Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wolf Munch Rock Award

Andrew Sullivan has announced the winners of his dyspeptic annual "awards," designed for the most part to highlight the dogmatism, intellectual dishonesty, mindless aggression, and self-promoting pretensions of our punditocracy.

As an antacid, let me introduce the first annual Wolf-Munch-Rock Award. Named for Financial Times columnists Martin Wolf, Wolfgang Munchau and Gideon Rachman, mainstays of that oasis of dispassionate analysis the FT Comment page, this award goes to an observer of world news and trends whose writings exhibit deep (if understated) expertise, fact- and evidence-based exposition, wide-angle perspective on large-scale trends, and theses based more on observation and analysis than ideology.

First year winners by decree: Martin Wolf, Wolfgang Munchau, Gideon Rachman. As an example of the way these guys deploy facts in support of a thesis --or plow through facts as they replay their search for a thesis - take Gideon Rachman's recent Five events that have defined 2007.

Rachman begins with a disarmingly modest, seemingly pedestrian justification for the 'exercise':
If you want to make sense of world affairs, it is useful to identify the most significant events. Also, I like making lists. So here goes.
Rachman's choices: 1) The surge, 2) Putin's Munich speech (accusing the Americans of "an almost uncontained hyper use of force ... that is plunging the world into an abyss of conflicts"), 3) the credit crunch, 4) Petrochina becoming the world's most valuable company (for a while), and 5) Musharrraf's 'mini-coup' in Pakistan. An odd mix of the military, the political, and the financial. Random? Bound only by his love of list-making? Not quite:

Is there a common theme linking these five events? Clearly. The link is the growing strain on the world's sole superpower. America is locked into a draining and demoralising war. Russia, an old adversary, is becoming more assertive. China, a new rival, is on the rise. Pakistan, a vital ally, threatens to fall apart. The US economy is under more strain than for years. Happy new year.


Surprise! A general unifying theory, delivered, again, with a modesty that implicitly acknowledges the complexity of events and the provisional nature of such judgments (as does the use of the perfect tense in the headline). This is not "the decline of the west," not a Jeremiad against American hubris, not a trump of doom - just a clear-headed look across disparate theaters at a "growing strain."

Wolf Munch Rock Award Part II is here
Part III is here

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