George Soros (GS) - ‘robber baron’ ( ask the Thais, for whom the Asian Crisis 1997 = George Soros) turned philanthropist ( his Foundations spend $450b annually!) – is charming and is trying to ‘make a difference’. He pumped lots of money into the last Presidential election to try and defeat Bush and now here he is touring the world as ‘a stateless statesman’, as TGA introduced him.
GS has just published his ninth book, The Age of Fallibility, (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £12.99). Having as a boy survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary (by “taking risks”), GS studied at LSE under Karl Popper and his credo is ‘the open society’. A bit starry-eyed about European democracy (as TGA pointed out), he likes to think the European Union is the paradigm for the open society. He criticises Europe however for not taking more of a lead in tackling the great dangers of our age : global warming, energy supplies, threat of nuclear war (greater now than in the Cold War he says) and of course terrorism.
One might perhaps criticise GS for suggesting that these problems could/should be solved by the US and Europe in concert. Someone asked him why not the UN? GS replied that the UN is a forum of sovereign states each seeking their own interests. GS needs to have a conversation with our George Monbiot (GM) about the ideas in GM’s book The Age of Uncertainty on reforming the UN into a world parliament , with one person one vote. Perhaps they have had or will have a conversation. I hope so.
Of course GS is right, the US is still a great power in the world and he agrees entirely with our view that this power is not being exercised at all usefully just now; indeed quite the contrary. . He is optimistic that this can change. I asked him if it was not now too late, now that the US and coalition had alienated everyone else and created horror in Iraq and terrorism world wide. GS replied that the world had come back from the brink before and could again. As TGA quoted Winston Churchill, “The US can be relied on to do the right thing, when all the other alternatives have been exhausted”. Well, indeed let us hope so.
Certainly GS does not think that Bush’s US is a paradigm of the open society. Indeed while criticism of Bush has been considered ‘unpatriotic’, democracy has been seriously endangered. GS was very hard –hitting on the “so-called war on terror”, which he called a false metaphor. The situation post mid-term elections is still very dangerous, since although Americans have now repudiated the invasion of Iraq they still support the ‘war on terror’. I hope GS will tell Blair and Brown, now appointing themselves as ‘ministers for terror’ ( hollow laughter, readers), just how counter-productive this so-called ‘war’ is. Indeed GS emphasised exactly our own views, that it is by creating victims that we have created terrorists. Killing civilians, torturing prisoners of war and suspects creates insurrection; e.g. the second in command of Al_Quaeda had himself been tortured previously. We are the perpetrators of terror, GS insisted. To “go back from Bush 2 to Bush 1” as US will probably do now is not nearly enough; “we must repudiate the war on terror” (Age of Fallibility, p.135) and “rebuild the world order”.
In one hour including questions GS did not have a lot of time to tell us precisely how we can do the latter. However, in general, we need to reassert the values of the open society – I assume this means get rid of Guantanamo Bay , Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and all the other secret and punitive paraphernalia of ‘the war on terror’. More than that, GS says stop all this talk about ‘exporting democracy’, especially trying to impose ‘US values’, including ‘market fundamentalism’, on the world ; since US values are not those of the open society.
We should however, GS says, ‘promote and encourage democracy’ as he is trying to do through his Foundations. In his book (p.139) GS describes how the US could have done this in Afghanistan and he wrote an article in Washington Post 2001 advising this method. Aid should have been distributed directly to the communities, and salaries paid directly to teacher’ judges, officials etc, with the money to be distributed guarded by the UN. Instead the US formed alliances with warlords, confirmed their authority, and “consolidated an economic and political system based on the illegal cultivation of narcotics”.
“There is a confusion in President Bush’s mind about what democracy means. When he says that democracy will prevail, he really means that America will prevail.”(p.149).The danger is that even a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senate, indeed a Democratic President, might suffer from the same confusion. Well, let us hope that congressmen and senators will read GS’s book. They will even find arguments there for coming to an agreement with Hamas (p.150). Then we really might see the beginnings of a new world order. I recommend that we all read the book too.
Penelope Newsome, 12.11.06