When Maggie met Mikhail, George and François

The Changing Global Order
February 19, 1999

This is a collection of 44 short articles or interviews with some famous and some not-so-famous politicians, thinkers and doers.

Eighteen of the 44 interviews were conducted by the editor and published in the Los Angeles Times between 1993 and 1997. There is a splendid long conversation piece between Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush and François Mitterrand about the end of the cold war. They talk uninterrupted and uninterviewed. These 28 pages are about the only good ones in a book that contains close to 300.

As is inevitable in such a collection, cliches abound. The usual mob is here - Regis Debray, Francis Fukuyama, Kenichi Ohmae, Lee Kuan Yew, Bill Gates, Alvin Toffler et al. If it is Africa you want, how can you do without Ali Mazrui - there being no other African intellectual any American knows.

Heads of state and governments jostle for two pages; Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Mahathir bin Mohamad (Malaysia), Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel), the recently deceased King Hussein of Jordan, Aleksander Kwasniewski (no, I won't tell you where he rules). It all suits the busy executive on his global flight who wants to find out where it is safe to invest in five quick minutes.

Americans worry about fundamentalism, by which they do not mean the people who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma but Islamic fundamentalists so conveniently and learnedly demonised by Samuel Huntington. So we have an interview with Hassan Al Turabi, who is very robust in his defence of his views. A female scientist, Farida Faouzia Charfi, writes the only decently intelligent article, noting that scientific and technological education does not guarantee modernity.

Such delights are rare. In the main, though, the losers come out better than the winners. Alexander Lebed, Anatoly Lukyanov and Yevgeny Yevtushenko are angry that Russia has lost. Fidel Castro does not admit defeat, however. Benazir Bhutto promises to do a lot for the women of Pakistan. Costa-Gavras hates Hollywood, though Michael Eisner of Disneyland loves it.

The exchange between the Big Four is good because you see how they think about the unfolding crisis of the end of the cold war. Thatcher's fear of a united Germany is stronger than her relief at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mitterrand rationalises that it is inevitable, and the French are determined to contain the Germans. Gorbachev can only smile wryly at their fear after what the USSR went through at the hands of the Germans. So what is the expansion of Nato for - to contain Russia or Germany?

But you cannot buy a book of 300 pages because about 30 of them are decent.

Lord Desai is director, Centre for Global Governance, London School of Economics.

The Changing Global Order: World Leaders Reflect

Editor - Nathan Gardels
ISBN - 1 57718 072 0
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £19.99
Pages - 298

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