Sometime during the roaring 1990s I found myself sitting not far away from Alan Greenspan during a Saturday evening movie screening in Washington, D.C., and I noticed that the former Fed chief was reading the latest issue of the Economist magazine. In a way, the notion that the globalization era’s Master of the Universe was carrying the prestigious British weekly around with him and studying it during his free time (instead of, say, chatting with Andrea Mitchell) made a lot of sense to me then. For the ruling Anglo-American political and business elites and the rest of the members of the Cosmo-yuppie clique who meet at Davos, Switzerland, each year, the Economist has become required reading, “a kind of Reader’s Digest for the overclass,” as columnist Andrew Sullivan put it. I personally enjoy skimming through the pages of the magazine which provide me insight into esoteric subjects that aren’t usually covered by the New York Times, like Mali’s stock market or Fiji’s film industry.
James Fallows who published a somewhat nasty critique of the Economist in the Washington Post in 1991 described the weekly edited in London as a “Sacred Cow” that retained a certain “snob appeal” when it came to many Washington types and other “insecure American cousins.” And he quoted journalist Michael Lewis who suggested that the magazine was “written by young people pretending to be old people” with “pimply complexions.”
I’m not sure about those pimples. But I believe that when the Economist decided to support President George W. Bush’s decision to oust Saddam Hussein and invade Iraq, it helped to shape the views of quite a few “American cousins” who were wavering on the issue of whether America should go to war in Mesopotamia. After all, the Economist was not the Weekly Standard, in the same way that Ken Pollack, the Brookings Institution’s analyst, was not Richard Perle from the AEI.
Although I was disappointed by the enthusiastic pro-war cheerleading of the Economist, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the magazine’s position. Its British editors operate under the axiom that the U.S. is playing today the role that it had assigned once upon a time to the British Empire, as the Global Hegemon whose power helps secure the military and economic status-quo that benefits the readers of the magazine. From that perspective, the Americans were going to do in the Middle East, what the Brits had done there after the Great War when they “liberated” the region and tried to “remake” it based on Anglo interests and values. But things didn’t work out exactly as the Economist had expected, and the latest Anglo-American Mideast campaign reached a dead-end very quickly. So for the last five years, the magazine has been engaged in futile efforts to save its endangered foreign policy paradigm, blaming Donald Rumsfeld and the ineffective “management” of the war for the mess in Iraq and the Middle East, while continuing to fantasize about the eventual spread of democracy in the region and Palestine/Israel peace and urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq.
In the latest issue, that includes a long editorial and a 14-page special report on U.S. foreign policy, the editors recommend that the future Democratic president – and the American public– refrain from embracing the notion that the Americans could and should leave Iraq:
No matter where you stood in 2003, and we argued for the invasion, it is impossible to deny that the war in Iraq turned into a humanitarian calamity. Its fifth anniversary coincided with the loss of the 4,000th American soldier and a new outbreak of fighting. But the overall trend since the start of General David Petraeus’s “surge” last year has been positive. For a future president to decide now what to do in Iraq a year hence would be folly. However flawed the reasons for invading Iraq, the consequences of a premature exit could be worse, not just for America’s own standing in a region vital to its economic and security interests, but for the Iraqis too.
Much of the commentary and the analysis on U.S. foreign policy in the issue is ridden with the common wisdom provided by all the usual suspects in Washington (including Pollack) who seem to suggest that despite all the political divisions on Iraq at home, and the growing threat of “isolationism,” at the end of the day, Americans will have no choice but to return to their “internationalist” roots. And there is this silly assertion in the concluding chapter:
But Mr Bush’s Republican combination of national assertiveness and idealism has deep roots in American history, and the balance of power in America continues to shift from the more “European” north-east to the South and the sunbelt. In the longer term exceptionalism is likely to re-emerge. Demographic trends will encourage its return. America’s fertility rate is 60% higher than Japan’s and 40% higher than the European average. America is taking in immigrants at a faster rate than Europe and making a better job of assimilating them. The UN Population Division predicts that by 2025 America’s population will be growing by about 2.5m a year whereas Europe’s will be shrinking; that the median age in America will be lower than in Europe (38 compared with 44); and that a smaller proportion of the population will be over 65 (18% compared with 21%). America will be the only big developed country where children outnumber pensioners, and one of the few developed countries where the working-age population is still growing. Europe will struggle with financing its welfare state and absorbing immigrants, whereas America will remain relatively young and vigorous.
So let’s see. The demographic transformation of the U.S. led by the decline of the European population and the growing number of young Hispanics is going to bring about the re-emergence of American “exceptionalism” and will revive the nation’s internationalist tradition? One thing I’m sure about: After this great demographic transformation, Washington’s elites will be reading America Economia and not the British Economist. Just a hunch.