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Niall Ferguson

16 June 06 13:29 GMT

In the week of President Bush's surprise trip to Iraq, we turned to a Brit who's made a home for himself in Massachusetts. TV don Niall Ferguson gives us his Take Of The Week.

" Coming back here from the United States, where I've spent most of the past six months, I'm struck by the grim satisfaction with which people seem to look forward to the decline and fall of the American Empire.

Every piece of bad news, like suicides in Guantanamo Bay, or new casualties in Afghanistan, is greeted as fresh evidence of the folly of US foreign policy.

And even when things go well, like the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, there's only sneering here: no celebration.

We Brits think we can tell a real PR stunt like President Bush's flying visit to Iraq, from a genuine act of desperation, like the suicides in Guantanamo Bay.

New era of isolationism?

Six years ago, 83% of British voters had a favourable opinion of the United States. Today, that number's down to 55%. The average Brit has a higher opinion of Germany, France and Japan, which is pretty amazing to a history boy like me.

Nobody denies that the Bush administration has made some pretty serious mistakes just lately.

But those America-haters among you should ask yourselves one question. Are you really sure you want the United States to withdraw from the Middle East, not to mention Asia and Europe, into a new era of isolationism?

Careful what you wish for

A majority of Americans would be happy to oblige. But be careful what you wish for. You might miss the American Empire more than you expect.

A premature exit from Iraq could plunge the country into a terrible civil war between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. A war like that has the potential to explode right across the Middle East, drawing in soon-to-be nuclear Iran and destabilising other neighbouring countries - not least Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile in Asia, there's a challenge for global supremacy. One that doesn't give a damn about human rights, as long as it gets its hands on the oil and gas that it needs.

Step forward the Communist People's Republic of China.

A much nastier Empire?

Oh, and don't forget ex-Communist Russia, which has all but established a stranglehold on Europe's energy supplies.

The American Empire sure ain't perfect. Power has corrupted it, as power corrupts all Empires, even those established by democracies.

And yet the alternative to Empire is never Utopia.

More often than not, it's either bitter ethnic conflict - or another, much nastier Empire.


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