A free-swinging indictment of George W. Bush's foreign policy.
Reviewed by Daniel I. Davidson
Sunday, February 29, 2004; Page BW04
THE BUBBLE OF AMERICAN SUPREMACY •
Correcting the Misuse of American Power
By George Soros. PublicAffairs. 207 pp. $22.
George Soros has a heart of gold and resources to match. At the London School of Economics, Karl Popper's vision of the "open society" came to underlie Soros's political thinking. Soros settled in the United States in 1956. His success as a financial speculator of genius included his legendary 1992 bet against the pound sterling, which netted him more than $1 billion in a few weeks. After he amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $7 billion, he turned his attention to a unique philanthropic goal -- promoting open, decent, democratic society throughout the world -- an effort to which he has contributed nearly $5 billion. Wags described him as the only individual with his own foreign policy and suggested during the Clinton era that Soros does what the American government would do if it had the money. By itself, his imaginative role in undermining the Soviet Union and nudging the nascent democracies developing throughout its former empire would qualify him as a secular saint.
In The Bubble of American Supremacy, Soros's basic contention is that the Bush administration has deliberately and deceptively exploited the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in order to pursue radical policies "that the American public would not have otherwise tolerated." He views the Bush dream of American supremacy as unobtainable -- and a contradiction of America's traditional principles. Soros passionately believes that Bush's policy "endangers our values as well as our security." And because America is so powerful, he also argues, the Bush agenda also endangers the world.
Soros traces his sensitivity to the language of political extremism to his own background. "I grew up as a Jew in Hungary during World War II. I lived through both German and Soviet occupation and learned at an early age how political systems can affect your very survival. When I hear President Bush say that 'either you are with us or you are with the terrorists' I hear alarm bells." He has a similar reaction when John Ashcroft declares "to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists." Soros declares, "this is not the America I chose as my home."
Even though such criticisms score many palpable but conventional hits on administration targets, Soros's positions are often muddled. He urges that the United States should have treated the Sept. 11 attacks not as acts of war but as crimes against humanity and that "crimes require police work, not military action." If language has meaning, this would have ruled out the American attack on Afghanistan. But at another point Soros writes, "the invasion of Afghanistan was justified by its role as the home base of al Qaeda."
Forced analogies do not help. In characterizing the drift of Bush policy-making away from America's normal ideological equilibrium in global diplomacy, Soros compares it to the stock market's boom-and-bust cycle. Use of terms -- such as "reflexivity," "radical fallibility," "the human uncertainty principle" and "fertile fallacies" -- that require an explanatory appendix also does not aid the cause of clarity.
Soros asserts as facts propositions that are debatable. Did the perpetrators behind Sept. 11 want the United States "to react the way we did"? Other "facts" are simply wrong. John Ashcroft has not "banned plea bargaining," as anyone recalling the fate of John Walker Lindh or following prosecution efforts in the Enron scandal would realize. At other times, Soros floats predictions that are almost certainly wrong -- for example, that the president's approval rating "is likely to sink as low as it had been high." Here Soros is stating that before the election Bush's approval rating will go lower than that of any previous president. Last month, Soros forecasted that the economy would hold at least through the elections. This makes his prediction about the president's popularity even more incomprehensible. All too often, Soros finds it sufficient to state his view without any sustained effort to support his position.
It is startling to read a man who considers himself something of a philosopher acknowledging that he was "not even aware of natural rights until I started studying" the neoconservative "view of the world." He believes that "Leo Strauss, who supposedly influenced Paul Wolfowitz and other neocons, cottoned on the first sentence of the declaration [of Independence] and derived, from the idea of self-evident truths the concept of natural rights," a concept that Soros believes "plays an important role in the ideology of American supremacists." He thinks that natural rights are "associated with conservative arguments and papal pronouncements" and that it is appropriate to distinguish between his concept of the open society and natural rights.
As the Columbia Encyclopedia states, "the classic expressions of natural rights are The English Bill of Rights (1689), the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), the First 10 Amendments of the Constitution of the United States (known as the Bill of Rights, 1791), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948)." There is no opposition between the open society as expounded by Soros and the doctrine of natural rights.
Soros does not have either Henry Kissinger's talent for describing the complexities of the political world or Paul Krugman's ability to deploy relentless logic to skewer the Bush administration. Rather, his strength is in grasping the big picture, determining how he can make a difference, and succeeding in improving the world. He has pledged that "I shall do everything I can" to ensure that the president is defeated in this November's election. He has already contributed more than $12 million to that cause. Given Soros's track record, the president should be worried. •
Daniel I. Davidson, a Washington lawyer and former diplomat, has served on the staff of the National Security Council.