Wednesday, 18 March 2009


So nice to know it's not just me.

(Then again, my last stint at university finished less than two years ago...)

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Great Man theory

In the past couple of years I've often pondered the effect that just one individual can have on the course of world events.  That one individual usually being George W.  Bush,  of course.  I used to view history as primarily the result of complex,  slow-moving forces all coming together,  a kaleidoscope of factors continually changing to create events,  and was very sceptical of the "Great Man" theory of history.

Then Dubya came along.  It's simply inescapable that the situation the world is in right now could have been radically different if the Bush regime had not taken power following the US predential election in 2000.  An election which ultimately ceased to be Bush versus Gore at the ballot box and became Bush v. Gore,  a case before the Supreme Court to decide whether Florida's recount of votes could proceed,  a recount widely expected to give Gore the presidency.  The case was decided by just one vote.  So one decision,  by one person,  on one day in December 2000,  had a massive,  far-reaching effect on the course of world history for the next eight years and beyond.

That one person is generally considered to have been Sandra Day O'Connor,  the politically centrist judge who usually decided cases in which her colleagues were split along predictable ideological lines:  four conservative,  four liberal.  That day she voted with the conservatives.  I've just watched the interview she did yesterday with John Stewart,  where he asks her to recall that decision;  it's one of the things that motivated this post.

Obviously the word "Man" in my title there is meant in the old-fashioned,  gender-neutral sense.

Now,  thanks to that 5-4 decision,  we are left with an almost impossible challenge to prevent further climate change,  the worst economic mess since the Great Depression,  and a vastly greater threat from Islamist terrorism than that which existed on 11 September,  2001.  To quote an analysis in The Guardian today:

Eight years of neocon foreign policies have been a spectacular disaster for American interests in the Islamic world,  leading to the advance of Hamas and Hezbollah,  the wreckage of Iraq,  with more than two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population,  the rise of Iran as a major regional power,  and now the implosion of Afghanistan and Pakistan,  probably the most dangerous development of all.

When it comes to the terrorist threat and especially the mess in Pakistan and Afghanistan,  I'm increasingly thinking that Obama just may not have time to undo the massive damage wrought by the previous regime.  He needs to reduce the American presence in Iraq,  force Israel to finally get serious about peace,  and radically revise the entire Western approach to Pakistan and Afghanistan,  all before Pakistan implodes to the point where the risks get nuclear.  While of course simultaneously pushing through tough moves on climate change and warding off the worst recession in seventy years.

Time will tell,  but can anyone be that Great?