Mired ever deeper in the disaster of occupied Iraq, Downing Street’s one remaining strategic hope has been to rally domestic forces around a Blairite Europeanism. With the 2005 election out of the way, Blair could repackage himself through British chairmanship of the g8 and the eu to link up with those on the British centre-left yearning for a Europeanist alternative to America under Bush. Mark Leonard’s tract, Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, would have been an ideal intellectual support for such a turn. It manages to combine a clarion call to build Europe as a progressive alternative to Bush’s America with an artful defence of both Atlanticism and neoliberalism.

In style, Leonard’s book is reminiscent of Will Hutton’s The World We’re In. Hutton’s critique of the current American business model is a good deal more trenchant than Leonard’s, but the latter makes a more ambitious claim for the potential effectiveness of eu Europeanism as an alternative kind of international politics to Washington’s recent militarism. Leonard’s efforts to rebrand the current eu as a progressive force for social democrats are ingenious, and unlike most well-informed books on the eu, the text is lively, bristling with bright, new slogans for those eager to promote this version of Europe.

Leonard’s title about Europe ‘running’ the twenty-first century should not be taken too seriously. Though he tweaks the noses of American neocons with chapter headings such as ‘The Project for a New European Century’, his real claim is more modest. While the us, he argues, is not well configured as a state for coping with the post-Cold War world, eu Europe has hit upon a big idea for preserving the global dominance of the Atlantic alliance. The key to this lies in the politics of cosmopolitan liberalism. At face value, the case for it is a coherent one. Capitalism has triumphed throughout the world and all capitalist classes share a common interest in preserving that victory. The main challenge they face now comes from below rather than from ‘outside’, in the form of a bloc of hostile states. Second, though, capitalism comes in many varieties, and clashes of interest between capitalisms are endemic; each seeks to shape both the internal political economies of the others and the international rules of the game to their own advantage. Atlantic political dominance over the capitalist world and its regimes therefore remains hugely important and free-market fantasies about the end of power politics on a level global playing-field are just that. At present, the rules and regimes of the world economy are still those dictated by the Atlantic powers to serve their interests.

The world-order problem can thus be formulated as that of providing global institutional regimes which are perceived to be universalist but which are, in detailed reality, accented towards ensuring outcomes favouring the continued dominance of the Atlantic world. This, for Leonard, is the overwhelmingly important task of Europe and the us today. And to achieve this, the useu must both refashion the international institutions and restructure their own modus operandi in global politics. Bodies such as the unsc or nato are too obviously Atlantic-centred. Bushite efforts to dominate the world by dividing states along friend–enemy lines should cease. Leonard is sympathetic to Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay’s suggestion of an ‘Alliance of Democratic States’, a un whose membership would be selected by the us. But rather than a ‘grand design’, he looks forward to the incremental emergence of a new ‘world of regions’. Not, to be sure, of ‘autarchic blocs’, but of ‘overlapping clubs’, inclusive of the new rising capitalist centres like China, India and Brazil, that will promote global development, regional security and open markets. ‘A rule-governed world with American power behind it’, as Leonard explains. Coercion should be focused on intervening within states, against forces from below which seek to challenge the (Atlantic-written) rules of the international capitalist order. State sovereignty is the enemy here. The un Charter should be reworked along liberal cosmopolitan lines, allowing sovereignty to be violated by the international community where states are judged to be reneging on their commitment to the liberal capitalist order. But the Atlantic states themselves must also commit to playing by the rules.

Here, of course, we have Blair’s so-called doctrine of the international community, outlined in his 1999 Chicago speech, which Leonard has repackaged as the essence of Europeanism. He has some justification for this, given the support the project enjoys both in Brussels and in other European capitals. And the world order it enjoins does indeed fit with the current eu’s mode of operation. It formulates international legal rules that bind its member states to commitments concerning their own domestic behaviour and external trade policies. It then demands that others accept these same rules if they want to enjoy close relations with the eu. Presented as based upon—indeed, the embodiment of—liberal norms, in reality these are a thicket of positive laws for particularist capitalist interests. But in form at least, the eu model is one that asks others only to abide by rules which it applies to itself.

There is some truth in Leonard’s argument that the us state is not well configured for operating in this way. It is not simply that Bush Republicanism is bitterly hostile to such cosmopolitan institution-building; the entire American postwar elite has been formed around the idea that the us is the preserver of the political basis on which the whole legal and institutional order of the capitalist world rests. It therefore cannot be bound by the rules which its own power politics has built. The Washington elite has also grown accustomed to telling its allies what to do, rather than engaging in collegial management of international affairs. It has thus been impatient with Europeanist efforts to use the end of the Soviet threat to assert a more independent voice on the world stage. The political culture in Washington remains largely one in which the task of allies is to follow; America sees furthest and knows best, and the capitalist world needs one—American—centre, not a committee of powers to manage its affairs.

But the Atlantic gap is not as wide as some believe. Leonard speaks glowingly of Clinton’s foreign policy, and his book positively drips with endorsements (wonderful, fascinating, refreshing, lucid, exhilarating, fluid [sic]) from the likes of Robert Kagan, Philip Bobbitt and Joseph Nye. The fact is that the Bush Administration’s attempt to use 9/11 as an opportunity to rebuild us discipline over its allies and to impose a unipolar American political order on the world has been stymied by the virulence of the resistance in Iraq. Washington is currently on the back foot. They need European help and they are getting it. Leonard’s project, as he explains, ‘will enhance American power’.