Does the US wear the white hat? Two British views

Lord Carrington, a former British foreign secretary and secretary-general of NATO, is a prominent friend of America. George Monbiot, a left-wing author and journalist, is an outspoken critic of US foreign policy.

Monitor correspondent Peter Ford sat down with them at Carrington's country house near Bledlow, England, to discuss their views of America, post Sept. 11. The following excerpts are from their conversation.

Is America a force for good in the world?

Carrington: I think they are a force for good rather than not.

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America is absolutely dominant. It can really do more or less what it likes without having much regard to anyone else, and I think that on the whole there has been a great deal of moderation on the part of American governments. I don't think they've thrown their weight about. They are right-minded, nice, and good people, and let's hope the moderation continues.

Monbiot: One of the things that George Bush has been discovering is the extent to which he no longer needs the mandate of the rest of the world to pursue his foreign policy and defense goals. A government that did recognize the interests of other nations and did see itself as one amongst many that had to take other interests into account is beginning to feel its own strength, to recognize just how powerful it can allow itself to be. As such I feel it is becoming a threat to the rest of the world.

Is America's readiness to go it alone a dangerous tendency?

Carrington: I don't know that that is true. I simply don't believe that the American administration will not be anxious to get people on their side in whatever they do, because they would be very foolish not to. Everybody needs friends, however powerful they are, and the administration knows that.

Monbiot: They know that, but I'm not sure they are prepared to act on it. They seem to be relying on the notion that if they do go it alone, other nations will see which way power is disposed and will follow. That's generating a great deal of resentment amongst people in many parts of Europe.

How do Europeans feel the US presence?

Monbiot: There's a feeling that the events of 9/11 have given the administration a license it didn't feel it had before to take a much more proactive and unilateral approach to world affairs. One fear a lot of people have entertained in Europe is that Afghanistan would be just the beginning of a wider conflict, and Iraq at this stage seems to be the next act in this drama.

The US administration has become in its own eyes the world's greatest victim but also sees itself as the savior of the world; it has come to deliver the world from evil. The grandeur of that aim is exceedingly dangerous. What we see developing is almost a messianic cult.

Carrington: I think that's putting it rather starkly. We would be very unwise not to recognize the very strong feeling there is in the United States about the wickedness of the people who did that [attacked on 9/11) and how they deserve punishment. I think the president is responding to that feeling and feels it himself.

Monbiot: The strength of feeling that you refer to is dangerous because it calls for a strength of response that could be massively disproportionate to what was done to the American people.

Carrington: Yes, but the rhetoric has been different from the action. So far there has not been any disproportionate action on the part of the Americans, and we have to recognize that.

Do American interests match world interests?

Carrington: Generally speaking I do believe it. Obviously one has differences of opinions with the Americans, but generally speaking I applaud them. I think they are a force for good.

Monbiot: We've already seen some substantial clashes between the domestic needs of the American people and those of the rest of the world – the issue of climate change is a very clear one. There is no question but that those clashes are going to increase in scale and intensity.

Is America's 'war on terror' Europe's war as well?

Carrington: I'm not sure what the 'war on terror' means. Does it mean war on the IRA, for example? Are the Americans determined to put ETA out of action? I accept that the Americans are worried about the people who committed the crimes against the twin towers of course, but there are other terrorists in the world that others of us believe are just as wicked and evil whom the Americans are not concerned with.

What could the Americans do to wear a velvet glove over the iron fist of their power?

Carrington: They've tried to do that. I don't think they've been overweening, and we can be too critical of what the Americans have done. On the whole, they have tried to carry people along with them, and I think they have behaved rather well. I don't think we've much to complain about.

Monbiot:My answer boils down to one word – multilateralism, recognizing that their interests have to be mediated by the interests of other nations. If they don't, they will be an increasing threat to the interests of other nations.

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