George McGovern was a good man with a flawed world view

Oliver Kamm

Our leader today about the US election refers correctly to George McGovern as a man of patriotism, courage and principle. McGovern was Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. He remains one of the most important postwar US politicians not because of his electoral record (he lost to Richard Nixon in a landslide) but because of the influence of his ideas. But these proved to be an idiosyncrasy of history.

McGovern was an historian by background. He worked amid a school of thought about US foreign policy that proved especially popular in the 1960s. This was known as Cold War revisionism. It explained the Cold War with reference not to expansionist designs by Stalin and his successors but to a purportedly defensive Soviet reaction to US obduracy after the Second World War. McGovern wrote in his autobiography, Grassroots (1978): “Without excusing the aggressive behavior of the Soviets in Eastern Europe after 1945, I have always believed that we not only overreacted to it, but indeed helped to trigger it by our own post-World War II fears.”

This premise governed the foreign-policy thinking of a new type of liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s. It extrapolated from the truth that the Vietnam War was a disastrous engagement fought by immoral means and founded on a mistaken theory (“the domino effect”) to the misconceived notion that the Soviet Union was a partner for peace if only the West would allow it. It misread European history (compare with Anne Applebaum’s superb new book Iron Curtain, on the crushing of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1956) and it marked a radical break from the policy of containment, which ultimately succeeded in peacefully defeating communism.

If McGovern had become President, his Secretary of State would probably have been Senator J. William Fulbright, a segregationist who argued for the withdrawal of US troops from Europe. If that had happened, Eastern Europe would not now be free; Western Europe might well also not be. McGovern was a good man and his opponent was a crook; but his view of the world was wrong.


Read our editorial | With his opponent closing in, Barack Obama cannot sit back and wait for America to deliver a thank-you vote

Memo to Obama and Romney: leave the Benghazi terror attack alone

Giles Whittell

In the end it was about jabs, not jobs. Mitt Romney did a reasonable job of jabbing Barack Obama about the 23 million Americans who are unemployed and the difference between the current 7.8 per cent jobless rate and the 5.4 per cent rate that Obama once promised. But that probably won’t swing the swing voters Romney still needs to swing his way, especially in Ohio.

Unemployment is the elephant in the great American electoral room, but it has been factored into this very polarised race for months now – and anyway, the trend line is not heading in a helpful direction for Romney. So something much stranger and more marginal now dominates the continuing spinalysis of the second presidential debate: who said what about the assassination of a US ambassador in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Both sides have messed this up. Both should leave it alone.

To summarise: on September 11 this year, Romney pounced on the condemnation by the US embassy in Cairo of an anti-Muslim film, thought then to have triggered the Benghazi attack, as evidence of an apologetic US foreign policy. Immediately the White House pounced on Romney for playing politics with dead diplomats. On the 12th, Obama said no acts of terror would shake American resolve. For the next two weeks, Administration officials resisted calling it an act of terror, preferring the anti-anti-Muslim film demonstration-got-out-of-hand (AAMFDGOOH) explanation. Team Romney, desperate for an angle of attack on Obama’s otherwise irritatingly impressive counter-terrorism credentials, sensed one at last. So last night Romney said Obama hadn’t actually called the murder an act of terror for 14 days.

Cue Obama: “Get the transcript.”

The bottom line is that Romney goofed in the debate. Obama came near as dammit to calling the attack an act of terror. This was not worth parsing. And the bigger Romney line that the Benghazi murders and a Syrian civil war is somehow an unravelling of American foreign policy is nonsense.

But the Obama Administration has goofed too. There was never anything wrong with calling an act of terror an act of terror. There was never anything to be gained by preferring the AAMFDGOOH explanation. The right response was to say “we’re not sure” until they were sure.

So. Memo to both sides: of course, regrettably, acts of terror will continue even though bin Laden is dead. Memo to Romney foreign policy advisors: bin Laden is dead. Get over it.

Read more: Debate analysis and audio dispatches from Times US correspondents

Bill Clinton’s speech had, in spades, all the ingredients that in Britain too we associate with clever and successful political positioning. It had charm, apparent sincerity, affability and guile. But it also had something we’re missing in Britain today. Mr Clinton’s “better together” message to America was a big, strong idea.

Bill Clinton is no saint, says Matthew Parris, but he knows how to strike a chord - an ability that David Cameron has lost

On Mormonism, there are three sorts of questions that should be put forcefully to Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention. The first is about the sheer weirdness of the founding beliefs and the sense in which he really embraces them. The second is the Church’s long history of racism and sexism, as well as its censorious ideas about the terms on which poor people qualify for community help. The third, with the most immediate implications, is whether the Church’s conviction that its members are direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would make him more likely to attack Iran over its nuclear programme.

Bronwen Maddox thinks that Mitt Romney is getting too easy a ride over his Mormonism

Two numbers – $135 and $12 – explain why Britain’s and Europe’s economies are stagnant or shrinking. The first is what the average worker in the West earns per day. The second is what the average worker in urban China earns.

A 15 per cent decline in standard of living could be needed to rebalance Western economies, says John Moynihan, chairman of PA Consulting Group

GlaxoSmithKline agreed last month to pay a $3 billion fine for illegally marketing drugs and bribing doctors. More than $150 million of this is expected to be paid to four former GSK executives who shopped the company to US regulators. If that sounds positively medieval, it’s because it is. In 13th century England, citizens were encouraged to take legal action on behalf of the establishment in return for a cut of any fines. The procedure was adopted in the US during the American Civil War in an attempt to curb corruption by suppliers of mangy mules and rotten rations to the Union Army. In Britain, the system was effectively ended in the 1950s. In the US it is estimated to have helped recover more than $27 billion in taxpayers’ money over the last 25 years.

David Wighton looks at the benefits of allowing whistleblowers to take a cut of corporate fines

The enemies of social justice are those who let debts run out of control and who oppose necessary reform. If Paul Ryan can convince people that he believes in state help, partly because of his personal experience, then people may trust him with the scalpel.

By selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate in the US presidential election, Mitt Romney might just have just bought the extra ammo he needs to close the poll gap on Barack Obama, writes Tim Montgomerie

This is a presidential candidate on a trip designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials, who is literally next door to the greatest foreign policy crisis of the new decade. And, as the fire rages down on Aleppo, he apparently has nothing to say about it at all. No criticism of Russia, no gesture of support for Turkey. No half-sentence about arming rebels, or not arming rebels, or UN resolutions, or anything. Look, I’m not saying it’s easy, but damn it man, you’ve got to say something.

Is Mitt Romney a hawk or just a tactless weirdo? Hugo Rifkind ponders the question

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives in London tomorrow. He’ll meet the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and a former Prime Minister (among others) and he’ll attend the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.

But then he’ll get down to business: Mr Romney is here primarily to boost his campaign coffers. At a cost of up to $75,000 a ticket, London-based American bankers are joining him at a series of fundraising dinners.

Some Barclays bankers will be in attendance, which has caused unease among a few MPs. They have used a parliamentary motion to call on Barclays executives “to cease fundraising for political candidates immediately and to concentrate entirely on repairing confidence and trust in the banking system instead”.

(And before anyone asks: No. Romney Street was around many, many years before Mitt Romney)

Contrast the 51 people killed by guns in the UK last year with their (deep breath) 31,347 counterparts in the United States, and it’s hard not to conclude that we’re doing something very right. America’s debate about gun control isn’t really about being able to defend yourself – it’s about freedom, and freedom of a very particular sort. It’s about the rights of the individual versus the greater good. America just doesn’t seem to do the latter.

Hugo Rifkind thinks America could solve its gun problem in half a generation, but doesn’t want to

It looks like an illustration from War of the Worlds but this picture was actually taken on a US Air Force base in Colorado Springs two days ago. The smoke comes from the Waldo Canyon wildfire, which has been raging for days and has displaced tens of thousands of people. The building on the right is the Air Force Academy’s cadet chapel.

(Reuters/US Air Force/Carol Lawrence)

The Waldo Canyon wildfire has been raging for five days in the US, forcing more than 32,000 people from their homes. Low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds have helped fuel the fire, which covers 6,000 acres of land near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

(AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

Columns - Tuesday June 19, 2012

Keith Minogue reflects on our changing attitude towards cheating and corruption in Standpoint

Sheila Weller looks back at San Francisco’s 1967 “Summer of Love” in Vanity Fair

In The American Prospect, Monica Potts travels to Kentucky to report on life in Owsley County, one of the poorest places in the US

Jeevan Vasagar in The Guardian on the trend of redeveloping public spaces as privately-owned estates

Compiled by @TomasRuta

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