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September 19, 2007

The U.S. Was Not Missed at the World Economic Forum

At the 2007 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, German Chancellor and EU President Angela Merkel gave the opening address. Britain’s (now former) Prime Minister Tony Blair, spoke of world trade, climate change and Africa. King Abdullah of Jordan opened the Forum on the Middle East with a rallying call to "end violence, to make peace, and to build the regional economic powerhouse of tomorrow." They, along with other world leaders, including those representing the newly emerging superpowers of China, Russia and India also attended and spoke at the 5-day conference.

The U.S., in years past, had always played a key role at this annual gathering of global business, political, and intellectual leaders, spearheading discussions on matters impacting the future of the world. But not a single Bush representative attended this year.

I hardly know what our president’s intent was by not participating. Maybe he and his advisors thought that our absence would be crippling, or disruptive, or, at least conspicuous, but from all accounts the Forum carried on in grand form, shaping a vision for the world without official U.S. input. In short, we weren’t missed.

Having just returned from Georgia (a post-Soviet republic) on a research trip for my next book, I noted that unlike most of the world that is eye-rolling at Bush’s latest antics, the people of Georgia are doing their best to give our president and his administration every chance to redeem themselves. Like the Ukraine and the Baltics, Georgia is struggling to sustain its fragile democracy. As far as most Georgians are concerned, without U.S. support, they would be unable to keep Vladimir Putin, the formidable leader of Russia, off their border.

And they’re probably correct

Our position and prominence in the world has helped many countries in the past. And in arguing with my very intelligent Georgian friend who hesitates to utter an unkind word about George Bush and his destructive policies, I remind her that I’m hoping as much as she that America and its ideals prevail. But with this administration Americans have been outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and worse, we’re being bled of the very power that my friend and her fellow Georgians count on to fend off Russia.

As demonstrated by our absence in Davos, the world is moving forward, but the cowboy mentality that still exists in this country is not unlike the very myopic mindset of the Islamic extremists. And in the end, backward is backward.

If, as Americans, we continue to enable a blind, archaic vision that we can change the world and its politics, unilaterally, then we will lose something even more precious than the lives of our young soldiers… we will lose our voice. Without that we are no help to ourselves, our allies, or Iraq— and most assuredly the Georgians. And the world will move on ahead without us.