The always readable blog Look Back in Anger points to a fascinating article in the New Republic about liberalism and power.

Writer Paul Berman believes that a major distinction between European and American liberalism is that “Europeans cannot conceive or accept the notion of liberal democracy as a revolutionary project for universal liberation, they cannot imagine how to be liberal democrats and wield power at the same time,” this appears to be because we in Europe “simply cannot imagine how an exercise of force might bring about political revolutions in remote corners of the world”.

The other problem, he says, is that America has forgotten how to inspire: But the U.S. government, which knows how to twist the arms of Turkish politicians, does not know how to inspire the schoolteachers and newspaper editors and professors, not to mention the European masses, not to mention the American masses. Worse, the American leaders don’t even try to inspire people around the world, which is shocking to see, considering that our current problem is 90 percent political and only 10 percent military.”

America seems to have outsourced their evangelical work to Tony Blair and the response has not been encouraging for the likes of Berman.

In the past week Blair, surely a more credible preacher for a liberal revolution than George Bush, has tried to sell the idea that ‘regime change’ is about liberation and is morally justifiable – yet it is met with ridicule from many people who would be happily described as liberal.

So many British and Europeans simply do not buy the idea that George Bush could be motivated by a selfless spirit of goodwill and that the American ‘military-industrial complex’ represents the rebirth of the revolutionary spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

Even so Berman is right to point out that there has hardly been a major effort to win support from potential allies of America’s aims in Iraq.

Would it not be beyond the most powerful government on earth to devote some attention to addressing these doubts in Europe rather than engaging in the pathetic spats with Germany and France and snearing about ‘Old Europe’? What happened to the ability to go over the heads of leaders and appeal directly to the people?

There are surely plenty of supporters of George Bush in the US who could make an eloquent arguement to Europeans that the concept of client-states in the middle east has been recognised as a major error and that they believe that democracy and justice in the region is essential to undercutting the festering resentment that has led so many to become enemies of the West. I am pretty sure Bill Clinton could make that case for example.

But the debate has been restricted to bureaucratic arguements about weapons inspectors and compliance about UN resolutions which, while essential to dealing with the problem, hardly inspire cynical people to back a risky military project.

The European left may, as Berman suggests, think that liberal democracy, “is a compromise, a mediocrity” but was it really only the urgent need to stop the Serbs that led people in Europe to back intervention in Yugoslavia?

After all it was only 14 years ago that Europe itself was celebrating a wave of liberal democratic revolutions and basking in the idea of a “common European home” after 50 years of accepting the compromise of enforced division of our continent.

I think it boils down to this — we are being asked to believe that America is a leopard that changed its spots – that the men who funded the Contras and helped crush Allende’s democratic revolution are now the hope of Iraqi democrats.

“I’d be willing to believe them if they could just bring themselves to apologise for what they did in Vietnam,” someone said to me the other day. Well that might be wishful thinking but the Americans could at least contemplate how they win over people who believe they have something to apologise for.

Some of us can see that while America may be acting primarily in its own national interest, that interest also coincides with the needs of the people of Iraq, just as it did in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.

But when the rhetoric we hear is focused largely on America’s national interest is it any wonder that the cynics are not convinced?