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Disappointed by Bush

A review of Soros' book, The Bubble of American Supremacy



Håkan Wiberg

TFF board member

April 12, 2005

George Soros must be a disappointed man. In the book, "The Bubble of American Supremacy", that he published last year he admits that he has usually been rather indifferent between different presidential candidates, but sees the 2004 election in a very different light: "I have made it my primary objective to persuade the American public to reject President Bush in the forthcoming elections" (p. viii).

He probably even succeeded in his avowed purpose. The exit polls in Ohio and elsewhere showed Kerry as a clear winner, whereas the official election results proclaimed George W. Bush as the winner. The more detailed figures were analysed by a group of very respected mathematicians and statisticians, and show beyond reasonable doubt that there was gross and systematic electronic election fraud, even if they of course cannot tell exactly who were involved in what ways. If this sounds familiar from Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, there is one important difference: the voters there revolted, those in the USA did not, so Soros lost at the end of the day.

That, however, does not make the book less interesting; its value goes far beyond the election results.

George Soros is not easy to put into any box. He is a liberal in important sense of this nebular word, his views deeply rooted in his own experience of being a Jew under a succession of different dictatorships - military, then fascist, then Stalinist - in the Hungary of his youth until he fled to Great Britain in 1947 (and moved on to the United States a few years later), and states that he is scared of the Stalinist language - "if you are not for us, you are against us" - that he now hears from Bush, Ashcroft and others.

He is a billionaire who made his fortune on currency speculation and a firm believer in market economy, yet he has repeatedly warned of "market fundamentalism" and self-destructive tendencies in today´s capitalism. He has a philosophical training and hails Karl Popper´s epistemology as well as his enthusiasm for an open society, but also very much a practical man; it is not much of an exaggeration to say that he has done as much to support the protagonists of an open society in former Communist countries - and elsewhere - as the entire European Union.

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The first section of the book is devoted to critical analysis, the main part of it dealing with the position of USA in the world, with chapters on the Bush Doctrine, on the "War on Terrorism", on the foreign policy of the Bush administration and on the Iraqi quagmire. His general thesis is that while September 11 changed the course of history, this was not so much by the event itself as the way the Bush administration chose to respond to it: "War on Terror".

Soros documents well that this should not be seen as a spontaneous panic reaction: the plans for aggression in the Middle East had been drafted and published by people with close connections with Israel who also got prominent members of the Bush administration, but they had been rejected by Clinton as well as Bush at the beginning of his presidency before September 11 created better conjunctures for another attempt at selling them. Soros documents the lies, hypocrisy and obfuscations behind the war on Iraq, summarizing that "we must find a way of getting rid of the likes of Saddam, but the Bush administration´s behavior in Iraq renders the task more difficult" (p. 65).

Something similar is concluded concerning the drastic reductions in civil liberties and democracy suffered by the US citizens - as well as by citizens in many other countries under US pressure or in collusion with the USA.The "PATRIOT" Act that was bulldozed through a congress that mostly had not even had the opportunity to read its text, but again this was largely a matter of the protagonists of an authoritarian society grabbing a golden opportunity rather than a "spontaneous" reaction.

The last chapter in this section deals with the domestic policies of Bush, Soros confines his remarks "to one subject I know something about: the budget deficit". Its conclusion from analyzing the interplay between political and economic decision-making is that "we will have to pay a heavy price for the irresponsible fiscal policy of the Bush administration" (p.74).

The critical analysis is written by a concerned US citizen ("this is not the America that I chose to live in") who has the advantage of being able to see more clearly by comparing with his experiences of other parts of the world, whether fascist, Stalinist or democratic. Much of it could have been written by concerned citizens elsewhere, provided of course that they also had the intelligence, knowledge and resources of George Soros.

This is less true for the section presenting a constructive vision, where the range of possible alternative authors is more restricted, since they must put more faith in Soros´s own value premises. His point of departure is that the arrogant policies of US supremacy are both self-defeating and undermining the possibilities of USA eventually playing a more humble leader role in co-operation with like-minded countries by alienating allies, emasculating the United Nations, being niggardly with assistance, etc. Many Americans - to whom the visions were addressed - will agree with Soros, as will many reasonable people elsewhere; many others will see a broader coalition as inescapably dominated by rich Northern countries anyhow, whatever noble aims proclaimed for it, and will therefore see it as an even greater threat to mankind than an arrogant unilateralist USA.

In spite of that - or because of that - the vision makes for interesting reading, discussing globalization and the shortcomings of global capitalism, sovereignty and intervention, the deficiency of foreign aid and Soros´s own experiences as an aid donor, fights over natural resources and rules for them, and so forth. The summarizing chapter carries the same title as the book and presents Soros´s own analysis, with his conceptual framework presented in an appendix.

Essentially, he tries to extrapolate the analysis of bubbles and boom-bust cycles from economics to politics. The point is that for a while the perceptions of US might and capability held by the neo-cons contributed to changing reality in that very direction, thus being apparently self-confirming and keeping the relations between perceptions and reality close to an equilibrium; but eventually the gap between perceptions and reality will get too great, and bust follows.

To Soros, the reactions to September 11 - which may well have been foreseen and intended by Osama bin Laden - defined the turning point from near-equilibrium to far-from-equilibrium between perceptions and actions on the one hand and reality on the other hand, and the US is now caught in the Iraqi quagmire, from which it needs a radical reassessment of its foreign policy to extricate itself.


Håkan Wiberg


George Soros
The Bubble of American Supremacy.
London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2004
ISBN 0-297-94906-9


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