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NYTimes.com Article: The Peril of Too Much Power
by Boris Stremlin
09 April 2002 07:00 UTC
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This op/ed by Garton Ash is fascinating for two reasons.  First, it
reveals that even the US' biggest boosters are beginning to voice concerns
about the US concentration of power, and to suggest that such
concentration is actually harmful to the US itself in the long run.
Second, it shows the widening gulf between two very different projects of
Empire - that of the hawks who fashion the foreign policy of the Bush
administration, and that of the liberal globalists (like Garton Ash
himself, as well as Blair and Robert Cooper, the author of the Observer
article posted here recently), who envision a more "multilateralist"
empire in which the EU plays a more central role.  It is no coincidence
that a good many of the latter are Brits, who have made mediation between
the US and the EU the centerpiece of their policy in the last decade (as
Blair recently underlined).

The problem for Blair is that even though his unique position between the
US and the EU has made him an important figure in Washington, his failure to
represent European interests has lowered his stock in Europe.  An
additional problem for the liberal globalists is the failure to recognize
what more honest globalizers like Tom Friedman have been saying for a
while - that the globablist agenda ultimately rests on US power.  The two
empire projects are actually intertwined, and Ash's dilemma is that an
a defeat for the neoconservative militarist empire undermines the liberal
globalist empire as well.


The Peril of Too Much Power

April 9, 2002


STANFORD, Calif. - For most of the 20th century, the
defining political question was: What do you think of
Russia? At the beginning of the 21st century, it is: What
do you think of America? Tell me your America and I'll tell
you who you are.

Sitting in sun-dried California, I have been trying to work
out exactly what I think. Quite a few European writers
caricature America as a dangerous, selfish giant,
blundering around the world doing ill, and as an anthology
of all that is wrong with capitalism - in contrast to
morally superior European versions. But of course America
can't be reduced in this way. Apart from anything else, it
is just too large, too diverse, too much a cornucopia of
combinations and contradictions to allow any simple
interpretation. Here in Stanford there is the post-Sept. 11
"United We Stand" poster on the Japanese-American sushi
bar, but also the bookshop that declares itself a
"hate-free zone," with a notice in the window deploring
attacks on Arab-Americans. There's the gung-ho
unilateralism of Fox TV, but also the patient
multilateralism of elder statesmen interviewed on CNN. As
Walt Whitman wrote:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain

So any simple generalization will be wrong. My own, more
complicated conclusion is this: I love this country and I
worry about its current role in the world. I use the word
love loosely, of course, as we do in our increasingly
Americanized English. I love the energy, the openness, the
everyday cheerfulness of people in shops and on the street,
the sense of freedom you get driving for hours down a
California highway under those king-size skies, and the
feeling that all people - whoever they are, wherever they
come from - have a chance to shape their own lives. I love
the accuracy of The New York Times, the vigor of
television's "Crossfire," the probing tough-mindedness of
the best universities in the world and the American
activists I've frequently encountered in Eastern Europe and
the Balkans who really do want other people to share the
freedoms they enjoy.

Most people in the world will have some such list. For
America is part of everyone's imaginative life, through
movies, music, television and the Web, whether you grow up
in Bilbao, Beijing or Bombay. Everyone has a New York in
their heads, even if they have never been there - which is
why the destruction of the twin towers had such an impact.
This fascination with American culture, in the broadest
sense of that term, is part of what Joseph Nye, dean of
Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, calls America's
"soft power."

So why I am worried about this wonderful country's current
role in the world? Partly because until President Bush
changed tack last week, I feared that if the United States
were to attack Iraq without taking the lead in negotiating
a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the
Islamic world would be united against the West while Europe
would be divided from America, with disastrous consequences
for years to come.

But my concern goes deeper than simply a worry about the
Middle Eastern policy of a particular administration. The
fundamental problem is that America today has too much
power for anyone's good, including its own. It has that
matchless, global soft power in all of our heads. In
economic power its only rival is the European Union. In
military power it has no rival. Its military expenditure is
greater than that of the next eight largest military powers
combined. Not since Rome has a single power enjoyed such
superiority - but the Roman colossus only bestrode one part
of the world. Stripped of its anti-American overtones, the
French foreign minister Hubert Védrine's term "hyperpower"
is apt.

Contrary to what many Europeans think, the problem with
American power is not that it is American. The problem is
simply the power. It would be dangerous even for an
archangel to wield so much power. The writers of the
American Constitution wisely determined that no single
locus of power, however benign, should predominate; for
even the best could be led into temptation. Every power
should therefore be checked by at least one other. That
also applies in world politics.

Of course it helps that such power is exercised by leaders
under the scrutiny of a developed and self-critical
democracy. But even democracy brings its own temptations
when it exists in a hyperpower. That temptation is
illustrated by the Bush administration's recent imposition
of unjustified tariffs on steel imports, threatening the
international framework of free trade in order to win votes
in steel-producing states.

And when a nation has so much power, what it doesn't do is
as fateful as what it does. Thus, the Bush administration
came into office determined not to get dragged into close
mediation between Israelis and Palestinians, as former
President Bill Clinton had been. The horrors of the suicide
bombings of Israeli civilians and the siege of the West
Bank are at least in part a result of this policy, which
might be called partisan disengagement. Critical Europeans
generally see the United States as misusing its power by
intervening, as in the cases of American actions in
Cambodia and Nicaragua. But as often, the problem is that
the hyperpower does not intervene - as we saw in the agony
of Bosnia until the United States finally stepped in to
stop the bloodshed.

Who, then, should check and complement American power?
International agencies, starting with the United Nations,
and transnational nongovernmental organizations are a place
to start. But they alone are not enough. My answer is
Europe - Europe as an economic equal to the United States
and Europe as a close-knit group of states with long
diplomatic and military experience. The European Union is
already a major force in trade and foreign aid, and it is
slowly acquiring more diplomatic coherence. But the gulf
between its military capacity and that of the United States
grows ever wider.

The complicated double task for us pro-American Europeans
is to strengthen Europe's capacity to act outside its own
borders while disentangling the idea of a stronger Europe
from its sticky anti-American integument. We need to build
a Europe that sees itself not as a rival superpower to the
United States, but as America's most important partner in a
world community of liberal democracies. Americans, in their
own enlightened self-interest, should want Europe to
succeed. Otherwise they will be left to cope alone with the
loneliness of the long-distance hyperpower.

Timothy Garton Ash is director of the European Studies
Centre at St. Antony's College, Oxford, and a senior fellow
at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.


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