidence to believe that, given time, our ideas will triumph, provided we do not betray them ourselves and do enough to give them the time they need. By rejecting core features of the rule of law, employing torture, vilifying those who disagree with them, demolishing old alliances, indulging in overweening confidence in military power and, not least, promising to remake societies at the point of a gun, the Bush administration did betray core western values. It also showed grotesque incompetence in execution. How can we win a war of ideas like that? The US and, I hope, the wider world - western and non-western - must now start all over again.

I think that among FDR's greatest contributions in the dark days of the 1930s was his statement that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself". His was the politics of hope. In his very different way, Ronald Reagan also offered hope. This administration's politics have, however, been those of fear. It is this that I find unforgiveable: fear makes us small; fear makes us weak; and fear makes us detestable. We cannot win this conflict of ideas if all we have to offer is our fear.

The American people have shown that fear need not paralyse. This is a triumph of the core democratic idea that a majority of ordinary people will reach the right conclusion in the end. Let us now all hope for an America that is true to its better self.

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