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Niall Ferguson's New American World Order

Last month, five days before the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Niall Ferguson posted an imaginary retrospective of 2009.  For the most part, it's full of the same doom and gloom that pervades his interview in The Globe & Mail I commented upon yesterday (in Saturday's paper, columnist Ian Brown examines society's fascination with predictions of apocalypse).

But Ferguson's imagined retrospective of a year barely eight weeks old is interesting for other matters.  For example, he reports that Obama headed off to Tehran in June to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.  Along with opening a deep rift between Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ferguson reports that this summit in Iran, whilst it didn't lead to a massive breakthrough in US-Middle East relations, was important for optics.  Ferguson compares it to Nixon's trip to Beijing in 1972; "it symbolised a readiness on Obama’s part to rethink the very fundamentals of American grand strategy."  Ferguson then seems to suggest that this meeting led to the downfall of Ahmedinejad and the subsequent abandonment of Iran's nuclear programme.  It's unclear how the two are linked in Ferguson's mind, but he does conclude that with Ahmedinejad on the ropes, the Iranian moderates were able to seize power and "make their peace with 'the Great Satan', in return for desperately needed investment."

Then, a few months later, on the eve of American Thanksgiving, al-Qaeda made an assassination attempt on Obama, but failed.  

And this is where we could be excused for being confused by Ferguson.  Most of his ouevre is dedicated to extolling the virtues of empire for its positive contributions to human society, especially in the case of the British in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  He is also generally regarded as a conservative in his political outlook, something that is perhaps underlined by his entirely pessimistic prognosis for the economy.  But when it comes to prognosticating American geo-politics in 2009, he seems almost Pollyanna-ish in his optimism.  

The benefits of the fallout with Hillary Rodham Clinton over Iran ("whose supporters never quite recovered from the sight of the former presidential candidate shrouded in a veil") was mostly that it allowed for a purge of the Clintonite Democrats from Obama's governing team following Labour Day 2009.  The problem Obama had prior to that was that he led "an administration that talked like Barack Obama but thought like Bill Clinton," but the world had moved on since the 1990s, and the Clintonites had not.  Their purge left Obama free to become bolder as President, to nationalise the nation's major banks, and to convert all private mortgage debt into "new 50-year Obamabonds."  

And on the geopolitical stage, Al-Qaeda's bungled assassination attempt "only served to discredit radical Islamism and to reinforce Obama’s public image as 'The One'."  Ferguson ends his article with Obama winking at the world, noting that whilst everyone got poorer in 2009, and the US took a hit, since it was so far ahead at the start of the collapse, it remained at the forefront.  

Of course, what this is on Ferguson's part isn't so much a love for Obama himself than it is consistent with Ferguson's exhortations to the United States to fulfill its role as the only true imperial power in the world today.  In a video on his website, an advertisement for a show hosted by Ferguson on England's TV4, Ferguson states that the US is the 68th empire in world history and that he thinks that "the United States has the capacity to do more good for the world than even the British Empire did a hundred years ago."  The voice-over for the ad reports that Ferguson argues in this programme that we would "all benefit from a new American world order."  But for Ferguson, the question is "Does the American Empire have the stamina to go beyond régime change?"  In other words, Ferguson is not Pollyanna for Obama, he is Pollyanna for America.  

Taken together, then, Ferguson's imagined 2009 retrospective, plus the advert for the TV4 programme is simply a re-hashing of his arguments in Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power and Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.  He's continuing to exhort the Americans to fulfill what he sees as the nation's destiny on the world stage, to overcome the natural isolationism and protectionism that is rife in both the Democratic and Republican parties, and to deliver us that new American world order that Ferguson thinks we all need.  Even Iran signs up for the new order in 2009, it trades its Islamist Revolution, its nuclear programme, and its alternative view of a world order, or at least a Middle Eastern order, for American money.  At least the man in consistent in his arguments.

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Reader Comments (1)

Funny. I had not been aware that Ferguson has a TV show. He has the good taste to keep it off the state-run channels.
Funnier: Does he sincerely anticipate that it would be Arab right-wingers and not the American variety that will make the attempt on Obama's life? The Persian angle will play equally badly with either group, but I suspect that domestic RW hatred is much greater.

Mar 6, 2009 at 17:50 | Unregistered CommenterJay Schiavone

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