The lion tamer and McDonalds

“The problem was that the Chinese just didn’t like McDonalds.” So, reputedly, ran the weary sigh of an old State Department hand reviewing the various events and ups and downs from 1990 until now. If you remember back to that heady time, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism,the end of history, the word McDonalds has a very special place. The arrival of that restaurant in each liberated town (Moscow, for example) was meant to herald the the arrival of the Free West. Just as people flocked to McDonalds, so they would flock to western values of freedom, democracy, open markets and the whole Enlightenment package. Except that they haven’t.

The whole view was naive and simplistic. It overlooked the fact that other civilisations might have very different cultures, histories and even reasons not to adopt the western package. Perhaps those reasons were good, perhaps not. Maybe we should deal with them another day. But anyone with a sense of history or logic must respect them, and look at the world we are in today: 2021, not 1991, in other words.

We think that the West now is rather like a lion tamer in a cage with three very large wild lions. The tamer is armed with a chair and a whip, the traditional accoutrements of the profession. The three lions are Russia, China and Militant Islam. The tamer does not wish to destroy them, for they are his livelihood. Yet he must find a way to bring peace to the cage. The problem is numbers. To approach any one lion too closely, in order to tame it, would leave his back exposed to the other two, who will turn to attack. Yet to leave the three lions where they are requires endless vigilance, which must eventually exhaust. And meanwhile he can’t spend time developing the act, or any other.

One man knew a possible way out of the dilemma: Richard Milhouse Nixon. That’s right, the much maligned 37th President of the United States of America, whom older readers will recall ran into certain -ah, difficulties– over matters concerning a certain Senator McCarthy, Cambodia and the Watergate Building in Washington. But for all his faults, Nixon had two key insights. Firstly, his enemies might have a world view similar to his own, except that they were the tamers and the US and its allies were the lions. And that above all, they needed a deal, for both sides had something that the other badly wanted-peace. Fifty years on from detente, we now badly need something very similar. Is their an American or EU leader ready to grasp the nettle?

#world politics #democracy #freedom #USA #russia #china #islam #EU

we hope to bring you our regular round up next week

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