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Don’t blame the West for doing the right thing

A top-level meeting of Nato in 1957. Bettmann/Getty

Try to get your head around the “magnitude of American power” in the 1950s, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. The US had established Nato; it had “revived” Japan and western Europe in the wake of World War II. It led the world in mass culture – from Hollywood to Elvis – and in high art, with abstract expressionism and the novels of Saul Bellow. It provided a “monstrous share” of global output, and had such far-sighted leaders as Dwight Eisenhower. Yet even then, as the Cold War intensified, Washington couldn’t convince countries home to “half the world’s people” to take its side. “If the West, at its mightiest and best led, couldn’t charm, induce, reason or bully them into its camp, who could blame it for failing to do so now?”

Quite a few people, it seems. On Ukraine, many commentators argue that the West is culpable for “losing the rest”. But that’s the wrong way of looking at it. These other countries have agency of their own, including “the power to be wrong”. And on the matter of Ukraine, they are. Wrong morally, because this is a war of imperial conquest of the kind that these former colonies profess to oppose, and wrong strategically because Moscow is a terrible “alternative patron” to Washington. But too many in the West think that “if something in the world is awry”, then the US and its partners must be to blame. This allows Western progressives to feel their favourite emotion: “ostentatious guilt”. Their obsessive self-criticism has the veneer of humility, but really “nothing could be more patrician”.