Misc

‘THE IMPERIALISM OF HUMAN RIGHTS’

Interesting article from Eric Hobsbawm looking at the current American global reach in a historical context.

How is the world to confront – contain – the US? Some people, believing that they have not the power to confront the US, prefer to join it. More dangerous are those who hate the ideology behind the Pentagon, but support the US project on the grounds that it will eliminate some local and regional injustices. This may be called an imperialism of human rights. It has been encouraged by the failure of Europe in the Balkans in the 1990s. The division of opinion over the Iraq war showed there to be a minority of influential intellectuals who were prepared to back US intervention because they believed it necessary to have a force for ordering the world’s ills.

There is a genuine case to be made that there are governments so bad that their disappearance will be a net gain for the world. But this can never justify the danger of creating a world power that is not interested in a world it does not understand, but is capable of intervening decisively with armed force whenever anybody does anything that Washington does not like.

There is a lot to say about Hobsbawm’s article and it merits a more serious post than I have time for today. He makes some good points about the US’s lack of colonial skills in Iraq but there are a number of criticisms I would also make of his arguments. Just for starters – I am not at all sure that America does not understand the world nor that it is not interested in it – Hobsbawm presents no evidence to support this assertion which appears to be contradicted by most recent evidence. If one rejects that assertion, does the imperialism of human rights really sound so bad?

Clearly Hobsbawm is right to note that the departure of the USSR has made it easier for the US to flex its muscles around the world but his analysis fails to make a single mention of the rise of an Islamic terrorism which has a global reach. Given that the US outlook to the world changed radically, fundamentally, as a result of a terrorist atrocity which awoke it to a global threat, this does seem to be a major aspect to ignore.

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