The credit crunch and political paralysis in the western world has enhanced speculation about the future of China, a country which superficially seems to be doing so better than Europe or America. The headline economic growth rate in China in the three months to June 2011 was 9,5 per cent, against a figure of 0,2 per cent for Britain and 1 per cent in the US. It is little wonder that western politicians eyeball China’s trajectory enviously. Meanwhile, China’s growing economic weight has not only made it indispensible to solving global economic problems, but also seems to be translating into growing political and security influence as well. If one was needed, a reminder came recently with the launch of the country’s first aircraft carrier.
We are now several weeks removed from the unusual, almost mob-driven mentality that gripped the UK at the height of furore over phone hacking. It progressed like a wrecking ball through the pillars of the British establishment, first claiming the country’s most popular Sunday newspaper, then its most prominent policemen, and finally putting a dent in the Prime Minister’s credibility. There was an unpredictable air about the whole affair, with no-one able to foresee what revelations would come next as – ironically enough – the media itself controlled the drip, drip of information and whipped up the frenzy.
The American people are renowned for their optimism, but the history of their political thought has a dark undercurrent of pessimism and a persistent fear of decline. Declinist thought has proven hardy. It has flourished come rain or shine, and history has often proven its fears misguided. Its persistence can be explained partly by the natural tendency towards self-criticism in a liberal society, and partly by the manic-depressive nature of the business cycle. But it is also surely attributable to the very real problems that have faced American statesmen of every generation, problems which it was never guaranteed would or even could be solved.
Middle Eastern television audiences and the residents of Abbottabad can attest that there has been no shortage of the theatrical in Barack Obama’s foreign policy. His first television interview, given to Al-Arabiya in the first month of his tenure, was an attempt to use his own background and charisma to make an appeal to Muslim publics, while the raid to kill Osama bin Laden combined dramatic theatre on a global stage with an effective use of American power to achieve concrete goals. These events have captured the imagination.