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World Economic Forum, January 25, 2003

US Omnipotence: What Lies Ahead?


In a frank and lively discussion, a sharply divided panel
debated the merits and scope of American power. While the question of war
clouds over Iraq was on everybody's mind, economic, cultural and political
as well as military aspects of American power were broached.

With sharp criticism of the current US administration, Lewis H.
Lapham, Editor, Harper's Magazine, USA, argued that much anti-Americanism is
actually a reaction not against the United States per se, but against
President Bush and the Republican leadership. Lapham expressed grave doubts
about Administration policy towards Iraq, warning: "Our record of regime
change is not inspiring." More generally, he said that "our great military
machine" is of little use when presented with the challenge of a dirty bomb.
"American omnipotence," he concluded, "is a myth."

In clear disagreement with Lapham on matters of policy, Robert
Portman, Congressman from Ohio (Republican), USA, nonetheless agreed that
the United States is by no means omnipotent. On the question of
interventions, however, Portman claimed that Lapham was referring to "an old
America", one which involved itself in messy wars in Angola and Vietnam.
"The new America", on the other hand, has a much stronger track record in
places like Bosnia and Kosovo. He warned against the tendency in Europe and
elsewhere to "stiff-arm" America. "Americans tend to be insular people," and
may pull back from involvement in the world. "What," he asked, "would the
world be like without American power?"

According to Grigory A. Yavlinsky, Member of the State Duma;
Leader, Russian Democratic Party Yabloko, Russian Federation, the world
would be much less secure without American power. He also challenged the
assertion that the United States is all-powerful, calling US "omnipotence" a
thing of the past, and agreed that the new threat of terrorism requires
security cooperation to an unprecedented degree.

Marwan Jamil Muasher, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan,
added that the US is clearly militarily powerful, but said the Arab world
has much to give in the realm of ideas. Unfortunately, there is "no question
that the United States is using its military might to dictate the situation
in Iraq".

Also warning against current US policy against Iraq, Amre
Moussa, Secretary-General, League of Arab States, Cairo, said that
unsupported military action would be a "key determinant of instability in
the region". Adapting a sentence attributed to Caligula, he said that
America's attitude seems to be "let them hate us as long as they fear us."
Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, took the
opposite tack. Australia is "enormously grateful" for US leadership, he
said. It has also used its power very responsibly in helping to overcome the
Asian crisis.

During the discussion, a participant questioned the need for
missile defence when China poses no immediate threat. Portman replied that
the current situation in North Korea illustrates the pressing need for
nuclear missile defence. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights
Watch, USA, asked the panel what lessons they would take home from Davos.
"The need to listen more," Portman responded.

See also:

the website of the World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum, January 25, 2003

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