Liberation from Bush
With the end of the loathed Bush era, it is curtains for America’s neocons. But what about Indian neocons who hailed the Bush Doctrine, cheered on the invasion of Iraq, advocated the dispatch of Indian forces there, pushed for aligning Indian policy with the misguided Bush stance on Pakistan, Iran and Burma, and want Indian troops in Afghanistan?
If there is anyone who claims to have got a sense of Bush’s soul, it is Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now preparing for his last Bush White House visit. Singh looked into Bush’s eyes and ostensibly read three words: love for India. History may spell those words differently: trouble for India.
Asian Age, November 5, 2008
When the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of the Cold War, there was common hope that the world would finally reap the peace dividend. But nearly two decades later, potent new dangers and divisions confront the world. The credit for making the world more unsafe and divided goes largely to President George W. Bush, who will go down in history as an extraordinarily reckless and blundering leader. The greatest damage from his cowboy diplomacy was to America’s own interests and international standing. Little surprise he is leaving office as the most unpopular president in the history of U.S. polling.
The unprecedented mess that has occurred on Bush’s watch crimps his successor’s options. This raises the troubling question whether things could get worse before they start becoming better.
After all, America has not only exported its financial crisis to the rest of the world, but also is still waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to avert war with Iran and North Korea. Iraq is in a mess even if the number of monthly deaths has dropped to its lowest since May 2004. A resurgent Taliban is tearing apart the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. A nuclear-armed, terror-wedded Pakistan is sinking. Osama bin Laden is still at large. And international terrorism is on the rise. All this has happened when U.S. neoconservatives (or “neocons”) were boasting that America has a monopoly on power unrivalled since the Roman Empire.
The abdication of American values has been epitomized by Bush’s establishment of the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the revealed network of illegal CIA detention camps elsewhere. That has helped undermine America’s real strength — its ability to inspire and lead. The United States, after all, won the Cold War not by military means but by spreading the ideas of freedom, open markets and better life that helped drain the lifeblood from communism’s international appeal.
Had Bush not landed his country in costly, intractable military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, he may have been tempted to unleash America’s untrammelled power elsewhere — by going after the next fire-snorting dragon on the neocons’ target list, be it Syria, Iran or North Korea. Thus, a silver lining of his blunders was that some countries were saved and that the initial neocon triumphalism gave way to a hard-to-conceal erosion of U.S. soft and hard power, with much of the world seeing Iraq, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, the Patriot Act and Guantanamo as symbols of such decline.
The epoch-shaping U.S. presidential election marks the end of the misbegotten Bush era. Not unsurprisingly, the liberation from Bush is bringing a collective sigh of relief in the world.
Bush’s flub diplomacy was fashioned by the neocons, for whom 9/11 came as a blessing in disguise to gain ascendancy in policymaking. Given Bush’s provincial background, his knowledge of foreign affairs was minimal when he came to the White House. Indeed, after becoming president, he once confessed that “this foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating”.
The neocons were the architects of the Bush Doctrine, founded on the belief that aggression pays and that naked aggression pays handsomely. The core tenets of the Bush Doctrine were fourfold: the United States should pursue pre-emptive strikes where necessary; it should be willing to act unilaterally — alone or with a “coalition of the willing” — if it cannot win the United Nations’ sanction; the primary focus should be on politically transforming the Middle East; and Iraq ought to be the cornerstone in bringing about region-wide democratic change.
Enunciating the doctrine’s most-controversial tenet — pre-emptive action — Bush, in his June 2002 address at West Point, had said deterrence and containment were no longer enough to defend U.S. interests and America thus “must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act”.
The neocons, in views expressed through the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, the journals Weekly Standard and First Things, and their own website, had for long vented their messianic ambition to remake the Middle East and then the rest of the world. Their rise in policymaking accentuated their estrangement in the Republican Party from conservative realists, whose mouthpiece, the National Review, once ran a mocking headline: “You can’t spell ‘messianic’ without mess”.
The ascendance of the neocons, many of them Jewish, was facilitated by their intellectual partnership with the Christian Right — a constituency dear to Bush, a born-again Christian, and his wife, Laura. A foreign-policy focus on the Biblical lands meshed well with the neocon and Christian Right worldview.
Yet, such were the simplistic calculations that an occupied Iraq was visualized as a profit hub for U.S. energy, infrastructure, construction and other firms and as an everlasting American military outpost. Occupation, however, turned out not only to be a huge financial burden on the United States, but also has transformed a stable, secular Iraq into a failed state whose ruins fan Islamist trends. No thought was given to how, in an era of globalization, imperialism moulded on conquest could be practiced, even if under the garb of democracy promotion. Democracy, in any event, centres on the exercise of free choice, which presupposes that the state enjoys sovereignty.
The neocons advocated — and Bush blithely accepted — an expansion of U.S. military bases across Eastern Europe, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest and Central Asia. Using the war on terror as justification, Bush exerted pressure on several states to win permission for US forces to set up bases for the long haul. The new bases have helped establish the largest-ever U.S. military presence overseas since World War II.
But all that assertiveness and interventionism only made the United States unpopular. The Bush Doctrine, in its zeal to identify and target “rogue” states, helped turn — as American commentator Nicholas Kristof has put it — “a superpower into a rogue country”.
From Bush’s refusal to back family planning through the UN Population Fund to his wife’s missionary diplomacy against the Burmese military regime, Christian fundamentalist beliefs have played havoc with U.S. foreign policy.
The extent to which Bush was influenced by his religious beliefs can be seen from the manner his relationship with Vladimir Putin bloomed the moment the now Russian prime minister told Bush in 2001 that he had been given a cross by his mother. According to Bob Woodward’s Bush At War, Bush instantly said to Putin: “That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?” Bush then said publicly: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward… I was able to get a sense of his soul”. The curmudgeonly John McCain also claims to have looked into Putin’s eyes and seen not soul, but three letters: K-G-B.
By contrast, if there is anyone who claims to have got a sense of Bush’s soul it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now preparing for his last Bush White House darshan. Singh looked into Bush’s eyes and ostensibly read three words: love for India. History may spell those words differently: trouble for India.
With the end of the loathed Bush era, it is curtains for America’s neocons. But what about Indian neocons who hailed the Bush Doctrine, cheered on the invasion of Iraq, advocated the dispatch of Indian forces to aid the US occupation of Iraq, pushed for aligning Indian policy with the misguided Bush stance on Pakistan, Iran and Burma, and until recently wanted New Delhi to consider sending troops to Afghanistan? Will they disown their past, or change colours, or simply wait to latch on the next U.S. presidential doctrine?
(c) Asian Age, 2008.