July 25, 2006

Max Hastings says the west's moral erosion has undermined the war on terror:
Morality in foreign policy is often subjective. The US administration is confident that it represents the forces of democracy and freedom, and thus feels free to do whatever it judges best to promote these fine things. Israel perceives Palestinians and Arabs as committed to its destruction, justifying any action taken against them. Some in the Muslim world see no prospect of frustrating western cultural, economic and military dominance on western terms of engagement, and so choose other methods - such as suicide-bombing - that better suit their weakness.

Many Americans and Israelis believe that virtue is anyway unimportant, that the Arab world - and indeed the world at large - chiefly respects the successful use of power. Yet the weakness of this argument is laid bare in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. The US, Israel and their backers - prominently including Tony Blair, if not the British people - are perceived both as behaving immorally, and using force ineffectually.

In a recent article for the International Institute for Strategic Studies journal, Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the School of Public Policy at Singapore University, analysed the precipitous decline of perceived western legitimacy. His principal argument was that it is essential for the US and its allies to be seen to abide by the same rules that they seek to impose on others. He proposed a recasting of the post-1945 Truman consensus, within which most nations acknowledged that the US sought to exercise its might for the welfare of all. Urging the US to renew its commitment to making the UN a real force, Mahbubani acknowledged the justice of giving large powers large voices through the security council. He argued, however, that its members' special influence must be matched by a special sense of responsibility, which is today perceived as lacking.

The world is unimpressed, he said, by US attempts to limit the rising power of China. Osama bin Laden has "successfully delegitimised American power in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims ... One of the key factors in the growing delegitimisation ... is [US] indifference to its impact and to how it is perceived in the eyes of the 6 billion people in the rest of the world." The principle of political and economic even-handedness is key, and is being flouted.


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