The Truman world order of 1945 has lost the global monopoly of legitimacy it once enjoyed.
Many in the West are of course unaware of this, because they see the world primarily through the Western media, which also continues to believe that it retains a monopoly on interpreting events.
The world, however, has moved on.
The real danger of Western discourse on the state of the world order is that it is self-referential.
The Western pundits read the New York Times, Financial Times, Economist and Wall Street Journal and somehow assume they are hearing global views.
In reality, they are only hearing Western voices talking in a semi-closed universe.
Kishore Mahbubani, The Impending Demise of the Postwar System, Survival vol. 47 no. 4 Winter 2005–06 pp. 7–18, published by The International Institute for Strategic Studies
Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He previously served for 33 years in Singapore’s diplomatic service, is recognised as an expert on Asian and world affairs and author of Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World and Can Asians Think?
Mahbubani wrote this in 20o5-6, and yet the West is still constantly taken aback by international events and developments, such as the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008, the Iranian demonstrations in 2009, the Arab Spring’s successes and failures, the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis, the collapse of Syria and Iraq, the rise of ISIS and the declaration of the Caliphate, the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and China’s island-building in the South China Sea – to name only the most obvious.
None of this is surprising in view of the West’s catastrophic loss of expertise on the outside world combined with the failure to integrate and incorporate the expertise that does exist into policy-making.
I think perhaps what I find lacking in so much of television news now is the attenuation of the capacity of most broadcasting networks to actually have people in the field. And we often get people covering conflicts who don’t really know… especially with complex conflicts. I mean if you look at what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, where you get these moving parts and people changing sides and different ideologies coming and going, I think you need people with profound local knowledge. And I think our media – television and print media as well – simply do not have the capacity to do that much anymore, and I think we all lose as a result.
Margaret MacMillan, War’s Fatal Attraction, Reith Lecture series The Mark of Cain, Reith Lecturer 2018, BBC’s, July 2018
As the following outside quotes confirm, the standards of Western media and analysis have deteriorated since Mahbubani’s 20o5-6 article, although as Victor Davis Hanson points, the rot had set in long before:
Most media organisations are cutting back on overseas bureaux and journalists and cannot provide their own content and merely offer a ‘mash-up of the same news over and over’
Scarlet Fu, Bloomberg Surveillance, Bloomberg TV
“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s point man on communications, New York Times interview, 5 May 2016
We have a lot of reporters who don’t have the traditional education in language, philosophy, history, and they’re very young, and they realise that one advances in that profession by being as flamboyant, as provocative as possible, and it has to be quick, and they give first and second impressions without a lot of in-depth analysis or digestion… It’s better to just step back for a day or two and try to draw on resources other than just psychology, sociology or journalism to make sense of these complex issues.
Victor Davis Hanson, Classicist and Military Historian, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
In Depth with Victor Davis Hanson, C-Span, 7 March 2004
From 7:55 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp06Cnwa-X4
Ninety-something per cent of political commentary is cribbed and confined by a lack of historical and geographical context.
Andrew Marr, presenter of the BBC’s Sunday morning flagship news programme The Andrew Marr Show, reviewing Peter Calvocoressi’s book World Politics Since 1945 on Amazon.
International reporting and analysis are now worse than ever, hamstrung catastrophically by the cutbacks in foreign bureaux and permanent correspondents and the heavy reliance on young parachute journalists lacking any knowledge of the local language(s), history, culture and economy.
The result is badly informed publics – from heads of state and politicians through policymakers and businessmen to the proverbial man in the street.
This lack of world-class expertise, however, was not news to experts, who have long been scathing about the media and parachute journalists, as these examples from three of the most important parts of the world show.
Russia, Ukraine & Eastern Europe
The lack of languages rarely prevents “experts” from speaking out:
…did you notice that if you meet a Westerner who learnt Russian you have at least 90% chance of meeting a bloody reactionary? Progressive people do not enjoy this painful effort of learning Russian, they know better anyway.
Leszek Kołakowski , ‘MY CORRECT VIEWS ON EVERYTHING. A Rejoinder to Edward Thompson’s “Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,’ The Socialist Register, 1974
I always find it interesting how people who don’t speak Hungarian feel entitled to accuse [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán of “muzzling the press”.
Tibor Fischer, I don’t recognise Viktor Orbán as a ‘tyrant’
The Guardian, 20 April 2017
In his 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, David Remnick, now Editor of The New Yorker, writes that he and his wife began taking Russian lessons after arriving in Moscow as Russia correspondent for The Washington Post
In his 1998 book Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power, published by Yale University Press, Anatol Lieven admitted that as Russia correspondent for The Times of London he had to rely on a translator since his Russian was insufficient.
Little has changed since the 1990s:
Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine as he was then, did not look frightened exactly, but he did look very annoyed. A translator whispered his words in my ear.
Justin Rowlatt, BBC Correspondent
What has struck me is how poor coverage [of the Ukraine crisis] in the media has been of all these complications [in this story] until quite recently – until quite recently, it was a Punch and Judy Show, black and white, binary, perfectly simple. In the last two or three weeks we’ve learned how very, very complicated it is and what a very long history there is there.
Sir Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russia 1988 to 1992, Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister and Chairman of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee 1992–93
Russia, Ukraine and Us, BBC Radio 4, 8 March 2014
From my experience as a diplomat… one of the things I noticed is that western journalists, who very often don’t know very much about local conditions… and it’s getting worse and worse… they’re parachuted into a country, and rather than looking at the history or even the social condition or the culture, they look at what is familiar to them, which is, you know, Facebook or Twitter…
Dr. John H. Brown, Senior Fellow at USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, Consultant for the Library of Congress’s “Open World” exchange program with the Russian Federation, and former member of the U.S. Foreign Service from 1981 until March 10, 2003 who served in London, Prague, Kraków, Kiev, Belgrade and Moscow.
Panel Discussion on U.S.-Russia Relations: 59:40 minutes.
28 May 2013
Western reporting on Ukraine, while on the whole good, has revealed its own inner biases and myths about Ukraine. Often without realising it, at times western journalists have echoed the dezinformatsiya coming out of Moscow.
Taras Kuzio, Research Associate at the Centre for Political and Regional Studies, Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta
I’m bad on Ukrainian names!
Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, after failing to pronounce correctly the name of Ukrainian politician Oleh Tyahnybok.
From 17:15, A New Cold War? Ukraine Violence Escalates, Leaked Tape Suggests US Was Plotting Coup, Democracy TV.
Published on 20 February 2014
The Muslim World, Osama bin Laden & the Arab Spring
These regional and specific political and cultural processes [in the Muslim World] remain fully closed to Europeans and Americans, who think in globalized categories; some of them persistently refuse to understand them.
Bassam Tibi, Die fundamentalistische Herausforderung. Der Islam und die Weltpolitik, Munich, 3rd Edition, 2002, pp. 43-4.
By using Arabic sources as the basis of this discussion and taking into account the dominant views currently abroad across the Middle East, we are in a position to avoid the typical Western habit of talking about people without knowing anything about them.
Bassam Tibi, Die fundamentalistische Herausforderung. Der Islam und die Weltpolitik, Munich, 3rd edition, 2002, p. 92.
Only in the western media and the writings of badly informed authors, who neither know nor read original sources, could the idea flourish that [Ayatollah] Khomeini was accepted by all Muslims as the leader of Islam in the twentieth century.
Bassam Tibi, Die fundamentalistische Herausforderung. Der Islam und die Weltpolitik, 3rd updated and expended edition, 2002, p. 33.
A lot of nonsense is currently being promoted in the west about political Islam, much of it disseminated by so-called pundits who neither know the culture nor the languages nor the literature produced by political Islam. Unfortunately, Western decision makers often listen to these pundits and, after following their device, mistakenly restrict their efforts to a policy of appeasement. Sadly, they have not yet learned one of the most rudimentary lessons from history – that totalitarian movements cannot be appeased.
Bassam Tibi, ‘Islamism and Democracy: On the Compatibility of Institutional Islamism and the Political Culture of Democracy,’ Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Volume 10, No. 2, 135-164, June 2009, page 142.
Scholars and policy makers have a duty to learn from history rather than to engage in wishful thinking or political correctness, the most recent variety of intellectual censorship and silencing. The ideological preoccupations of the derailed ‘Orientalism’ debate should not be allowed to determine the political assessment of Islamism and democracy, where unfettered analysis should instead be the source of guidance.
Bassam Tibi, ‘Islamism and Democracy: On the Compatibility of Institutional Islamism and the Political Culture of Democracy,’ Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Volume 10, No. 2, 135-164, June 2009, page 159.
Bassam Tibi is a Syrian-German scholar, Professor Emeritus, International Relations, Göttingen University and Visiting Professor at Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley, Princeton and Cornell. He is Germany’s leading expert on Islamic fundamentalism and a hafez – someone who has memorised the Koran.
The American government had many highly competent experts on the Soviet Union, but few senior officers who could both speak Urdu and Farsi and make things happen in Washington.
Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, 2004, p. 51.
I was the only one at the CIA who knew Arabic and Iranian.
Robert Baer, documentary film The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
If you’re not confused, you don’t understand.
Sir Alan Duncan, Conservative MP, speaking on the Middle East during the British Parliamentary debate on British bombing in Syria, 2 December 2015.
It is amazing how many people have become experts on Islamic State.
David Aaronovitch, Columnist, The Times.
Panel Discussion, BBC Radio 4, 16 December 2015
CNN and BBC interviewed a few score Muslims in [Egypt’s] Tahrir Square, most all of whom were English speaking, most were clean cut, most were professionals, and they talk the talk of democracy. Then they read a few Facebooks [sic] and a few Twitters [sic], and they extrapolated that sample to 85 million Muslims, half of whom or more are illiterate. So the West has really got a skewed idea of what’s happening in that country and across the region. It’s just madness…
Michael Scheuer, Chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, from 1996 to 1999, the Osama bin Laden tracking unit at the Counterterrorist Center and Special Advisor to the Chief of the bin Laden unit from September 2001 to November 2004
Interview with Eliot Spitzer on CNN, 12 October 2011: 2:00 minutes
Despite the saturation of global media coverage, Osama bin Laden’s own writings have been curiously absent from analysis of the ‘war on terror.’
Blurb on the book Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden published in 2005!
But despite [the] monumental impact [of 9/11]–and a deluge of books about al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism–no one has written a serious assessment of the man who planned it, Osama bin Laden.
Blurb on Michael Scheuer’s book Osama bin Laden published in 2011!
Steve Le Vine, who writes from Almaty for the Financial Times and Newsweek, published a piece [in Newsweek on 12 December 1994] which caused amazement with its up-beat description of Kyrgyzstan among both local observers and the foreign community in the capital, Bishkek.
‘Kyrgyzstan’s slow progress to reform,’ Ian Pryde, The World Today, journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, June 1995.
Since then, Kyrgyzstan has seen the ouster of two presidents.
Сover of Der Spiegel’s special issue on Turkey, 2008
This mash-up is highly misleading because:
- the women are dressed as Iranians, not Turks
- the pseudo-Arabic script is anachronistic:
- the Ottoman Turkish alphabet which was previously used to write Ottoman Turkish is a version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet
- However – it was replaced by the Latin-based modern Turkish alphabet in 1928 – 90 years ago.
Der Spiegel is Germany’s leading weekly news magazine and one of the most influential in continental Europe.
…all too often, our heads are full of stereotype [about China] rather than actual information. We might be better investors if we had a go at changing that.
Merryn Somerset Webb, Columnist, The Financial Times, and Editor-in-Chief, MoneyWeek, December 2013.
Why do we continue to ignore China’s rise? Arrogance!
Martin Jacques, author of a bestseller on China, asks why the West continues to approach the rise of the new global powerhouse with a closed mind. We obsess over details of the race for the White House, yet give scant regard to the battle to replace China’s current leadership. If we fail to pay heed to the political and economic shift of gravity, we [i.e. the UK and Europe] will be sidelined by history.
Martin Jacques, The Observer, 25 March 2012
The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.
Lee Kuan Yew, Former Prime Minister, Singapore
Graham Allison, Robert D. Blackwill, Ali Wyne, foreword by Henry A. Kissinger, Lee Kuan Yew – The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, 2013
Everyone knows about the rise of China. Few of us realize its magnitude. Never before in history has a nation risen so far, so fast, on so many dimensions of power. To paraphrase former Czech President Vaclav Havel, all this has happened so rapidly that we have not yet had time to be astonished.
Graham Allison, The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?
The Atlantic, 24 September 2015
China has been slowing for the past three years, but in my judgement… most of the reason why they’ve slowed is because they’ve deliberately slowed it… even with it being slower, what they’re going to grow at this year is the equivalent of the U.S.A. growing by 4%, and so many people I meet around the world, professional, business and analytical types, just don’t get the scale of China’s influence, even with its slowing and changing.
Jim O’Neill, inventor of the BRIC acronym and formerly Chief Economist and Chairman of the Asset Management Division at Goldman Sachs, in conversation with Tom Keene and Jim Chanos at the Bloomberg Markets 50 Summit, New York, 24 September 2013
And yet, despite China’s rise, even people who, presumably, should be on top of the material, are still woefully uninformed:
It was interesting when you read out your chart asking [the audience at the Harvard Kennedy School] in what areas China would become No. 1 in a range of areas — when you said it was already No. 1, everybody gasped!
Another gasp-worthy fact – between 2011 and 2013, China both produced and used more cement than the United States in the entire 20th century!
Looking structurally, as Graham put it in the book, the discombobulation that this [rise of China] is inevitably going to cause the status quo power [i.e. the United States]…
Samantha Power, speaking at a presentation and discussion of the book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison, at the Harvard Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School.
Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations 2013 to 2017, Senior Adviser to Senator Barack Obama until March 2008, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council January 2009 to February 2013, first Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School 1998 to 2002, listed as the 41st most powerful woman in the world in 2016 by Forbes, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
Streamed live on Mar 22, 2017