Mr Bush has betrayed hopes of a kinder and gentler globalisation

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The Independent Online

Remember when the world was never going to be the same again? When people across the United States struggled to understand what had happened to make their nation the target of such a shocking assault? When sales of the Koran leapt as Westerners tried to learn more about Islam? When George Bush surprised the world with his restrained and considered response to the murder of thousands of his fellow citizens?

It seemed then that President Bush might usher in the dawn of – in his father's words – a kinder, gentler America. This might be a United States more willing to listen to the causes of resentment against it around the world. Beyond the shores of the US, Tony Blair issued his rallying call for the rich, "civilised" countries to turn the tragedy of 11 September into an opportunity to right many of the wrongs of an unequal, unfair world.

It was even predicted that anti-capitalist demonstrators would not lay siege to gatherings of global bigwigs again. Not just because it seemed tasteless to express raucous or violent anti-capitalist (for which read anti-American) sentiments when thousands of Americans had just died in the most shocking act of anti-Americanism ever, but because the message seemed to have got through to the world's leaders that they had to do something about the arrogant assumption that American-style capitalism was the answer to all the problems of the developing world.

It was not to be. Despite the World Economic Forum moving its annual talking shop of business and political leaders from the Swiss skiing resort of Davos to New York as a gesture of solidarity with the city, the protesters are out in force, although they promised to eschew violence.

Of course, "globalisation" means many things, now including Teletubbies on Chinese state television. And many of those protesting on the streets of New York against the foreign and economic policies of the US and its allies take a simplistic view of "globalisation", as if this were a single, evil phenomenon directed from a White House in the pay of multinational corporations. This overlooks the extent to which free trade and liberal capitalism are part of the solution to world poverty rather than the cause.

Yet many of the protesters are right to give voice to criticism of Western leaders for their failure to turn the post-11 September rhetoric into reality. The criticisms which deserve to be heard are those of the failure of the governments of rich countries to manage global economic forces in ways that help the world's poor.

This week has seen too many examples of how the good intentions of last year have been dissipated. President Bush's State of the Union address took the campaign against terrorism in the sterile direction of aggression towards the "axis of evil", naming three unconnected countries, one of which, Iran, has been moving in recent years towards reintegration in the world community. All they have in common is ballistic missiles – an obsession of US foreign policy from before the attacks of 11 September, events which should have broadened US understanding of the nature of the threats to its security.

Then his administration rejected the call from James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, for a doubling of aid from rich countries to poor.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair, evangelist of the new moral world order, has sent the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, away empty-handed when he came to ask for more troops for longer to help stabilise his country.

The theme of the World Economic Forum in New York is "Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future". Neither Mr Bush nor Mr Blair are consistently demonstrating such leadership now.

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