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The 4am Moment: What Keeps World Leaders Awake

John Rentoul

cover Rising Tides 198x300 The 4am Moment: What Keeps World Leaders AwakeLiam Fox, who came a close third in the contest to lead the Conservative Party eight years ago and who was Defence Secretary for a year and a half, was going to call his book The 4am Moment – What Keeps World Leaders Awake.

That would have been a better title, providing a central theme for Fox’s enthusiastic curiosity about the state of the world. Pakistan is the main answer – and Fox disarmingly admits that he did not know until he wrote the book that the name Pakistan is an acronym. It is an eclectic book with much of interest in it.

I commented briefly on it a couple of months ago, but have now read the rest, partly because Fox interviewed Tony Blair for it. Blair’s comments are familiar; he repeats his call for a reformation of Islam:

We need to put religion in its proper place. The sooner this argument comes the better. In Europe it took a long time to realise that you can have religion, but you have to be willing to allow other people to believe differently or not at all. At last there is a real debate about these issues occurring in the region [the Middle East] – if you watch Al Jazeera you will see genuinely different views being represented. That didn’t happen in the past.

Blair repeats his warning that tolerant, secular leaders of the Arab spring are “numerous but they are not well funded or organised” while the “hard-line Islamists” are “organised and well funded”. And he says that many global institutions “are not functioning well”, but doesn’t have any “easy answers”. I don’t know if there is any significance in his singling out the World Bank, saying it “could certainly be improved”.

Fox has some good quotations from two Americans he interviewed. Bob Gates, former Secretary of Defense, says: “Government is like a big dinosaur: a very large footprint, a very small brain and very poor motor control.”

And Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, disputes the fashionable idea of a multipolar world:

The world doesn’t feel very multipolar to me at all. Only the US, the Brits, the Australians and occasionally the French have any notion of global responsibility. The Chinese have none – it is a totally mercantilist foreign policy. India could have a major impact, but they are too focused on their regional issues. Russia is now mainly a blocking power. Show me another power that is willing to shoulder the responsibility that comes with real global leadership.

Fox quotes two surprising journalists approvingly. One is Ian Birrell, my former deputy editor at The Independent:

I do not normally tear out pages from airline magazines but a recent piece in British Airways’ Highlife magazine by Ian Birrell struck me as particularly punchy and poignant. In pointing out that, contrary to widespread public perception, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda had average growth rates of 6.5 per cent between 2005 and 2010 he noted:

“The proportion of people in sub-Saharan Africa hit by famine averaged under 0.3 per cent between 1995 and 2005. The harmful narrative was driven for decades by an unholy alliance of an ever-growing aid industry, politicians claiming to be saving the world and lazy journalists happy to go alone for the ride rather than challenge the conventional wisdom.”

The other journalist Fox praises is Nick Cohen for this, from The Spectator:

I can say from experience that if I talk about the “American Christian right” or the “Israeli right” no one will blink … When I use equally precise language to talk about the “Muslim right”, one of the great forces of reaction in the world today, my comrades either go blank, because I am using language they cannot understand, or accuse me of “racism”, lack of “empathy”, inappropriate “language” or some other gross offence against modern etiquette.

Finally, he notes another fact he didn’t know before he started work on the book, and which I had not heard before either: “Almost half the population of the world is dependent for its drinking water on rivers that rise on the Tibetan Plateau, so he who controls Tibet has an awesome strategic weapon.”

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  • Ciaron Goggins

    A couple of points J.R – the thing that keeps the rulers awake is the threat of the ruled rising up. Nick Cohen is touchy about the whole issue of the Umma maybe that he why he defriended me on FB?

  • porkfright

    What keeps World Leaders awake? I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem to be any attempt to get anything spot-on right, does it?

  • Pacificweather

    “Only the US, the Brits, the Australians and occasionally the French have any notion of global responsibility”.

    Many wish they had no notion of global responsibility or even adopted the Chinese approach.

  • Pacificweather

    Nick Cohen is touchy about the University of Michigan Museum of Modern Art or the Sumarian city?

  • greggf

    Must be that dinosaur metaphor. Perhaps we need a metaphorical meteor strike…..

  • Kippers

    It isn’t surprising that it is Pakistan that keeps world leaders awake. The big question is: why don’t world leaders admit that? How did Pakistan manage to get nuclear weapons despite it being a maelstrom? Why did Blair say that Al Qaida had sought weapons of mass destruction without saying that it had sought them from the Khan network of Pakistan (not from Iraq)? There would appear to be a taboo about admitting that Pakistan is such a problem, but why? Of course the problems of Pakistan cannot be dealt with by simplistic solutions like invading it, so may be that is why world leaders don’t talk about the Pakistan problem in public.

    Nor is it surprising to hear that tolerant, secular leaders of the Arab Spring are “numerous but they are not well funded or organised” while the “hard-line Islamists” are “organised and well funded”. The big question is: why not admit that most of that funding has come from the Gulf States? Why not admit that there is a contradiction between the West’s closeness to Gulf States and their funding of hard-line Islamists?

  • JohnJustice

    I thought for one moment that Liam Fox’s book title meant that he had at last seen the light about the dangers of climate change – which is the ultimate 4am moment that should keep world leaders (and journalists like you JR) awake.

  • Ciaron Goggins

    Umma or Ummah – community of Muslim believers.

  • Pacificweather

    Is there a contradiction between the West’s closeness to the Gulf States and their funding of hard-line Islamists? A replacement for the USSR as the external enemy was urgently required and, most conveniently, one appears funded by a close ally.

  • porkfright

    God help us.


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