In years to come George w Bush will be regarded as the greatest American President the left ever had. There could not have been a better caricature of a US president, one whose mix of evil and incompetence shattered forever the superpower status and international respectability of the US. He has run up a deficit greater than the US has ever known, alienated virtually every country in the world and launched a culture war in the US not seen since the 1950’s. He has ensured the US can no longer extend its political and economic grip on the world by tying down his troops and erasing its international credibility in the sands of Iraq.
While in the short term Bush has showered down upon us on the left insult after defeat and seemingly suffered no ill effects from the constant scandal and corruption that has mired his administration. Indeed he emerged strengthened after his re-election, the last place he could have been stopped. For the progressive left he has felt like the worst thing that could have happened, like a combination of the corruption of Nixon and the messianic stupidity of Reagan. Someone who has no regard for the environment, workers rights, international co-operation, scientific rationalism or indeed anything except power and wealth in its most naked form.
Yet by being so shamelessly amoral he has ripped the mask that Clinton so expertly placed over the true face of the US, if someone like Gore or even Kerry had been elected this would have gone on. The WTO and Nafta and all the other tentacles of soft power would have been extended. US hegemony would be slowly but surely rolled out, subtly crushing dissent, waging wars by proxy, building alliances to benefit only the US. Instead we have a world that has now realised the reality and have started to gang up on the US, they see no reason why they should bankroll the US deficit any more. Nor why we all should have to pay for their reckless use of the Earth’s finite resources, and then their denial that there even is Global Warming . New power blocks have emerged, nothing unites so well as something to unite against. Despite its fawning acceptance of Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank, Europe has finally found its voice. China has become rich in its feeding of the voracious US consumer, but also it realises its own power, that they and a few other Asian states are all that is keeping the US from collapsing into a mountain of its own unpaid debt.
And as the US focuses its attention on the Middle East it loses sight of things closer to home. That Canada is no longer the friend t can always rely on, when they are slapping on import duties on US goods because the US won’t play fair, that and the ever present spectre of dissent over Iraq. But south America is truly the area where Bush has made sure America has lost control. Though they may still make noises about Cuba to please the Miami exiles they seem to have missed the whole protest movement that has swept the lower continent over the last few years. That every head of state except Fox in Mexico and thingy in Colombia that where pro US have either been removed or are gravely weakened should have acted as a wake up call to the US. That the plan of an American free trade Zone stretching from Alasks to Tierra del Fuego that seemed unstoppable in 2000 is now utterly dead is due largely to Bush’s incompetence, not helped by the fact that laissez faire capitalism screwed the south. A more subtle leader would surely have brought them back in, not funded a half hearted coup against Chavez in Venuzuala, then when it failed and made him stronger than he was before just sniped at him from the safety of the US media. With any luck south America will be lost to the US for a generation, and that they will form their own progressive trade block, signs for that are already there, as they increasingly look to china and the EU for investment.
Bin Laden definitely chose a good president to launch attacks against, knowing he would turn the Middle East into a bloody quagmire that would only increase support for Alqaida. He reckoned on a new Christian crusade and he was right. It was rumoured that most of Alqaida favoured a Bush re-election, arguing that Kerry would do the same as Bush only go about it in a more subtle way. Bush’s obviousness, his incompetence and arrogance in trying to forcibly export Us culture onto the unwilling majority in the Middle East has ensured a hatred for all thing Yankee. They have just had to sit back while the US launched an unwinnable war against the wrong enemy in Iraq. This war will only benefit Iran and the various fundamentalists. Though we can hope perhaps that the dead end nature of fundamentalism, its political bankruptcy in Iran and the growth of a pan Arab liberation movement in Egypt will in the end make the Middle East not a bloody, oily hole in the ground.
The only downside is of course that Bush could still shift the domestic US landscape permanently to the right. As the Democrats look incapable of launching any kind of new ideology to recapture the progressive parts of the US. At the present rate they may win back the Presidency but only as a protest to the war in Iraq. They are loosing the battle of ideas as the US mind becomes more entrenched, more embattled and conservative. This will only get worse as their much vaunted superpower is exposed as a sham. When prices rise and they get humiliated internationally more and more they will turn inward, cursing the rest of the world as they did over Iraq. They are a nation that have been told they will inherit the earth and shape it in their own image, they do not take kindly to being told they cannot. They will elect more like bush, more right wing money makers buttressed by Cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism. The only hope lies unfortunately in the democrats somehow recapturing some ground in the battle for ideas. They are hamstrung by their lack of media control and the fact they are part of US society too, and suffer the same blinkers and prejudices.
And while it makes me feel glad that in the long term Bush is responsible for the death of American power I fear that it will be replaced by another nation with much the same mission, who will be as blind to human rights, the environment and progressive cultural ideas. It is said that China will be the next superpower but will it exercise that power for good? For all its faults the US at least gave lip service to freedom and human rights, it may have rarely stuck to them but it was a battle cry that inspired many, from the French Revolution to the fall of communism. The next superpower will not come close, I might hope that they will shout the joys of an ideology of Socialism from the rooftops but I very much doubt it. Though China will be balanced for now by the US, which is resembling more and more one of those great European empires that could boast that it had the biggest army, though it could barely afford to clothe them.
Is there a chance or the US to mend its ways? To resort to those heady days of the early nineties where it was fashionable to care about the world? Where a new world order was something to be dreamed about, not a nightmare of global conspiracy. Perhaps US culture has permanently rejected the world, to resort only to crass materialism, to almost Fin de Siecle conspicuous consumption, all too aware that this may be the last chance it has before the bankers close in and the overdraft has to be repaid.
Maybe they will elect another Clintonite, who will reunite them with the world and whose soft words will woo back those who in the hearts want to believe the US is a beacon for liberty and decent entertainment. It seems so very unlikely, and perhaps impossible that even if it happened that they would have any measure of success.
There is a good essay on this theme by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian, where it focus’s on Wolfowitz and the World Bank, describing how the Neo Cons should have just continued the post WWII multilateral system as that was rigged to put the US permanently on top. It is only the greed of the Neo Cons that they will not share even the crumbs