A review of The Bubble of American Supremacy, by George Soros

It is no secret to anyone by now that George Soros, who might just be America's most intellectually ambitious billionaire, is deeply unhappy with the Bush Administration. Among other things, he has been investing literally untold amounts of money in the effort to secure Bush's defeat—and by all accounts will continue to do so until November. (Indeed, all by himself he may serve as the crowning argument against the old McCain-Feingold fantasy that political campaigning could be liberated from the power of money by congressional fiat.) In any case, he has now also produced this book, which for all its trappings of social and economic analysis is unmistakably a campaign document. And since the book was written before the Democrats had even begun to choose their candidate for the 2004 presidential election, it was clearly meant to offer support to any Democratic presidential hopeful whoever or whatever he might turn out to be. For a serious man—and Soros is certainly that—this is surely the mark of a deep unhappiness with things as they are.

Soros's objections to the Bush Administration extend pretty much across the board, but clearly his main focus at the moment is what he calls Bush's "radical new" foreign policy—most particularly, of course, as this policy is nowadays being given expression by the war in Iraq. For in his view this policy amounts to nothing less arrogant and greedy—and desperately dangerous—than an effort to extend American hegemony across the entire world. 

Now whether Mr. Soros supposes that the ambition for America to rule the world was George W. Bush's own all along, or whether he believes that the president was at some point pushed, or perhaps pulled, into adopting it, he does not actually venture to say. But there is clearly no doubt in his mind that the American government's setting out to achieve global supremacy had originally been the idea of a certain dangerous, and dangerously influential, "cabal"—indeed, he would probably characterize the group in question as a downright full-scale conspiracy. And he reminds us that some of these erstwhile conspirators have now found their way into the very center of power: in the Pentagon—beginning with both the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense and extending who knows how far beyond them in the bowels of the military bureaucracy—and in the White House, as close to the Oval Office as Vice President Dick Cheney himself (the man who, as the old saw has it, is just a heartbeat away from the presidency). 

In establishing the nature of the conspiracy Soros reminds the reader that in 1997 some 25 members of this gang—which, perhaps to the surprise of a certain number of them, has recently come to be identified throughout the press both here and abroad simply as "the neoconservatives"—issued a statement which at the time received little more than the most perfunctory attention but can now be seen to have had historic significance. Essentially the statement proposed that in the new century which was soon to be upon us the United States should return to the moral and political clarity that were achieved by the Reagan Administration, that, in other words, the country should once again become serious about maintaining a strong military combined with a foreign policy that would purposefully and beneficially promote American principles of freedom abroad. (In the interests of full disclosure, the author of this review, who is not a Straussian and has not for at least a quarter of a century been a neoconservative, was one of the signers of this statement.)

The author points out that until September 11, 2001, this cabal had no way of turning their real thirst for global power into policy and were thus required to hold back from revealing the true nature of their plans for the administration they had infiltrated so successfully. For one thing, Bush had come into office with no real mandate, having essentially stolen the election. Nor at that point did the country have the kind of clear-cut enemy who could provide the neocons with the opportunity to begin slaking their thirst for American domination. Thus it was, says Soros, that for a while Bush was content with harping on the need for the United States to get serious at last about creating a genuine missile defense. Now, to be sure, a missile defense program was not the same thing as a war, but it was "infused with the same spirit of seeking unilateral American dominance."

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Then of course came the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thus, to Mr. Soros's version of events, it was not surprising that the war on terrorism which resulted from the events of September 11 gave the president just the opportunity he and his neocon fellow conspirators had been waiting for. In order to silence criticism and at the same time keep the nation united behind him, he deliberately fostered the fear of terrorists in our midst that now gripped the country. In doing so, Bush found himself at long last in a position to pursue the old neocon-inspired and supremely dangerous dream of American global supremacy. And it was precisely this dream that not very much later would send the United States into Iraq, where it would all too deservedly come a cropper—if not during the war itself then certainly during its aftermath. 

From where else—aside, that is, from the dangerous and all too influential theories of the neoconservatives—might the urge for global ascendancy arise? The author's answer is that it also arises out of a dangerous feeling that the United States, in addition to remaining militarily superior, must continue also to maintain its position as the major force in the global capitalist system. So runs the Soros theory of the two main ambitions behind the Bush Administration's drive for world dominance.

Now, it happens that Soros managed to emigrate from Hungary after having spent his boyhood first under the Nazis and then, briefly, under the Communists. He arrived in London in 1947. He was then 17 years old, someone forced to set out in life with little or nothing to his name. And as the whole world now knows, he has ended up with a fortune amounting to many—who indeed can really say how many?—billions of dollars. He was to acquire this fortune not by building a better mousetrap, say, but rather by buying and selling world currencies. It might seem, then, that the health of the "global capitalist system" and its leading power would, at least in the long run, be a matter of some considerable interest—in both senses of that term—to him. And having experienced life under both the Nazis and the Communists (having experienced it, moreover, as a Jew, which might more easily have meant an early death) he knew on his own flesh what at the time were the two major alternatives to American power. One would have to say, then, that on the list of George Soros's private virtues, whatever they are, gratitude must be near, if not at, the very bottom. 

It does, on the other hand, have to be said that during the latter years of the Cold War he devoted a significant amount both of money and interest to liberating people from Communism, by, among other things, establishing a network of foundations devoted to promoting the idea of "the open society" in some two dozen countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This is something for which he has received much honor from a number of his fellow Americans (ironically, most vociferous among them being the "neoconservatives," who maintained an active, and sometimes rather lonely, faith in the possibility of ridding the world of the curse of Communism) and, of course, much gratitude from his Eastern European beneficiaries (among them strangely—or perhaps not so strangely—Mikhail Gorbachev, according to Soros the only man who could have been the true savior of Russia). Whatever his shortcomings, most certainly (as must nowadays be vividly apparent to everyone involved in campaigning against Bush), a lack of open-handedness is not among them.

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The problem, then, resides not in the hand but in the mind. To be sure, it must be almost impossible for any mere mortal to begin with nothing and make billions upon billions of dollars without coming to believe himself not only clever, which he surely must be, but also very wise. And George Soros seems to find further warrant for the depth of his wisdom in the fact that in England he became a student at the London School of Economics and a disciple of Professor Karl Popper. Popper, of course, was acknowledged to be one of the century's important philosophers of science, but it was for his influence as a passionate enemy of totalitarianism, particularly for his book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, that he is now perhaps best remembered. Mr. Soros continues to proclaim himself a disciple, invoking his professor's authority over and over again, and by implication wrapping himself in Popper's mantle as a social thinker. 

In The Open Society, Popper had provided not only a devastating philosophical critique of the underpinnings of totalitarianism, particularly as they had been realized in the then-contemporary evils of both Marxism and fascism, but a passionate defense of democratic liberalism. In the present context, it seems both sad and necessary to point out that the term "open society" as Popper used it means almost exactly the opposite of what those words are nowadays meant to imply in the mouths of the political actors on whom George Soros is currently lavishing millions of dollars. For Popper, the enemy was totalitarianism, especially in its two most devastating 20th-century manifestations, Nazism and Communism. For many if not most of Soros's current beneficiaries the enemy seems to be the United States of America itself. They, of course, would say that they only mean to make the country a better place. Yet when spelled out in greater political and legislative detail, "better" somehow ends up meaning more antinomian at home and more at the mercy of those who wish the country ill abroad.

And listen to George Soros's own application of what he imagines he learned at the feet of the master. In his view, the outcome of the Cold War which ended in the defeat of Communism did not, as people seemed to believe, prove that capitalism was the superior system. While there is no doubt, he says, that the Communist model turned out to be inferior to free enterprise, that is "only because the free enterprise model has been pursued in a less dogmatic, extremist way than the Communist one." 

Reading the above passage, one finds it difficult to believe one's eyes. Somewhere, either between Hungary and London, or between London and New York, Mr. Soros seems to have misplaced the terms democracy and freedom—the latter, of course, having been the main "model" counterposed to Communism, particularly from within the Soviet world—and from without, of course, there was in addition the mighty and, as it would turn out, liberating power of the United States.

Finally, Soros tells us that he used to be more balanced in his relation to the two main parties, leaning only slightly more toward the Democrats. In any case, previously he did not consider it a matter of life or death which party won the elections, but he does now. The defeat of George Bush is essential, as the book's subtitle puts it, to "correcting the misuse of American power."

Thus the mountain of social philosophy has labored and brought forth…John Kerry. Soros's intellectual vanity and social ingratitude have been well requited.