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Separated at birth 

Robert McNamara: Former US defense secretary Robert McNamara Donald Rumsfeld: US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld

McNamara and Rumsfeld. How much difference does 40 years make?

Light relief 

“His art also appears to run on several parallel paths. There are severe canvases and wobbly wooden things, implacable rectangles and watercolours of undressed women watching TV. There is grey pipe smoke and roaring colour; there are throwaway things and tightly worked-out plans. The conflict between the blob and the straight edge is never resolved.” Adrian Searle on Blinky Palermo. British newspapers maintain some wonderful traditions even in wartime.

Not now  

The World Economic Forum has postponed its China Business Summit because of the SARS virus scare (although the news hasn’t yet reached the Forum’s own site). I reckon SARS was probably the last straw for the summit, which was supposed to start in two weeks. The war must have trimmed the number of foreign CEOs that would travel to Beijing (or anywhere else), and the virus would have pushed the number of no-shows to unacceptable levels.

Second superpower 

According to James Moore, the second superpower isn’t China or even Europe. It’s the “will of the people” in a global social movement. I think this is a revealing way to look at the emerging power of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the ad hoc groupings that coalesce around a temporary issue.

There’s no doubt that Internet-enabled social movements are an important force, but I question their ability to become a significant, continuing power. First, agreement on issues can be very thin. The anti-war movement may be clear — stop the war — but the anti-globalisation movement was comparatively muddled. Some in it were against capitalism. Others, like the trade unions, wanted to safeguard jobs in the rich north. Still others sought to ensure the developing world shared in economic bounty. What these fractures meant is that opposition faded as other issues — 9/11, the war — loomed larger, partly because there was no positive programme of action. And, to my mind, there couldn’t be given those divisions.

I’m also concerned about promoting the benefits of the “will of the people”. The will of the people may well be to curb immigration, enact harsher treatment of asylum seekers and reinstate the death penalty. Representative democracy, rather than direct democracy or the increasingly vogue term emergent democracy, is often an appropriate shield against the less desireable aspects of populism.

Still, Moore has codified some important ways of looking at an emerging phenomenon.

Pax Americana 

Hugo Young in The Guardian: “Even if we’re prepared to grant the existence, deep in American purposes, of more idealism than is usually admitted, its fulfilment has become unattainable. America’s understanding of the world has become so self-centred, and its reputation so corrupted, that its ability to export liberal democracy either by example or by force now looks to be non-existent.”

Young makes some important points, even if, to my eyes, he idealises the Kennedy era (when American involvement in Vietnam began). The notion of spreading democracy is a good one, but just about every step the Bush administration takes seems to disqualify them from the task.

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