Magazine article The Spectator

'The Arab World with Its Own European Union'

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Arab World with Its Own European Union'

Article excerpt

The Anglo-Saxon powers have been triumphant in every major global conflict for the past 300 years.

This is the kind of statement that is so sweeping that you desperately want it to be wrong. But it is right. Either Britain or America -- or both -- emerged victorious from the war of the Spanish succession, the war of the Austrian succession, the Seven Years' war, the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the first world war, the second world war and the Cold War.

Explaining why is the task that Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has set himself in his new book God and Gold.

Mead is a chronicler of American power and one of the most influential foreign policy thinkers of the post-9/11 era. In a slew of agenda-setting books, he has placed current US foreign policy in its historical context, arguing that there are more precedents for the direction taken by the Bush administration than most historians care to admit.

Perhaps because he spent a year of his childhood in Surrey while his father was the local rector, Mead is more aware than most Americans of the extent to which the American world order is a continuation of the British one. Mead moved back to the United States with his family in 1964 when he was 12, but he still looks English: the tweed jacket he is wearing when we meet looks like something out of one of those English costume dramas the Americans are so fond of.

He talks like an Englishman too -- or at least how an Anglophile American imagines an Englishman talks -- in long sweeping sentences stuffed with historical anecdotes and literary allusions.

As we sit in a café near Marble Arch, Mead tells me that the success of this Anglo-Saxon system is largely attributable to Protestantism: not so much to the Protestant work ethic as to the Protestant change ethic. Mead sees AngloAmerican society as uniquely open to change because of its belief that change itself is divinely sanctioned. Whether English Protestantism produced English culture or English culture produced English Protestantism is moot, but the legacy of that culture is optimism. Mead himself is the embodiment of optimism. Not even the missteps in Iraq and the rise of China can shake his belief in the power and efficacy of the Anglo-Saxon model. Indeed, he points out that the overconfidence about fostering democracy in Iraq was a product of the Anglo-Saxon condition, and not to be dismissed with a sneer. While those who warned about the Bush administration's lack of planning for the aftermath of the Iraq war have been proved right, the consequences have been far less dire than they predicted and have actually demonstrated just how resilient American hegemony is.

It is tempting, however, to dismiss Mead as an American Dr Pangloss when he starts claiming that there are real grounds for an improvement in relations between America and the Arab world. He says that his travels in the Arab world since 9/11 have persuaded him that what is lacking is an understanding of the realities of American foreign policy.

'The big debate in a lot of the world is: does the Israeli tail wag the American dog or is it the American dog that is actually wagging the Israeli tail?' says Mead. 'Once people actually look back to history, this picture has a way of melting away.' One wonders, though, in these closed societies how many people will be prepared to abandon long-held conspiracy theories in the face of the historical record. …

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