Time for the Americans to retreat. But who will take their place?

It’s 2031. A new generation is at loggerheads in Ireland and the  Caucasus are in flames. The Chinese President goes into a huddle with his advisers in the Forbidden City to thrash out which overseas investment to cut and which to boost in order to put pressure on one or other faction in the distant theatres of conflict. The aged but still lively Dame Anna Lo is summoned as a key adviser on Ireland.   How would we feel – not about Anna of course, she’d be great, but the rest of it ?

Does anybody share my irritation with Obama and Clinton pontificating about every crisis from the tiny to the titanic, from NI to Egypt? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a deep dyed conspiracy theorist about the US military industrial complex like the left wing linguistics professor Noam Chomsky. I understand American overedependence on foreign investment.  I’m grateful that the US held the ring in Europe up to 1989.  As for those dark mutterings, ” it’s all about the oil,” do you fancy suddenly going without it? I have faint childhood memories of petrol rationing during the Suez debacle of 1956. This is not the time for a repeat performance.

Nevertheless America’s sense of entitlement to intervene anywhere in a ” monopolar” world is wearing thin. It looks as if theyare like air,  helplessly filling an exposed void anywhere in the world, in spite of the relative decline of their wealth and power.  Even at their peak, when you look at it coolly, the record is patchy to poor from Mexico in 1914 to Vietnam in the 1960s and Iraq and Afghanistan today.  The US can behave like a grizzly bear  knocking its playmate’s head off with an attempt at a friendly cuff , or sometimes taking a severe bite back   in return.  The time is overdue for America to end the client state system from Marcos to Mubarak, memorably described by Roosevelt of the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza: ” He may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch”

True, Korea was a great success. In theory it was a UN operation because the Russian delegate was absent for the crucial voter and failed to cast his veto. In the 21st century, might the UN with a Security Council expanded by the BRIC countries yet become the instrument of diplomacy and sanctions in a multipolar world? Or do our children face the prospect of Chinese intervention if the Troubles break out again?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London