Notes From the Margins…

The Awesome Years

  • July 20, 2012
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It would be something of an understatement to suggest that the historians of the future are unlikely to look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century with much favor.

It was a decade in which the world’s most powerful democracy unleashed   a swathe of violence across the world in the name of the ‘war on terror’, and used the atrocities carried out by assorted jihadist groups as a pretext for regime change in areas of strategic interest; in which the chimera of ‘national security’ became a catalyst for a new era of authoritarian governance.

A new era of permanent war was accompanied by the apotheosis of the neo-liberal economic model, in which the corruption, greed and reckless pursuit of the bottom line by the world’s leading banks and financial institutions has now brought country after country to the brink of collapse.

With every day that passes,   the consequences of this cynicism, waste and folly are becoming more glaringly apparent.     And this week, by a happy coincidence, three of the statesmen who presided over these golden years have emerged from the woodwork to reflect on their years in office.

For profundity and thoughtfulness,   pride of place must go to George W. Bush,   who told an interviewer from the Hoover Institution:

“Look, eight years was awesome.     You know, I was famous and I was powerful, but I have no desire for fame and power anymore.”

Memorable words, which will   surely echo through the annals of time.   Bush’s reappearance was partly intended to promote a new book entitled The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, to which he contributed the forward.

His expertise in such matters is unclear, given the state of the US economy when he made his political exit.       Last week, the Observer carried a feature on the impending bankruptcy of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which warned that ‘ a wave of municipal bankruptcies is set to sweep the United States as towns, cities and counties plunge into a fiscal black hole, collapsing under the weight of huge debts and reduced revenues.’

When the historians of the future consider how this was allowed to happen, they may well ponder the mysterious and unfathomable processes that placed a country of such unrivaled wealth and resources in the hands of a man who wanted to be famous and powerful and who succeeded – in that and nothing else.

In the same way, Italian historians will undoubtedly puzzle to understand the   freakish mockery known as Silvio Berlusconi,   who appears to be planning a political comeback even as his country is poised to follow Spain into economic gaga-land, and who has declared that

‘My entry into politics 18 years ago saved Italy from Communism, that is a fact that I am very proud of..   I am the only leader to have had excellent relationships with the leaders of the United States and Russia at the same time and the strength of that relationship has helped peace and security in the world.’

Some may wish to challenge these assertions, and point out that Berlusconi’s entry into politics was designed to save him from prosecution rather than his country from the Red Menace.   Others may quibble with his assessment that the world has become a more peaceful and secure place as a result of his dismal trajectory.

Both Bush and Berlusconi share a belief in their own greatness that is clearly impervious to any contact with reality, and the same could be said of our own former Prime Minister, who has just paused in his indefatigable efforts on behalf of God and Mammon, to grant an   audience to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

In it Blair looked back with obvious regret at having left the corridors of power, telling his star-struck and admiring interviewer

I”m a public service person.   You know, I would have liked staying as prime minister.   I would have taken the European job had it been offered me.   So that”s my preference.   But I”m also enjoying the life I”ve got and doing lots of things and you know, I kind of let the future take care of itself.

A more rigorous journalist might have asked Blair about the ongoing attempts to block the Chilcot Inquiry, or questioned why this ‘public service person’ has earned a fortune from some of banks and financial institutions that are dragging the global economy to ruin – not to mention his lucrative consultancy work undertaken on behalf of authoritarian governments and dictatorships, even as he was supposedly serving that urban rumour known as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But Amanpour is not that kind of journalist, and so the Great Man was allowed to present his departure from British politics as a noble act of self-abnegation:

It was – you know, it became very difficult for me to stay, other than a lot of damage to my party, but also probably to my country.   So I decided to go.   And I”d done it ten years, you know, it is a long time.

Both Blair’s party and the British public clearly felt that it was too long at the time of his departure, and wanted him gone, and there is no evidence that anyone except his former inner circle and assorted journalists feel any desire to have him back.

All of these three politicians share certain qualities in common; narcissism, an incapacity for self-analysis or honest reflection, an addiction to power for its own sake, an unerring belief in their own greatness and indispensability that is not commensurate at all with the disastrous fall out of the decade they shared,   and a persistent willingness to serve the interests of the rich and powerful both during and beyond the 21st century’s first lost decade.

All of them left behind an unmistakable stench of disgrace and dishonor that continues to undermine their attempts to preserve their ‘legacies’ for posterity.

In a sane world none of them would ever be allowed anywhere near public office again.   But Berlusconi may well become Prime Minister again, while Blair could conceivably return to frontline politics one day.

And who can discount the possibility that Jeb Bush might one day want to become president like his brother – and might actually succeed?   The current state of democratic politics is such that it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find a Bush, a Berlusconi and a Blair sharing the world stage once again in some capacity.

And that, as George W. Bush would say, would be truly awesome – and also terrifying.





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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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