Robert D. McCallum, Jr., Ambassador of the USA to Australia, was asked on ABC Breakfast yesterday how he felt about his country’s declining moral authority.

Steve Cannane, presenter of Summer Breakfast, topped and tailed the long interview with diplomatic questions but the middle was a series of tough questions about Iraq, WMD, Gitmo, torture. (It was a pity he omitted climate change.)

McCallum is a confidant of President Bush and has known his family for 40 years, so it was revealing how often he stumbled on the core question of leadership or ‘soft power’ in diplomatese. His key evidence for US moral leadership is its official development aid and private philanthropy around the world.

Yesterday also brought a sobering post by Peter Morris on his Don’t Bomb Iran blog, that puts the Ambassador’s claim in perspective. It is true that the US official development aid is big (although lower in relative terms than other countries). But the US spends more on nuclear weapons than aid and diplomacy combined.

Pete has taught strategic studies, done amazing field work for Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace over a long time and knows more about peace (or its absence) than just about anyone I have ever met.

Pete points out  that the USA has plans to spend vastly more in the future on capital refurbishment of its nuclear arsenal.

Back at the end of the Cold War there were grand hopes that the new peace would yield a ‘peace dividend’, where the trillions spent on weapons could be diverted to socially useful spending. The need for constructive spending for and during peace is even more pressing now we have climate change to worry about.

If the USA wants to wield a chequebook in its campaign for ‘soft power’, how about just giving developing nations clean energy?