May 1, 2010 1:36 am

After Empire

'After Empire' cover

After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World, by Dilip Hiro, Nation Books £15.99, 360 pages

For 30 years playwright, journalist and historian Dilip Hiro has provided us with skilful commentaries on geopolitical themes. Driven by headline events, his work has centred on the Middle East, as well as his native India. Typically, a Hiro book is a dispassionate chronicle that refuses to take sides, letting facts speak for themselves. He advances no great theories, but stitches his tapestries with threads drawn from other authorities, institutional reports and, especially, the print and televisual media.

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In After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World, which surveys global events since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hiro casts his net more widely than before, and in so doing for once lets rip. George W Bush is lambasted for a series of policy failures that have led to the US’s loss of global traction. Bush, Hiro insists, did his country “more damage” even than Osama Bin Laden by “overreacting” to 9/11.

The demise of the Soviet Union left America as the sole superpower – the “empire” of Hiro’s title. But the US squandered its unique opportunity to bring to fruition the “new world order”. Instead, the nation was propelled into a democracy jihad that delivered violence instead of peace, and lost the US friends and influence in every quarter.

Most obviously, Hiro writes, this was wrought by the illegal invasion of Iraq. The hollowness of Bush’s democratic advocacy was highlighted by his refusal to accept not only the elected Hamas government in Palestine, but Hugo Chávez’s victories in Venezuela. In the same vein, Washington has refused to countenance the Iranian model of Islamic democracy.

All that was before the current financial crisis, originating from the US, undermined the world economy. Foolishly, Bush declined to raise taxes to fund his wars while allowing an unsustainable credit boom.

In Hiro’s multipolar configuration there are still peaks – the US, China, Russia and the EU (to which I would add Japan) – with others pushing their way to the fore, notably India, Brazil, perhaps Iran. China, with its command economy and vast manpower resources, has been the winner to date. Russia too is in recovery mode, not least because Vladimir Putin was able to capitalise on the shambles of Boris Yeltsin’s rule.

Where I am tempted to disagree with Hiro is in his ready acceptance of China’s self-characterisation as a people’s republic. It can just as fairly be seen as a revived empire with a non-hereditary leadership. Hiro tells us that China has two turbulent but relatively insignificant minorities – the Tibetans and Moslem Uighurs. Yet more than 50 minorities are officially recognised, and it is not just in the provinces of Xijang and Xinjiang that subjugation is habitual.

How long Hiro’s multipolar, multi-valent world will last before reverting to something more static is an imponderable question. For now, however, his challenging, even contrarian account of it should be required reading not just for the British Foreign Office, but among foreign ministries more generally.

Justin Wintle is the author of ‘Perfect Hostage’ (Arrow Books)

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