Bush: four more years
Instant (or as the technical jargon has it, knee-jerk) reactions to great disasters are not always trustworthy, but a few first scrappy thoughts, on the morning after the day before, may be in order.
The magnitude of the disaster can hardly be exaggerated. Bush’s pious words in his victory speech about reaching out to all Americans and working to deserve the trust of those who voted against him can be dismissed out of hand. Margaret Thatcher in similar circumstances quoted a prayer, frivolously attributed to St Francis of Assisi, about bringing harmony where there was discord before going on to behave more divisively and ruthlessly than any other prime minister in living memory. There is no reason in the world why such ruthless and single-minded promoters of narrow sectional and ideological interests as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and the rest of that gang should interpret their 3.5 million majority of the popular vote as anything other than a mandate for an even more brazen smash-and-grab raid on foreign and domestic policy than anything we have seen in the past four years when their mandate has been at best open to question. With total control of both houses of Congress, and (after a few Bush appointments expected within the next four years) of the Supreme Court, as well as of the White House and the executive departments of state, the neo-con clique has secured an unshakeable grip on all the levers of power available to the world’s sole super-power, together with a new self-confidence derived from an irrefutable mandate. In international affairs we must brace ourselves for an accentuation of all the trends of the past four years: brazen disregard for international law, treaties, agreements and consensus; readiness to use force, with or without broad international support, in pursuit of narrow American commercial and security interests, narrowly defined; misrepresentation and exaggeration of the international terrorist threat in order to maintain a permanent ‘war’ mentality in the US and its allies, used to justify the steady erosion of basic civil liberties and essential principles of the rule of law; unquestioning support for Israel’s Likud despite the consequent disqualification of the US as a viable intermediary in the search for a middle east peace settlement. In domestic affairs the ideology of the Christian fundamentalist right, with those uncanny echoes of its twin and rival, Islamic fundamentalism, will dictate and justify a wholesale attack on the rights of women and gays, the abandonment of serious measures of gun control, the airy dismissal of any argument for reducing America’s gluttonous energy consumption bender or for any other measures to reduce the threat posed by global warming (did you hear Bush’s climatology adviser on the Today programme on 4 November attributing all the fuss about climate change to a plot by uncompetitive European companies to hobble more vibrant American competitors by limiting their use of energy? — very scary indeed), a ban on abortion and stem cell research, and the determined substitution in policy-making of religious, faith-based, evidence-free ideology for rational analysis and sober assessment.
The compensating benefits of this deeply disturbing prospect are few and flimsy.
(1) There’s a certain justice in Bush and those who manage him being obliged to confront the horrendous problems they themselves have created, aggravated or sought to ignore (Iraq, the middle east, the US budget and trade deficits and job losses, climate change, nuclear proliferation, global poverty). Better in some ways that a Republican rather than a Democratic administration should be forced eventually to take the deeply unpopular measures that will become necessary to deal with these problems, perhaps paving the way for a Democratic party victory in 2008 under a Hillary Clinton (John Edwards?) who will not have had their party’s image and record undermined by four years of clearing up President Bush’s messes.
(2) Bush’s re-election should provide a powerful impetus for the development of a united EU capable of offering a liberal, secular, enlightened, socially responsible alternative to the neo-con obscurantist ascendancy in power in America for the next four years. It will still be necessary and desirable to work with, rather than against, the US administration whenever possible, not least in the hope of exercising a degree of influence and restraint over it, but also because in tackling global issues little can be achieved without a degree of American participation. But if Europe is to play a steadying and civilising role, its governments will need to display much greater unity of purpose, achieved through careful diplomatic preparation and consensus, than was constructed over Iraq, on which united EU opposition to Bush’s premature and illegal war might well have prevented it. The instinct of the British prime minister in particular to fly to Washington at the first sign of crisis will need to be converted to an automatic urge to go first to Paris and Berlin (and if necessary to Rome and Madrid and Warsaw) so that Europe can speak to America with one persuasive cautionary voice.
(3) We must never forget that 55,557,584 American voters voted for Kerry â€“ almost as many as every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom, some 11 million more than the entire UK electorate â€“ and that many among those millions are as devastated as any of us in Europe and elsewhere in the world by what has happened. We owe it to them to keep alive an acceptable model of international and national behaviour to which they can point as a better alternative to the havoc and destruction which the neo-con ascendancy will doubtless continue to wreak on their country and the world. We also have some responsibility towards the millions of moderate Republicans whose votes for Bush will have been reluctant and hesitant, perhaps dictated more by a feeling that it would be unsafe to change the commander-in-chief in time of war than by any commitment to the neo-cons’ bleak agenda. By demonstrating that there is a viable alternative to Bushism which can be effective while civilised, which can make progress in tackling horrendous problems without being ruthlessly indifferent to the effects of violence, and which acts on a rational assessment of evidence rather than on faith and bigotry, the European democracies may help, if only at the margins, to detach enough of yesterday’s decent Republican voters from their allegiance to the neo-con hijackers of their party to permit the formation of a broad coalition of moderate and rational Americans by 2008, large and determined enough to avert a repetition of the grim events of 2004.
(4) A Kerry victory, while overwhelmingly welcome in its own right, would largely have absolved Tony Blair from national demands that he be held to account for his role in the Iraq disaster: for the dishonesty, for the misleading of parliament and people, for the broken promises, for the unprincipled shifts of purported purpose and justification, for the breaches of international law and the undermining of the United Nations Charter, for the torpedoing of EU unity of response and influence, for the shameful aspersions cast on European allies and partners, for the resort to passionate belief instead of to calm reason, for the casual sidelining of essential democratic procedures and process, for sheer misjudgement endlessly repeated. If Kerry had won, Blair would have been able to claim that a line should now be drawn under the events leading up to Bush’s war and that a new US administration meant a clean, fresh start. If the crass and murderous misjudgements and errors of Kosovo and Iraq are not to slip into the received wisdom as qualified successes which may legitimately be repeated elsewhere in the future, it’s essential that those responsible (especially for Iraq, because that quagmire remains to be drained) should continue to be confronted by the evidence of their failures. So long as the Bush-Blair axis remains at the helm, these vital questions must continue to be asked.
4 November 2004