Friday 16 January 2009

The world after Bush: the neo-prog moment

My 'backwards Bush' countdown clock enters its last 72 hours. But it was back in the summer of 2006 that my Fabian essay on the World After Bush, to kick off a Fabian strand of debate on that theme, opened with a hopeful glance ahead to this coming Tuesday.

On a bright, cold day in January as the Washington clocks strike twelve, you might just, if you listen carefully, be able to hear a swooshing sigh of relief as it travels around the world. As the 44th President of the United States takes the oath of office at noon on the 20th January 2009, George W Bush's Presidency will enter the history books.

The central point of this extended series of events and publications was to challenge the progressive left to construct the effective, multilateral agenda we need. "Soon we will need something more than a critique of what the United States could have done differently". I suggested that required a 'neo-prog agenda' - which was clear that it valued the ends of human rights and democracy, but fundamentally differed about how to pursue those, so developing the clear critique of the neo-cons, which Tony Blair always lacked, while constructing a positive internationalist agenda of its own.

This is what we have tried to do over the last 18 months. Our major 'Change the World' conference was jam packed with debates to mark the 'one year to go' moment, not just to say 'Bye Bye Bush' but to produce the ideas for a new agenda.

I published a short manifesto for the World After Bush, and we tried to set out progressive strategy on subjects from Middle East peace to Muslim integration and climate change. We asked how we could rethink the special relationship , engage Iran in a way which addressed proliferation and showed solidarity for Iranian democrats.

We got a decent scoop in getting the PM's first public commitment to the principle of the Iraq inquiry, though the details remain sketchy.

I think it has been important to debate these issues publicly, not least because the government's thinking has been more often private or in code, often heading in a similar direction, but very much waiting for Dubya to depart the stage.

It was a relief that our follow up conference immediately after the election could celebrate the Democrats' victory, and debate whether expectations of change were too high.

Now the good news is that the public debate is shifting in many areas.

The advice to 'ditch the war on terror' was yesterday clearly articulated by David Miliband. (As I noted a year ago that quietly dropping the language would not do enough to frame the alternative approach needed).

The letter to The Times yesterday opposing Trident renewal shows how much
debate about Trident has shifted since the Cold War debate.

Charles Clarke was an 'unusual suspect' opposing its renewal in his World After Bush lecture But nuclear disarmament is an issue where the Obama Presidency, backed by a strong bipartisan consensus, might shift US policy rather more than many in Europe might expect.

No doubt, there will be many difficulties and challenges ahead. But, on the eve of the World After Bush, the world of foreign policy is already beginning to feel a much more rational place.

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